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James Shields

Previous Illinois Supreme Court Justice


James Shields was born on May 12, 1806 in Altmore, Ireland. In 1826 he immigrated to the United States, and in 1829 he moved to Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studied law and taught French. Shields fought in the Black Hawk War and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1832. A Democrat, Shields was elected to the state legislature in 1836, and that same year became auditor for the State of Illinois. As auditor, Shields helped to correct the finances of the state after the Panic of 1837, but not without the criticism of the Whig press. Shields, in response to anonymous charges made in the Illinois State Journal by Abraham Lincoln and his fiancee Mary Todd, challenged Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln admitted he had written the letters “wholly for political effect” but Shields was not dissuaded. Mutual friends resolved the feud before the duel. In 1843, Governor Thomas Ford appointed Shields to the Illinois Supreme Court. He held that position for two years until his resigned to accept an appointment as the commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. Shields served as brigadier general of Illinois volunteers during the Mexican War and was critically wounded. In 1848, he returned to Kaskaskia, Illinois, to resume his law practice. The general assembly elected Shields to the U.S. Senate in 1849. He lost his bid for senate reelection in 1855, and moved to the Minnesota Territory. After Minnesota’s statehood, voters elected Shields one of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators. After his term expired, he moved to San Francisco, California, and then to Mexico. When the American Civil War began, Shields became a brigadier general and campaigned in the Shenandoah Valley. In 1863, he resigned his commission and returned to San Francisco, where he accepted an appointment as railroad commissioner. Three years later, Shields moved to Carrollton, Missouri and reentered politics. In 1879, he was elected to fill out an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate and became the only person to have been a U.S. Senator from three different states. Shields died on June 1, 1879, in Ottumwa, Iowa.