David Jewett Baker was born on November 20, 1834 in Kaskaskia, Illinois. He received his early education in the area, and attended Shurtliff College in Upper Alton Illinois for his advanced education. In his academic work, Baker was known by his colleagues and professors to be exceptionally bright. He graduated with honors in 1854.
He chose to stay in Upper Alton to pursue a career in law, and studied in his father’s law offices, D.J. and H.S. Baker. On November 15, 1856 Baker was admitted to the Illinois Bar and moved to Cairo, Illinois.
In Cairo, Baker worked with a number of different law firms, and also concerned himself with the civic affairs of the city. He served one term as the City Attorney, and also one term as the city’s Mayor. In July 1864 Baker married Sarah Elizabeth White from Cairo. The couple had five children, three daughters, and two sons. One of Baker’s sons joined the military while the other went into legal practice with his father.
In his whole career, Baker spent nearly 28 years as a judge and represented 4 different districts. He was first elected to be a circuit court judge of the 19th district of Illinois in 1869. He was re-elected to this position in 1873, 1879, and again in 1885. In June of 1879 the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Baker to be an appellate judge for the 4th district. However, in 1882 the Supreme Court appointed him to serve in the same capacity as an appellate judge, this time for the 2nd judicial district.
In July in 1878 the death of Supreme Court Justice Sidney Bresse left a vacancy on the Supreme Court in the 1st district. Illinois Governor Collum chose to appoint Baker for the vacant position. This was significant at the time, because it was a rare occasion a Governor to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice; the majority of Supreme Court Judges received their positions through election.
Once appointed, Baker had to run for election in June of 1885. Baker was a Republican, and in this particular election the Illinois Democrats made considerable efforts against his campaign, yet he did win the election to the surprise of many. He was, however, voted out of office in the 1897 election and was replaced by Democratic Judge Boggs by a narrow margin of 150-200 votes.
After losing the 1897 election, Baker retired from serving as a Judge and returned to his private practice in Cairo with his son. He practiced at a number of firms including Mulkey & Baker, and Green & Baker. On Monday, March 13th, 1899, he was found dead in his law office. The cause of death was heart attack.
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- “David J. Baker- Obituary.” Chicago Legal News, 31 (1898): 253. 19th Century Masterfile. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- “Bogs Elected in First District.” Chicago Daily Tribune. June 15, 1897, p. 2. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1872-1963). Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.