Breese, Sidney

Life Span
    Full name
    Sidney Breese
    Place of Birth
    Burial Place
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Arthur Breese (father), Catherine Livingston (mother), Eliza Morrison (wife, 1823)
    Other Education
    Hamilton College, NY; Union College, NY
    Attorney or Judge
    Relation to Slavery
    White non-slaveholder
    Political Parties
    Jackson Administration (1829-37)
    US Senate
    State legislature
    State supreme court
    State judge
    US military (Pre-Civil War)

    Sidney Breese (American National Biography)

    In December 1842 Breese won election to the U.S. Senate and promptly resigned from the bench. During his single term from 1843 to 1849, he loyally supported most major Democratic policies: a low tariff, a tough stance against England in the longstanding dispute over the Oregon boundary, the annexation of Texas, and the Mexican War. Although in principle he opposed federal grants of public lands to aid internal improvements within the states, he made an exception for railroad and canal projects, especially those that promised to benefit the state of Illinois. Thus, as chairman of the Committee on Public Lands in the Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth Congresses, he urged the passage of bills to aid the construction of two railroads: a transcontinental line from Lake Michigan to the Pacific and another line through central Illinois that eventually would extend southward to the Gulf of Mexico. A poor negotiator, he failed to gain support for either of these measures and suffered the added humiliation of seeing his hated rival, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, push through his own bill in 1850, which made the Illinois Central the first land-grant railroad in American history.

    Denied renomination by his party, Breese returned to Illinois and plunged again into local politics. He served a term in the Illinois House of Representatives (1851-1852) and was elected Speaker in his first year. A war Democrat during the Civil War and a judicial activist, he helped to establish the legal foundations of a modern industrial society.
    Maxwell Bloomfield, "Breese, Sidney," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Sidney Breese (Congressional Biographical Directory)

    BREESE, Sidney, a Senator from Illinois; born in Whitesboro, N.Y., July 15, 1800; attended Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., and graduated from Union College, Schenectady, N.Y., in 1818; moved to Illinois; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1820 and commenced practice in Kaskaskia; appointed postmaster of Kaskaskia in 1821; prosecuting attorney of the third judicial circuit 1822-1826; United States district attorney for Illinois 1827-1829; was the first reporter of the proceedings of the State supreme court in 1831; held several commissions in the militia and served as a lieutenant colonel of Volunteers in the Black Hawk War in 1832; circuit judge of the second district 1835-1841; judge of the State supreme court in 1841-1842; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1843, to March 3, 1849; unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1849; chairman, Committee on District of Columbia (Twenty-ninth Congress), Committee on Public Lands (Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth Congresses); member, State house of representatives 1851-1852, serving as speaker in 1851; judge of the circuit court of Illinois 1855-1857; judge of the supreme court of Illinois from 1857 until his death; served as chief justice 1867-1870, 1873, and 1874; died in Pinkneyville, Perry County, Ill., June 27, 1878; interment in Carlyle Cemetery, Carlyle, Ill.
    "Breese, Sidney," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,

    Sidney Breese (Notable Americans)

    BREESE, Sidney, jurist, was born in Whitesboro, Oneida county, N. Y., July 15, 1800. He graduated at Union college in 1818, studied law, and removed to Illinois in 1821, where he was admitted to the bar. He successively filled the offices of town postmaster, assistant secretary of state, state's attorney, and United States attorney for Illinois. He was a commissioned officer in the state militia and served as lieutenant of volunteers, during the Black Hawk war. He was appointed circuit judge in 1835, and judge of the supreme court of the state in 1841. In 1843 he was elected to the United States senate, as a democrat, serving until 1849, and during his senatorship, while chairman of the committee on public lands, he made a report favoring the establishment of a transcontinental railway. He was a member of the house of representatives of Illinois, and in 1850 was elected its speaker. In 1855 he was again appointed judge of the circuit court and was chief of the court. In 1857 he was elected justice of the supreme court of the state, and in 1873 became chief justice, holding the office during his lifetime. He was one of the originators of the Illinois Central railroad, and from 1845 to 1849 regent of the Smithsonian institution. He published a volume of " Decisions of the Supreme Court" (1829); a work on " Illinois " (1869); and another on the " Origin and History of the Pacific Railroad " (1869). He died at Pinckneyville, 111., June 27. 1878.
    Rossiter Johnson, ed., "Breese, Sidney," The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, vol. 1 (Boston: The Biographical Society, 1904).

    Sidney Breese (Chicago Tribune)



    Illinois has lost one of her ablest and purest officers. Judge BREESE died yesterday at an advanced age, at Mount Vernon, where he had been attending the session of the Supreme Court. For over fifty years he has been in the public service, and in every position has won distinction and honor by his inflexible integrity, his industry, and his great ability. For twenty-five years he has been a member of the Supreme Court of this State, and to the latest hour of his life worked faithfully in the public service. Though he has been known to the people of Illinois principally because of his brilliant judicial career, he was otherwise distinguished. His arrival in Illinois antedated the admission of the State into the Union, and one of the remarkable incidents of his history is the story, graphically described by himself, how, when the State Capital was changed from Kaskaskia to Vandalia, young BREESE packed the “State Government” in a buggy and transported it across the State to its new location. Judge BREESE has outlived all his contemporaries. For many years he had been accumulating and preparing the materials of a history of the State of Illinois, with which history he had been personally identified from its beginning. Large portions of this history he had written in detached pieces, requiring only such labor as might be necessary to make it a connected volume. He intended to publish this, expecting that from its sale he would have an income in his old age, and be some aid to his family after his death. But the Judge never felt himself old enough to conclude the work or prepare it for publication. Once, we believe, he had brought from his home at Carlyle as far as Ottawa a trunkful of his manuscripts, intending to put them in order, but, finding there was time enough, the papers were sent back, and remain until this day incomplete and unedited. There are but few men who can now supply such a history as he might have given to the public. The Judge was a scholar and a man of large and varied reading. He had peculiar ability and vigor as a write, and this last accomplishment adorns even the latest of his judicial opinious. He has fallen at his post, just where he would have selected to fall; he has lived a life of usefulness; has added to the world’s stock of knowledge; has died full of years and of honors, after a public life of unblemished character, and will take his place in the list of the great men of the State who, though younger than he, have gone before him.

    "Judge Sidney Breese," Chicago (IL) Tribune, June 29, 1878, p. 4: 5.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    McNulty, John W. “Sidney Breese, the Illinois Circuit Judge, 1835-1841.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 62 (Summer 1969): 170-186. view record
    McNulty, John W. "Sidney Breese: His Early Career in Law and Politics in Illinois." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 61 (Summer 1968): 164-181. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Breese, Sidney," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,