John McCauley Palmer

John McCauley Palmer—governor, Senator, major general, and presidential candidate—was born in Scott County, Kentucky, on September 13, 1817, but at the age of fourteen moved to Illinois with his father, an antislavery Jacksonian Democrat. He attended Shurtleff College in Alton for two years before moving to Carlinville in 1839, where he read law and was admitted to the bar. Palmer's long and tortuous political career began in 1840 when he stumped for Martin Van Buren. In the years before the Civil War he consistently opposed the extension of slavery and served in the state senate as both a regular Democrat and an independent Democrat. In 1856, however, he was instrumental in the formation of the Illinois Republican party and ran for Congress in 1859 on the Republican ticket, but was defeated. The next year he was a delegate to the Chicago convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Palmer was successively colonel of the 14th Illinois Infantry (May 25, 1861), brigadier general of volunteers (December 20, 1861), and major general (March 16, 1863 to rank from November 29, 1862). He commanded a division under John Pope at New Madrid and Island No. 10, a brigade during the advance on Corinth, and a division of Crittenden's Left Wing at Murfreesboro. Palmer was then promoted to the command of the XIV Corps which he led at Chattanooga and in the Atlanta campaign. In August, 1864, he was relieved from command at his own request by General W. T. Sherman as the result of a quibble over relative rank, an incident which did not reflect particularly favorably on him. Later he had command of the Department of Kentucky. In 1868 Palmer was elected governor of Illinois on the Republican ticket, but in his inaugural address declared himself in favor of states' rights and the curtailment of Federal powers. By 1872 he was supporting Horace Greeley and the liberals against U. S. Grant and soon was back in the Democratic fold. In 1884 he was a delegate to the convention which nominated Grover Cleveland, in 1888 was defeated in a bid for the governorship, but in 1891 went to the U. S. Senate as a Democrat. In 1896 he and ex-Confederate Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner teamed up to run for president and vice-president as the candidates of the Gold Democrats who repudiated the free-silver doctrine of William Jennings Bryan. General Palmer died in Springfield on September 25, 1900, and was buried in Carlinville.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.