Biography of Judge John T. Morgan

Judge John T. Morgan
Judge John T. Morgan

The gentleman whose name heads this review has been a conspicuous figure in the legislative and judicial history of two states. Probably the public life of no other illustrious citizen of Idaho has extended over as long a period as his, and certainly the life of none has been more varied in service, more constant in honor, more fearless in conduct and more stainless in reputation. His career has been one of activity, full of incidents and results. In every sphere of life in which he has been called upon to move he has made an indelible impression, and by his excellent public service and upright life he has honored the state, which has honored him with high official preferment.

Judge Morgan was born in Hamburg, Erie County, New York. His ancestors, leaving the little rock-ribbed country of Wales, became early settlers of New England, and through many generations members of the family were residents of Connecticut and active participants in the affairs which go to form’ the colonial history of the nation. In the war of the Revolution they fought for the independence of the country, and at all times have been loyal to American interests. James Clark Morgan, the father of the Judge, was born in Connecticut in 1798, and married Penelope Green, a native of Herkimer County, New York. He was an industrious farmer and served as justice of the peace for many years, discharging his duties most faithfully. In his religious views he was a Universalist. He died in February 1872, at the age of seventy-four years, and his wife departed this life in her forty-sixth year. They had six children, of whom three are living.

Judge Morgan, their third son, in 1843 accompanied his parents on their removal to Illinois, which was then a largely undeveloped state, while Chicago was little more than a village on a wet prairie. He was reared on a farm, attended the public schools of Monmouth, and afterward engaged in teaching school in order to continue his own education.

In 1852 he entered Lombard University, at Galesburg, Illinois, where he was graduated in 1855. He then took up the study of law in the office of General E. A. Paine, afterward a prominent brigadier general in the Union Army, and remained in that office for three years. He then entered the law department of Albany University, New York, and later continued his studies in the State Law School at Poughkeepsie, New York, where he was graduated in 1856, with the degree of Bachelor of Law.

In 1856 he began the practice of his profession at Monmouth, Illinois, and soon secured a large and distinctively representative clientele, but the civil war was inaugurated, and as time passed and the conflict became more bitter he felt that the country needed his services, and on the nth of August, 1862, enlisted in Company F, Eighty-third Illinois Volunteer Infantry. On the 6th of that month Governor Yates, the famous war governor of the Prairie state, had commissioned him to raise a company, and it was in that company he enlisted, being elected its captain, in which capacity he served until the close of the war, when he received an honorable discharge on the 26th of June, 1865. While in the service he was for two years provost marshal, and stationed at Clarkville, Tennessee, where he had charge of all the abandoned and contraband goods, houses and lands of all persons who had joined the rebel army in that vicinity.

After returning to the north Judge Morgan resumed the practice of law in Monmouth. His fidelity to his clients’ interests was proverbial, and his comprehensive knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence won him marked success in his chosen calling. In 1870 he was elected a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, in which he served for two years. In 1874 he was elected a member of the state senate, serving in that capacity until 1878, and most earnestly laboring to promote the interests of his constituents and of the commonwealth. In 1867 he was appointed registrar in bankruptcy, filling the office until 1879. On the 26th of June, of that year, he was appointed by President Hayes chief justice of the supreme court of Idaho, and in addition to presiding over that court of last resort he also served as ex-officio judge of the district court, which included all the southeastern part of the state, including the counties of Oneida, Cassia, Custer and Lemhi. He presided over the first term of court held in Cassia and Custer counties. Oneida County at that time comprised the territory in the eastern part of the state from Utah to the Montana line, a section of country about one hundred and fifty miles wide by three hundred miles long, with the exception of a small tract known as the Bear Lake country. Judge Morgan was reappointed chief justice of the supreme court of Idaho by President Arthur, and satisfactorily filled that position until 1885, when he was removed by President Cleveland.

After filling the office of chief justice for six years, in which he won the highest commendation of the bench and bar of the northwest, he resumed the private practice of law in Boise, and soon secured a large clientage throughout the eastern part of the state, connecting him with most of the important litigation carried on in the courts. When the subject of Idaho’s admission to the Union was agitated he gave his earnest efforts to the creation of sentiment favorable to the project, and when it became necessary to frame a state constitution he was elected a member of the convention which met for that purpose, and served as chairman of the committee on the legislative department. In October 1890, he was elected one of the justices of the supreme court of Idaho, and again ably served on the bench for six years, until March 4, 1897, when he again resumed his law practice. Few men on the Pacific coast have been as long in public service as Judge Morgan, who has filled positions of great importance and responsibility for thirty-six years, throughout which his course has ever been above reproach and his fidelity to duty most marked. Since his arrival in Idaho he has justly been regarded as one of the most worthy and prominent men of the state, and has attained a high reputation as one of the ablest jurists who ever occupied the bench of the Supreme Court.

The Judge was happily married, in November, 1858, to Miss Maria Horroun, of Pennsylvania, and they have three children living, besides one deceased, namely: Nellie L., now the wife of George M. Snow, of Boise; Coral, who married Charles P. Durst and resided in Salt Lake City, Utah, until her death, in 1890; Ralph Tod a practicing attorney at Moscow, Idaho: and Grace, wife of James M. Stevens, of Blackfoot. The Judge and his wife have a delightful home in Boise and are held in the highest esteem throughout the community.


Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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