Young, Richard M.

Born: 1798-02-20 Fayette County, Kentucky

Died: 1861-11-28 Washington, D.C.

Young received his early education at country schools and Forest Hill Academy in Jessamine County, Kentucky. After finishing his studies at Forest Hill, he studied law and gained admission to the Kentucky bar in 1816. One year later, he moved to Jonesboro, Illinois, and began a law practice there. In 1820, voters elected him to represent Union County in the Illinois House of Representatives, and in 1825, the General Assembly appointed Young judge of the Third Judicial Circuit. When the General Assembly created the Fifth Judicial Circuit in 1829, they assigned Young to be the judge of the new circuit, which comprised all of the state north of the Illinois River. He moved from Jonesboro to Quincy, Illinois, to serve the new circuit more effectively. In 1836, the General Assembly elected Young to a six-year term in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. At the end of his senate term in 1843, the General Assembly elected Young as an associate justice in the Illinois Supreme Court, replacing Theophilus W. Smith, who had resigned. Abraham Lincoln appeared before Richard Young in the Illinois Supreme Court in seventy-one legal cases. Young resigned from the bench in 1847 when President James K. Polk appointed him as the commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington, DC, succeeding James Shields. Young served as commissioner until June 1849, when the new Whig President Zachary Taylor removed him. Lincoln sought the appointment to replace Young, but President Taylor appointed Justin Butterfield to the post. From 1850 to 1851, Young served as a clerk in the U.S. House of Representatives, before resuming the practice of law in Washington, D.C. He spent his final years in an insane asylum.

Frederic B. Crossley, Courts and Lawyers of Illinois (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1916), 1:232-33; Illinois Biographical Dictionary (New York: Somerset Publishers, 1993), 347-48; John M. Palmer, ed., The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical and Reminiscent (Chicago: Lewis, 1899), 1:42-43, 2:875; J. F. Snyder, “Forgotten Statesman of Illinois: Richard M. Young,” Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1906 (January 1906):302-27; David W. Wilcox, ed., Quincy and Adams County: History and Representative Men (Chicago: Lewis, 1919), 1:143-44. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.