Biography - Anthony Thornton

HON. ANTHONY THORNTON, of Shelbyville, Shelby County, ex-Judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois, has distinguished himself on the bench and before the tribunals of this State in the course of a long practice, extending over fifty-five years, and is to-day one of our foremost lawyers, whose learning, personality and character have added lustre to the bar of this county, and have been potent in raising it to its present high position in the judiciary of this Commonwealth.
Judge Thornton is of Southern birth and ancestry, coming of Colonial and Revolutionary stock. He was born on a Kentucky plantation, six miles from Paris, Bourbon County, November 9, 1814. His father, who bore the same name as himself, was born in Caroline County, Va., and was a son of Col. Anthony Thornton, who was also a native of the Old Dominion, his father being a planter and a life-long resident of that State. Col. Thornton took an active part in the Revolution as Colonel of a body of Virginia State Militia, and his commission, which was given him by Patrick Henry, is now in the possession of our subject. Animated by a spirit of adventure, and a desire to avail himself of the superior advantages possessed by the virgin soil of Kentucky, in 1803 the grandfather of our subject pushed forward to the frontier, taking with him his family and his slaves, the latter about a hundred in number, and journeying to the new home across the mountains with teams. His daughter kept a journal, giving the details of each day's journey, and the original manuscript is now in the Judge's possession. For a time after their arrival in the wilds of Kentucky the family lived in Nicholas County, and then the Colonel bought a large tract of land in Bourbon and Harrison Counties, and in the dwelling that he erected in the latter county his remaining years were passed until his death.
The father of our subject was reared and married in Virginia, and subsequently accompanied his parents and other members of the family in their exodus to the forest wilds of Kentucky. He purchased a tract of partly improved land on Cane Ridge, mx miles from Paris, and gave his attention to agriculture, carrying on his farming operations with slave labor. His life was brought to an untimely end when scarcely past its prime, his death occurring on his plantation in the year 1819. His wife survived him only six months, and then she too closed her eyes in that dreamless sleep that knows no waking. She was also a native of Virginia, and her maiden name was Mary Towles.
Thus sadly bereft of a mother's and father's care when he was but five years of age, our subject went to live with his paternal grandparents, who reared him tenderly, and he was given every advantage to obtain a liberal education. He first attended the common schools, which were taught on the subscription plan, and at the age of sixteen was sent to Gallatin, Tenn., to pursue his studies at the High School of that town. From there he went to Danville, and for a time was a student at Centre College. He next entered Oxford College, Oxford, Ohio, and so far was he advanced he was enrolled as a member of the junior class of that institution, and was graduated with a high standing for scholarship in the September Class of '34.
After leaving college our subject entered upon his preparation for the legal profession under the instruction of his uncle John R. Thornton, of Paris, Ky., and in 1836 he was examined before the court of appeals by Judge James Robertson and Judge Marshall, and was admitted to the bar. In the fall of the same year he started Westward with the intention of settling in Missouri, and while on his way came to this county to visit Gen. Thornton, traveling by the most expeditious route at that time, which was by the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Meredosia, thence by stage through Springfield to Shelbyville. He found here but a small village of about two hundred people, living for the most part in log houses, while the surrounding country was but little settled, and the land was nearly all owned by the Government. With characteristic acumen the Judge soon perceived that here was a fine field for legal talent, and he decided to tarry here, and enter upon his professional career amid its pioneer scenes. Accordingly he opened an office in the village, and as he became known and his ability was recognized, clients began to pour in upon him, and his business steadily grew with the growth of the county, justifying his anticipations of a good practice when he selected this location for a future home.
In 1848 Judge Thornton entered the political arena as a member of the State Constitutional Convention that met that year to revise the Constitution of Illinois, and his legal equipment made his services valuable in the work of revision performed by the members of that convention. In 1850 he was elected to the State Legislature on the Whig ticket, and again he played an important part as a member of that most important of all committees during that session, the one that had charge of railroad legislation, as then the principal railroads of the State were organized and their routes defined. In 1864 the Judge was elected to Congress, served throughout two sessions, displaying in his career as a national legislator broad statesmanship, and so thoroughly satisfying his constituents that they paid him the compliment of re-nominating him to succeed himself. Then was presented the spectacle, rather rare in these days of the multifarious seekers after high places, of a man resolutely declining a proffered office, together with its honors and emoluments. Our subject's refusal to make the race again was actuated by his desire to retire from political life, and to resume once more his beloved profession. In 1870 he was elected to the Supreme Bench, a position for which he was eminently fitted by experience, by his wide and extensive knowledge of law, and by the possession of masterly judicial qualities. He administered justice vigorously, equitably, and with a clear discernment of the merits of each case that came under his jurisdiction.
Notwithstanding the honor of being at the head of the Supreme Court of Illinois, Judge Thornton preferred his old place before the bar as an attorney, and in 1873 his resignation of the judgeship was tendered, an act unparalleled in the annals of the judiciary of this State, and was received with regret, his retirement from the high office he so adorned, and where he so ably conserved the ends of justice, being considered a loss to the bench. Since that time he has attended strictly to his law business, and devotes himself, heart and soul to the interests of his extensive clientage.
The Judge is a man of strong nature, of a fine physique and distinguished presence, is popular with all classes, and has a firm hold upon the hearts of the people among whom the most active years of his life have been passed, and who delight to do him honor. He is seen at the best advantage amid the pleasant surroundings of his attractive home as a genial and courteous host, a devoted husband and indulgent father. He has been twice married. In 1860 he was wedded to Miss Mildred Thornton, a native of Virginia, and a daughter of William F. and Ann Thornton. Their married life was brief, as the young wife died in 1856, leaving two children, William T. and Anthony, the latter of whom is dead. In 1866 our subject was united in marriage to Miss Kate H. Smith, a native of this county, and a daughter of Addison and Mary Smith. Two children have been born of this union, Catherine P. and Lewis.

Extracted 08 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1891 Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties Illinois, pages 240-242.

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