Idaho has won distinction for the high rank of her bench and bar. Perhaps none of the newer states can justly boast of abler jurists or attorneys. Some of them have been men of national fame, and among those whose lives have been passed on a quieter plane there is scarcely a town or city in the state but can boast of one or more lawyers capable of crossing swords in forensic combat with any of the distinguished legal lights of the United States. Idaho certainly has reason to be proud of her legal fraternity. In James W. Reid we find united many of the rare qualities which go to make up the successful lawyer, and he is today regarded as one of the most prominent representatives of the bar of the state. He possesses perhaps few of those dazzling, meteoric qualities which have sometimes flashed along the legal horizon, riveting the gaze and blinding the vision for the moment, then disappearing, leaving little or no trace behind: but he has, rather, those solid and more substantial qualities which shine with a constant luster, shedding light in the dark places with steadiness and continuity. He has in an eminent degree that rare ability of saying in a convincing way the right thing at the right time. His mind is analytical, logical and inductive, and with a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the fundamental principles of law, he combines a familiarity with statutory law and a sober, clear judgment, which makes him a formidable adversary in legal combat.
Mr. Reid is a native of North Carolina, his birth having occurred in Wentworth, Rockingham County, June 11, 1849. He is of Scotch-Irish descent, but his ancestors have for many generations resided in the south and were participants in the early history of the country and in the Revolutionary war. Blueford Reid, the great-grandfather of our subject, was a native of Virginia, but became the owner of a farm in Guilford County, North Carolina. He was one of the early followers of the Methodist church in this country, and was a man of sterling worth. He lived to be nearly one hundred years of age. His son, James Reid, the grandfather of our subject, was born in North Carolina and spent his entire life in that ‘state. He was a faithful and devoted minister of the Methodist church, and lived to be seventy-six years of age. His son, Numa F. Reid, was born in North Carolina, was educated in the Emory and Henry College of Virginia, and became an eminent Methodist divine. He was a man of superior literary and oratorical ability, and was a power for good in his holy calling. A large collection of his sermons has been published, and these indicate his superior ability. He died in 1873, at the age of forty-nine years, and his death proved a great loss to his family, the church and the world. His wife bore the maiden name of Ann E. Wright. She, too, was a native of North Carolina and of Scotch lineage, but belonged to an equally old American family. Eight children, four sons and four daughters, were born of their union, six of whom are yet living. The mother passed away in 1869, at the age of forty-five years. She was a woman of great amiability and worth of character, and proved to her husband an able assistant in his Christian work, while by all who knew her she was greatly beloved. For many generations her family have been active and devout Presbyterians, and in professional life many of the name have achieved distinction.
James W. Reid was the second in order of birth in the family of eight children. He completed his literary education by his graduation in Emory and Henry College, Virginia, in the class of 1869, and afterward pursued the study of law under private instruction, being licensed to practice in 1873, by the supreme court of North Carolina. He has since been an active member of the profession and has attained considerable prominence in his chosen field of labor. He was not only an able lawyer of North Carolina, but was called to positions of public trust, being elected treasurer of Rockingham county, in 1874, and continuing in that position by re-election for ten years, proving a most capable, efficient and trustworthy officer. He resigned the position in 1884, on his election to congress, being chosen to fill out the unexpired term of General A. M. Scales, who resigned his seat in the forty-eighth congress. At the general election in November 1884, he was elected a member of the forty-ninth congress, on the Democratic ticket, his opponent being Colonel L. C. Edwards of Granville County. On both occasions he won his victories in a Republican district, but in 1886 he was defeated by J. M. Bower, who succeeded in winning the colored vote.
In 1887 Mr. Reid came to Idaho, locating in Lewiston, where he has since engaged in the practice of law, having an extensive clientage from all sections of Idaho and even from adjoining states. In his practice he has been eminently successful and has won a foremost place at the Idaho bar. He is well versed in all departments of the law and has been connected with much of the important litigation heard in the courts of this section of the state since his arrival. He is also a recognized leader in political circles. He was a member of the state constitutional convention in 1889, served as its vice-president and as chairman of the Democratic caucus of that body. He was president of the first Democratic state convention held after the admission of Idaho to the Union, and, at the request of the central executive committee, canvassed the entire state with the candidate for governor, Hon. Ben. Wilson. On the establishment of the state university he was appointed by Governor Stevenson as one of its regents and subsequently reappointed by Governor Willey, serving four years in that capacity. Through his efforts in the constitutional convention a term of the state supreme court was located at Lewiston. In January, 1893, he conceived the idea of securing the location of one of the state normal schools at Lewis-ton and drafted the bill instituting the same and secured its passage in the legislature. He has since been president of its board of trustees, and has been active in promoting its interests and up-building. It stands as a monument to his efforts and to his zeal in behalf of education and of the city of his abode. His address delivered be-fore the literary societies of the normal school on the “Glory of Manhood” was one of the finest ever heard in the state, a most scholarly effort, indicating superior literary talent, deep research and a just conception of the possibilities of our race. In 1894 Mr. Reid was elected a delegate to the Democratic national convention in Chicago, and in 1896 presided over both the Democratic state convention and the People’s Democratic convention that nominated the state officers who were elected that year.
In 1872 Mr. Reid was united in marriage to Miss Mary F. Ellington, a native of Rockingham County, North Carolina, and a daughter of William Ellington, clerk of the superior court of Rockingham county, and a leading merchant there, also a representative of an old American family. Mr. and Mrs. Reid have two daughters: Annie D., a graduate of the old Moravian College, at Salem, North Carolina; and Lucile, wife of Reuben D. Reid, a son of ex-Governor Reid of North Carolina. The ladies of the family are members of the Presbyterian Church and are most highly esteemed in social circles. Mr. Reid is a valued and active member of the Masonic order, has taken the Scottish rite degrees up to and including the thirty-second degree, S. P. R. S. He is now at the head of the Rose Croix and Lodge of Perfection in Lewiston, and is also past deputy grand master of the grand lodge of North Carolina. He also belongs to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the Knights of Pythias fraternity. He is a man of high scholarly attainments, and his prominence at the bar is the merited tribute to his ability. Socially he is deservedly popular, as he is affable and courteous in manner and possesses that essential qualification to success in public life, that of making friends readily and of strengthening the ties of friendship as time advances.