Palmer, John McAuley

John McAuley Palmer was a founder of the Republican Party in Illinois, a successful Union general, and a politician whose long career culminated in a run for the presidency. He was born into an anti-slavery family in Kentucky but moved with them at an early age to Alton, Illinois. There he was educated and studied law. Of meager means, he had to borrow the registration fee to practice but slowly built a legal and political career, befriending Stephen Douglas along the way. He married Malinda Neely in 1842 and the couple eventually had ten children. Above average height and without ostentation, he sat in the Illinois senate as a Free Soil Democrat. By 1856, though, he was a founder of the Republican Party, chairing the Bloomington Convention and supporting Abraham Lincoln. He was a peace commissioner in April 1861 but when war arrived he took up arms, rising by 1863 to the rank of corps commander. After Appomattox, he was named head of the Military Department of Kentucky where his views on racial justice clashed violently with local attitudes. He returned to Illinois in 1867 and was elected Republican governor. He fell out with President Grant, however, and returned to the Democratic fold, serving as a U.S. Senator in 1890. Always interested in economic matters, he was the presidential candidate of the breakaway National Democratic Party in 1896, campaigning in favor of the gold standard. He died in Springfield of a heart attack in 1900 and was buried in Carlinville, Illinois. (By John Osborne)
Life Span
    Full name
    John McAuley Palmer
    Place of Birth
    Burial Place
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Slave State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Louis D. Palmer (father), Ann Hansford Tutt (mother), Malinda Ann Neely (first wife, 1824), Hannah Lamb Kimball (second wife, 1888)
    Other Education
    Alton College, IL
    Attorney or Judge
    Relation to Slavery
    White non-slaveholder
    Political Parties
    Liberal Republican
    Other Political Party
    Anti-Nebraska Democrat
    US Senate
    State legislature
    State judge
    Union Army
    Slaveholding in 1860
    Household Size in 1860
    Occupation in 1860
    Political Party in 1860
    Residence in 1860
    Wealth in 1860
    Marital status in 1860

    John McAuley Palmer (American National Biography)

    A Democrat since childhood, Palmer was elected probate justice of the peace in 1843. He was subsequently elected as a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1847, county judge in 1848, and state senator in 1852. During his successful campaign for reelection to the senate in 1854, he exhibited an independence that would mark the remainder of his career. Rebuffing pressure from Democrats to support the Douglas policy on slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, Palmer ran instead as an Anti-Nebraska Democrat. This ended his friendship with Douglas and presaged an equally stormy sixteen-year Republican affiliation. In 1856 he presided at the new party's state convention, and at the Republican National Convention he attempted to secure the vice presidential nomination for Abraham Lincoln. Recognized as a leading Illinois Republican, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1859 and helped Lincoln win nomination and election as president the next year.

    Civil War military duty further revealed Palmer's qualities of leadership and combativeness. Enlisting as a colonel shortly after Fort Sumter, he served courageously in several battles and reached the rank of major general. However, he criticized the arrogance of some West Point officers, feuded with General William T. Sherman, and antagonized both civil and army officials as Lincoln's military commander in Kentucky. By war's end his ardent views on African-American enfranchisement and Reconstruction placed him in the Radical wing of his party.
    Cullom Davis, "Palmer, John McAuley," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    John McAuley Palmer (Congressional Biographical Directory)

    PALMER, John McAuley, a Senator from Illinois; born at Eagle Creek, Scott County, Ky., September 13, 1817; moved with his family to Madison County, Ill., in 1831; attended the common schools of Kentucky and Illinois; in 1834 entered Alton (later Shurtleff) College, where he remained two years; taught school, peddled clocks, and studied law 1835-1838; admitted to the bar in 1839 and practiced in Carlinville, Ill., 1839-1861; probate judge of Macoupin County in 1843 and 1847; member of the State constitutional convention in 1847; county judge 1849-1852; member, State senate 1852-1854, 1856; unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress in 1859; presidential elector on the Republican ticket in 1860; member of the peace convention of 1861 held in Washington, D.C., in an effort to devise means to prevent the impending war; during the Civil War was appointed colonel of the Fourteenth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry in 1861, and was mustered out as a major general in 1866; settled in Springfield, Ill., in 1867; Republican Governor of Illinois 1869-1873; unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Governor in 1888; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1891, to March 3, 1897; chairman, Committee on Pensions (Fifty-third Congress); was not a candidate for reelection in 1896; resumed the practice of law; unsuccessful candidate for president of the United States as a Gold Democrat in 1896; died in Springfield, Ill., September 25, 1900; interment in Carlinville City Cemetery, Carlinville, Ill.
    "Palmer, John McAuley," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,
    How to Cite This Page: "Palmer, John McAuley," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,