Scates, Walter B.

Born: 1808-01-18 South Boston, Virginia

Died: 1886-10-26 Evanston, Illinois

As a child, Scates moved with his family from Virginia to a farm near Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where he attended school and helped on the farm. He later learned the printing trade in Nashville, Tennessee, and studied law in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1831, Scates moved to Frankfort, Illinois (now West Frankfort), where he began practicing law. He served as county surveyor, state’s attorney from 1831 to 1834, and attorney general in 1836. In 1836 he moved to Vandalia, Illinois, and in December of that year, the Illinois General Assembly elected him judge of the Third Judicial Circuit. Scates resigned in 1841, when the legislature appointed him to the Illinois Supreme Court, after it expanded the court from four to nine members. Each of the nine justices presided over a circuit court, and Scates was assigned to the Third Judicial Circuit. He resigned from the bench in 1847 and moved to Chicago. He served as a delegate to the 1848 Illinois constitutional convention. Again, elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 1853, Scates became chief justice in 1855, and resigned from the bench two years later. During his two tenures on the Supreme Court, Scates was a justice in 133 cases in which Abraham Lincoln was an attorney.

With the outbreak of Civil War, Scates served in the military, and in 1862, President Lincoln commissioned him as a major on General John A. McClernand’s staff. Scates eventually attained the rank of brigadier general. Scates later declined President Lincoln’s offer of the governorship of the New Mexico Territory.

Arthur Charles Cole, ed., The Constitutional Debates of 1847, vol. 14 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, Constitutional Series (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1919), 2:975-76; Samuel H. Treat, Walter B. Scates, and Robert S. Blackwell, comps., The Statutes of Illinois, Embracing all the General Laws of the State, in Force December 1, 1857 (Chicago: D. B. Cook, 1858); Frederic B. Crossley, Courts and Lawyers of Illinois (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1916), 1:319-20; John J. Duff, A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer (New York: Rinehart, 1960) 314-15; John Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:35-37; "Scates, Walter Bennett," The National Cyclopædia of American Biography, (New York: James T. White, 1904), 12:209-10; For Lincoln's cases before Scates, search "Scates, Walter B.," 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.