Caton, John D.

Born: 1812-03-19 Monroe, New York

Died: 1895-07-30 Chicago, Illinois

Caton attended Utica Academy and taught school in Utica, New York. While teaching, he studied law and civil engineering under local attorneys and at Grosvenor High School. In 1833, Caton moved to Chicago. He obtained a license to practice law, and opened Chicago’s first law office with law partner Giles Spring. Caton was active in Democratic politics and served as chair of Illinois’ first political convention, held in Ottawa in 1834. That same year, he won election as justice of the peace. In July 1835, he married Laura Adelaide Sherrill and earned admittance to the bar. The following year, he formed a law partnership with Norman B. Judd.

Governor Thomas Carlin appointed Caton an associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in August 1842. He lost an election for his seat in March of 1843, but two months later the governor reappointed him to the bench, and he later won reelection to the supreme court. After promulgation of the 1848 constitution, voters elected Caton to one of the three positions on the supreme court. He became chief justice when Samuel H. Treat resigned from the post in 1855. Caton himself resigned from the bench in 1864. Abraham Lincoln was an attorney in numerous cases in the Illinois Supreme Court in which Caton was a justice.

Caton was involved in several business endeavors, including organizing and serving as a director of the Illinois & Mississippi Telegraph Company in 1849. After his retirement, he traveled extensively in Europe and America. He studied natural history and economics and published numerous articles on these topics.

The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men: Illinois Volume (Chicago: American Biographical, 1876), 8-9; Usher F. Linder, Reminiscences of the Early Bench and Bar of Illinois (Chicago: The Chicago Legal News, 1879), 363-65; John M. Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:39-41; H. W. Howard Knott, “Caton, John Dean,” Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964), 2:2:575-76; For Caton’s cases with Lincoln, search “Caton, John D.,” Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.