Who was Joseph E. Gary?


Joseph E. Gary was born in Potsdam, New York, July 9, 1821. His family of Puritan extraction dates back to early colonial days. His grandfather was Seth Gary, his father, Eli Bush Gary.


He acquired his literary education in the common school of his native state. In 1843, at the age of 22, he settled in the Middle West. In 1844, he was admitted to the practice of law in the state of Illinois. A few years later, he journeyed to New Mexico. Here he learned to speak and write Spanish in order to make practical use of it in professional business in that territory.


The work of the courts of New Mexico was scarcely large enough to support many lawyers and Judge Gary availed himself of an opportunity to add to his financial resources by assisting in driving a herd of sheep to the Pacific Coast. He traversed many weary miles on foot between New Mexico and San Diego. At the latter place he boarded a steamer for San Francisco, where he engage in the practice of law for three years. The riotous joy of the gold era had no attraction for the young lawyer from New York. He gave his time to study, storing his mind with legal principals and precedents from which he drew at will in his later career as a juror.


He returned to Potsdam and later proceeded to the Middle West in Berlin, Wisconsin, where he met and  married Miss Elizabeth Swetting, November 28, 1855. The year following his marriage, Judge Gary established his home in Chicago and almost from the beginning of his connection with the bar; he was accorded prominence in its ranks.


While in New Mexico, he had formed the acquaintance of Murria F. Tuley, with whom he practiced law after his arrival in Chicago. During the succeeding three years, he was a partner of Evert James Van Buren but was called from the private practice of law to the bench of the Superior Court of Cook County. He sat on the bench for 43 years, a record unparalleled in the history of the courts of the United Status, if not in the World.


There is no man in the judicial history of Illinois in whom the people have placed such implicit confidence in his professional integrity and ability. It was not necessary for him to refer to the numerous law volumes but only to call upon his retentive memory, which as the years passed, was made a storehouse of broad and profound legal learning. He held the members of the bar strictly to the points in question.


On four occasions of his reelection, he received the nomination of both political parties, a fact, which indicates that he had inspired general confidence by an unimpeachable personal character as well as marked by professional skill.


In November 1886, he was transferred by appointment to the Supreme Court of Illinois and became its Chief Justice. While his experience covered a wide field he became prominent before the public as the Judge in the case of anarchists in Chicago 1886.


Perhaps no other case in the American courts attracted such widespread attention. A dynamite bomb was thrown into the midst of a battalion of police and of the 67 men injured, seven died. Eight men were tried for complicity in the offense. There was no certainty as to the identity of the thrower of the bomb, and reliance therefore had to be placed on the statue, which makes the accessory guilty of the crime of the principal. The indictment was one of the most voluminous ever returned in a murder case. The bomb was thrown March 4, 1886 and the trial began on the seventh of June, twenty-one days being spent in impaneling the jury while 982 were examined before the 12 were selected.


The trial lasted 62 days, the prosecution examining 143 witnesses and the defense 92. All this examination gave rise to numerous objections and exceptions each requiring a prompt decision by the court and each decision being made with the consciousness that it was subject to revision by the Supreme Court and refusal in case it should be found erroneous and injurious to the accused, for the prosecution could not have a new trial in any case.


When seven of the accused were found guilty, the case was carried to the Supreme Court where Justice Magruder pronounced the entire trial free from material errors.


In Waterman’s History of Chicago in a sketch of Judge Gary appears the following: “He had a vigorous mind that seemed never to rest or be dull. His memory was phenomenal…in his judicial office he was utterly indifferent to the applause of the multitude, the blandishments of power as well as the bitterness of those who took offense at his conduct.”


A gracious presence, a charming personality and profound legal wisdom combined to make him one of the most distinguished and honored residents of the State of Illinois.


He passed away October 31. 1906.