Born: 1788-02-26 Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
Died: 1865-05-08 Belleville, Illinois
Reynolds moved with his family to Tennessee when he was young. In 1800, they moved to Kaskaskia, Illinois, and then to Edwardsville. He studied law in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Illinois, earning admittance to the bar around 1813. Reynolds opened a law practice in Cahokia, Illinois but left it briefly to do limited service in the War of 1812, for which he earned the nickname "Old Ranger." In 1817, he married Catherine Dubuque LaCroix Manegle. She died in 1834 and he married Sarah Wilson in 1836.
In 1818, he won election as an associate justice on the Illinois Supreme Court, eventually becoming chief justice, and then an Illinois General Assembly seat in 1826. In 1830, Reynolds won the governorship of Illinois, but he was not able to achieve his vision of extensive internal improvements. The Black Hawk War also broke out under his administration, and he acted as commander in chief of the Illinois State Militia. He ran for Congress during his final year in office and won election to the House of Representatives in 1834 and remained there until 1842. He subsequently served in the Illinois General Assembly several more times, serving as speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. Thus, he became the only person in Illinois history to hold the highest office in all three branches of the state government.
A Democrat, Reynolds sided with the Buchanan wing over Stephen A. Douglas in the 1850s. He attended the 1860 Democratic National Convention, but was later denied his seat. During the Civil War, he became a true Copperhead--supporting the Confederacy and slavery. In addition to his political career, Reynolds published two books in the 1850s: a history of Illinois's pioneers and an autobiography. He retired to Belleville, Illinois, where he died.
Robert M. Sutton, "Reynolds, John," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 18:380-82; Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors, 1818-1988 (Springfield, IL: Illinois Issues, Sangamon State University, Illinois State Historical Society, 1988), 47-55.