Benjamin Drake Magruder was born on September 27, 1838 in Natchez, Mississippi. His father, Professor W. K. N. Magruder and his mother were both originally from the North. Because his father was a professor, he prepared young Benjamin for college on his own, and at age 14, Benjamin Magruder entered Yale University.
Magruder graduated from Yale at age 18 and immediately entered The University of Lousiana’s department of law. After graduating from the legal department, Magruder was admitted to the bar in Memphis and chose to practice there for several years. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 caused Magruder to leave the South, and he moved to Chicago.
In Chicago, Magruder built up a successful legal practice. His relationship with one of his partners, George F. Bailey, would eventually lead him toward a life as a judge. George F. Bailey was also a former partner of Judge Joseph E. Gary, who, on the recommendation of Bailey, appointed Magruder to be Master of the Superior Court of Cook County. Magruder served in this capacity for 16 years.
In 1885 Magruder decided to run for the Illinois Supreme Court, and was named by the Republican party to be the successor of Justice T. Lyle Dickey who died the same year. Interestingly, the Democrats also endorsed Magruder, and he ran unopposed for the position on the Illinois Supreme Court. He was re-elected in 1888 and 1897, but failed to receive the Republican nomination in 1906. Although his failure to receive the nomination no doubt had political explanations, many believed he was too old to be still serving on the bench. Magruder tried to run as an independent but was defeated. After being defeated, Magruder returned to private legal practice at age 68.
Magruder served 21 years in all on the Illinois Supreme Court, and served as Chief Justice in 1891, 1896, and 1902. In his decisions he was known for his staunch anti-trust stance, and his skepticism of the character of modern business. Magruder believed business had become riddled with men of means and apprehensible character, and was known to fight for those who were less fortunate.
Shortly after coming to Chicago, Magruder married Julia M. Lathum (or Lathrop) in 1864. They had a son and a daughter together. The couple’s daughter died around the turn of the century, and Mrs. Magruder died several years later in 1904.
Magruder was a member of the 4th Presbyterian Church for over 40 years, and served as a church elder for a number of those years. Due to his distinguished legal career, Yale conferred upon him the Degree of Doctor of Laws in 1906.
After having a brief bout with Bright’s disease, Benjamin Drake Magruder was found dead in his home on April 21, 1910, presumably from kidney failure.
Next: John H. Mulkey
- “Benjamin Drake Magruder- Obituary.” Chicago Legal News 42(1910): 297. 19th Century Masterfile. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- “Memorial of the Late Benjamin Drake Magruder of the Illinois Supreme Court.” Chicago Legal News, 43 (1910): 85. 19th Century Masterfile. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.