Born: 1798-01-05 Green County, Kentucky
Died: 1866-12-20 Elsah, Illinois
Semple moved to Edwardsville, Illinois, in 1818 and then to Missouri in 1820. He returned to his home state of Kentucky to study law, and after admission to the Kentucky bar, practiced law in Louisville and Clinton County. In 1827, he moved back to Edwardsville and continued the practice of law. Semple served as a private, adjutant, and judge advocate during the Black Hawk War (1831-1832). He won election to the Illinois General Assembly in 1832 and served as attorney general in 1833 and 1834. Semple was speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834 to 1838, which covered much of Abraham Lincoln's time there. In 1837, President Martin Van Buren appointed Semple to the post of Minister to Colombia, a position he held until 1842. The following year, the Illinois General Assembly appointed Semple to the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Sidney Breese. Semple resigned from the court after only a few months to accept an appointment to the United States Senate upon the death of Illinois Senator Samuel McRoberts. During his brief tenure, Semple heard seven cases in which Lincoln was an attorney. After the expiration of his Senate term in 1847, Semple retired to Edwardsville.
W. T. Norton, Centennial History of Madison County and Its People, 1812-1912 (Chicago: Lewis, 1912), 1157-60; Usher F. Linder, Reminiscences of the Early Bench and Bar of Illinois, 2nd ed. (Chicago: The Chicago Legal News, 1879), 218-19; John M. Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:41-42; William L. Burton, “James Semple, Prairie Entrepreneur," Illinois Historical Journal 80 (Summer 1987): 66-84. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.