Allen, William J.

Born: 1829-06-09 Wilson County, Tennessee

Died: 1901-01-26 Hot Springs, Arkansas

Flourished: Williamson County, Illinois

William J. Allen was a lawyer, state government official, district attorney, state legislator, circuit judge, and U.S. representative. Allen emigrated with his father from Tennessee to what would become Williamson County, Illinois, in 1830. After attending local public schools, Allen read law at his father's law office and at Louisville, Kentucky, earning admission to the Illinois bar in 1849. He opened a law office in Metropolis, Illinois. In 1853, he moved to Marion, Illinois, where he formed a law partnership with John A. Logan, which continued until 1854. Williamson County voters elected Allen, as a Democrat, to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served from January to February 1855. Upon the conclusion of his term, Allen received appointment as prosecuting attorney of the Twenty-Sixth Judicial Circuit of Illinois. Allen's support for Stephen A. Douglas in the latter's break with President James Buchanan and his administration prompted Allen to resign in 1859 and return to his law practice. When his father died in 1859, Allen replaced him as judge of the Twenty-Sixth Judicial Circuit, and he held that office until December 1861, when he was elected as a member of the Illinois constitutional convention. Upon commencement of the Civil War, Allen was a Unionist, working to counteract disunion sentiment in southern Illinois. By 1862, however, he became involved in a plot to separate southern Illinois from the remainder of the state and the Union, and he became an active member of the Knights of the Golden Circle. In August 1862, federal officials arrested him and imprisoned him first at Cairo, Illinois and later Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC. Nevertheless, Allen won election to the U.S. House of Representatives to fill the vacancy caused by Logan's resignation and won reelection in his own right, serving in the House from June 1862 to March 1865. He failed in his reelection bid in 1864, largely because of the influence of Logan, who returned to Illinois to denounce Allen for his treasonable conduct. After the war, Allen practiced law, served as a delegate to the Illinois constitutional convention of 1870, and worked as a circuit court judge.

Illinois State Register (Springfield), 27 January 1901, 1:5-6; Theodore Calvin Pease, "Allen, William Joshua," Dictionary of American Biography, ed. by Allen Johnson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964), 1:1:213-14; Portrait and Biographical Record of Randolph, Jackson, Perry and Monroe Counties, Illinois (Chicago: Biographical, 1894), 227-28; National Republican (Washington, DC), 1 September 1862, 1:3-7, 2:1; John Clayton, comp., The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 220; Gravestone, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, IL. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.