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James Semple

Previous Illinois Supreme Court Justice


James Semple was born on January 5, 1798, in Green County, Kentucky. He moved to Edwardsville, Illinois in 1818 and then to Missouri in 1820. He studied law in Kentucky, and after admission to the Kentucky bar, practiced law in Clinton County, Kentucky. In 1827 he returned to Edwardsville, Illinois, and continued the practice of law. Semple was a brigadier general in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War (1831 - 1832). He was elected to the state legislature in 1832 and named Attorney General from 1833 to 1834. Semple served as speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834 to 1838. In 1837 President Martin Van Buren appointed Semple to the post of Minister to Columbia, a position he held until 1842. The following year the Illinois legislature appointed him to the Illinois Supreme Court to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Sidney Breese. Justice 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. After the expiration of his term in 1847, Semple retired to Edwardsville, Illinois. He died on December 20, 1866 in Elsah, Illinois. He wrote a history of Mexico that was never published, and invented a trackless train to be run on the prairie, which never caught on, which was referred to as ‘Semple’s Folly’.