Born: 1802-11-22 Allen County, Kentucky
Died: 1889-08-22 Jacksonville, Illinois
Flourished: Jacksonville, Illinois
Thomas received a basic education in the frontier schools of Kentucky and at eighteen, his father appointed him as his deputy sheriff. Soon after, Thomas served as the deputy clerk of the Allen County Court and later the Warren County Court. He studied law and was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1823. In 1826, he moved to Illinois and settled in Jacksonville, where he continued to practice law. He volunteered for service in both the Winnebago War in 1827 and the Black Hawk War in 1831-32. In 1829, Governor Ninian Edwards appointed Thomas as the state’s attorney for a new circuit court north of the Illinois River, and in 1831, he served as the Morgan County school commissioner. Voters elected Thomas to the Illinois Senate in 1834. He resigned in 1839, when the Illinois General Assembly elected him judge of the First Judicial Circuit. Thomas served on the bench until 1841. Voters again elected Thomas to the General Assembly, where he served from 1846 to 1848, and again from 1850 to 1852. In 1847, Thomas represented Morgan County at the Illinois State Constitutional Convention. In 1861, Governor Richard Yates and the Illinois Senate appointed Thomas to the Board of Army Auditors, which required him to procure funds from Washington, DC, to equip Illinois volunteers. Between Thomas' time on the bench from 1839 to 1841 and his long career as an attorney in Jacksonville, he and Abraham Lincoln encountered one another frequently in the courtroom.
Charles M. Eames, Historic Morgan and Classic Jacksonville (Jacksonville, IL: Daily Journal Steam Job Printing, 1885), 323-26; John Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:337; For Thomas' cases involving Lincoln, search "Thomas, William," 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), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.