Joseph M. Bailey was born June 22, 1833 in Middlebury, NY. His parents were farmers, originally from New England. His grandmother was a descendent of a mate on the Mayflower, making Joseph of puritan decent. Joseph spent his entire childhood on his father’s farm, and attended the Academy of Wyoming County New York. He then studied at the University of Rochester and graduated with honors in 1854.
After graduating, Bailey chose to start a career in law. He entered the law offices of Ethan A. Hopkins in Rochester at the age of 21, and was admitted to the bar at 22. It was not long after his admission that he decided to move to Freeport, IL. In Freeport he opened up his own practice with F.W.S. Brawley and remained in business with Mr. Brawley until 1863. At this time he began to work with former Civil War Captain, James Neff.
Captain Neff and Bailey had a successful partnership together which last until 1877 when Bailey was elected to be a circuit court judge. Although the law allowed Bailey to continue his practice as a lawyer while serving as a circuit judge, Bailey chose to retire from his private practice. Bailey was re-elected as a circuit judge in 1879, and then again in 1885.
While Bailey served as a circuit court judge, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed him to also serve as an appellate judge for the first district. He was appointed on June 14th, 1879, and he served as an appellate and circuit court judge until the year 1888 when he was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court.
On the Supreme Court, Justice Bailey was known to be quite intimidating. His size (he weighed over 250 pounds) and his aggressive style made him a formidable debater. Justice Bailey’s adamancy about his own opinions caused him and his colleague Justice Benjamin Magruder to argue with each other with some frequency. However, despite Bailey’s aggression, he was also known to back down from a debate quite willingly if his opposition presented sufficient legal evidence. Bailey was not considered necessarily “bright,” although he reportedly made up for it with his passion and just-mindedness.
Bailey was quite active in politics as well. In 1867 he was elected as Republican congressmen to the Illinois legislature. He served only one term, but remained an active party member. For the 1876 Presidential Election, Bailey served as a Republican President Elector for the state of Illinois.
Prior to moving to Illinois, Justice Bailey had married Ann Olin in 1856. The couple had two children, a son and daughter. Bailey’s son Charles O. Bailey became a successful attorney, practicing law in New York.
Bailey was an active member of the Baptist church and quite a religious man. His wife also took part in religious activities and was involved in numerous charitable organizations in the community. Justice Bailey was a member of the Masonic Order and achieved the 33rd level of masonry – the highest level possible. He was also a Trustee of the University of Chicago, and frequently lectured at the University until his health started to fail.
Jospeh M. Bailey was found dead in his home on October 17th, 1895. His cause of death was attributed to possible heart failure as a result of his enormous size. At his funeral the remaining six members of the Illinois Supreme Court acted as honorary pallbearers and greatly mourned his early death. Joseph M. Bailey was 62 when he died.
Next: David J. Baker
- “Contest for Supreme Judge.” Chicago Daily Tribune. March 30, 1888, p. 7. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849-1885). Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- “Judge J. M. Bailey Dead” Chicago Daily Tribune. Oct 17, 1895. p. 5. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849-1885). Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- “The Late Justice Bailey.” The Daily Inter Ocean. Oct 18, 1895. pg. 6; Issue 208; col A. 19th Century US Newspapers. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.