John M. Palmer was born in Scott County, Kentucky, September 13, 1817, and soon after his birth his father, who had been a soldier in the war of 1812, removed to Christian County, where lands were then cheap. John M. is still remembered by many of the old citizens as a bright, intelligent boy, fond of reading, and who lost no opportunity to improve his mind. He received such education as the new and sparsely settled country afforded, and in 1831 his father removed to Illinois. Shortly after a college was opened at Alton on the “manual labor system,” and in the spring of 1834 young Palmer entered the institution, where he remained for eighteen months. He commenced the study of the law in 1838, and the next year was admitted to the bar, when he opened an office at Carlinville. In the early years of his professional life he mingled in local politics more or less. In 1843 he became Probate Judge; in 1847 he was elected to the Constitutional Convention and in 1852 to the State Senate. His father, although a strong Jackson Democrat, was opposed to slavery, and removed to Illinois to escape its influences, like many others of similar ideas. In 1854 John took ground in opposition to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and when the Nebraska question was made a political issue, he declined a nomination to the Senate at the hands of the Democracy. When the civil conflict broke out, he was among the first to offer his services, and was made Colonel of the Fourteenth Illinois Volunteers. He rose to the rank of Major-General and commanded the Fourteenth Army Corps in the Atlanta campaign, but when Gen. McPherson fell, and Gen. Howard, a junior officer, was promoted to the command of the Army of the Tennessee, Gen. Palmer asked to be relieved.
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In February, 1865, Gen. Palmer was assigned to the military administration of Kentucky. The writer knew him personally while in this capacity, with headquarters at Louisville, and notwithstanding he differed from him on political and war issues, and the many objections urged against him, yet it can but be conceded that he blended a conspicuous respect for municipal law consistent with his functions as a military commander. His post was a delicate one, and he said himself that he trembled at the contemplation of his extraordinary power over the persons and property of his fellow men, vested in him, in the capacity of military Governor. The history of many other of’ the Southern States, oppressed and ground down by their military Governors, will show us the blessings we possessed in having placed over us a man of the unswerving integrity and high sense of honor of Gen. Palmer. And since he has returned to his old political faith (Democrat), his fellow-citizens of Christian County, among whom he spent his boyhood days, should bury the last shade of feeling of resentment, and present him, metaphorically, the right hand of fellowship and brotherly love.
Gen. Palmer was elected Governor of Illinois in 1868, over Hon. John R. Eden, Democrat, by 44,707 majority. His administration was characterized by rare capacity as the executive head of a great State. His business life has been the pursuit of the law, and few excel him in an ac-curate appreciation of the depth and scope of its principles. Without brilliancy, his dealings are rather with facts and ideas, which he leads to invincible conclusions. He is a statesman of a high order; he is social in his disposition, democratic in his manners, correct in his deportment, and truly, a man of the people. During his term as Governor of Illinois, he took rather broad States’ rights ground, which offended some of the Republican leaders. A portion of the Republican press attacked him, and the final result was to return him to the Democratic camp, and to-day John M. Palmer, Lyman Trumbull, Carter H. Harrison and William R. Morrison are perhaps, four of the ablest and most popular men in the State of Illinois.