Joseph N. Carter was born in Hardin County Kentucky on March 3rd, 1843. Little is known of Carter’s early life; however sometime before the outbreak of the Civil War, Carter’s family moved to Illinois. During the war Carter served in the 70th Illinois Infantry as a private. He was only 19 at the time, and after the war ended Carter returned to school.
Carter received his college education from Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL. He graduated in 1866, and then went to the University of Michigan to receive his legal degree. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1869. The same year he was admitted to the bar in Illinois, and chose to practice in Quincy, Illinois, which would be his home for the rest of his life.
In Quincy, Carter had a successful career as a lawyer but was also extremely involved in politics. In 1878, Carter was elected to the Illinois State Legislature. He sat on the legislature only until 1888; yet even in this amount of time, Carter was considered a possible candidate for Speaker of the House. He was, however, unable to secure another term in the legislature. In 1892 Carter he was nominated as a candidate for Lt. Governor for Illinois by the Adams County Republican party, but failed to receive the nomination at the state convention.
Carter finally found his political niche when he was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 1894 in an upset victory. Carter was nominated by the Republican Party for the 1894 Illinois Supreme Court to replace Judge Shope in the 4th judicial district. The 4th district had, however, a Democratic majority of almost 7,000 according to the most recent presidential election. Carter’s Democratic opponent in the election was also a seasoned circuit court judge, while Carter had no experience as a judge. Apparently motivated by his last political shortcomings, Carter ran a fierce campaign and won the election with a 4,000 vote majority.
Carter served on the Supreme Court until 1903, and served as Chief Justice in 1898. In the 1903 election Carter was defeated by the son of one his former colleagues. Justice Alfred M. Craig had served along side Carter from the time that Carter was elected until 1900, when Craig was voted out and replaced by a Republican rival. In the 1903 Alfred M. Craig’s son, Charles C. Craig ran against and defeated Carter.
Carter spent the last several years of his life almost completely paralyzed from a stroke. On February 6, 1913, Joseph N. Carter had a final stroke which ended his life. His wife and three children survived him.
Next: Orrin Nelson Carter
- “Memorial Services for Judge Carter of the supreme court.” Chicago Legal News 46 (1913): 141. 19th Century Masterfile. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- “Joseph N. Carter.” Chicago Legal News 27 (1886-1898): 143. 19th Century Masterfile. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.