Judge David Davis

Judge David DavisA book written in 1960 about the Judge is titled, Lincoln's Manager, David Davis, by Willard L. King. It seems that the Judge, who was a good administrator, should get credit for the politicking behind the scenes at the Republican Convention that elected Abraham Lincoln as its Presidential candidate. Lincoln recongized the abilities of David Davis and appointed him to the Supreme Court. Later he resigned from the Supreme Court and the Illinois Legislature elected him to the U. S. Senate. There he was elected president pro tem. President Garfield was assassinated and Vice President Arthur took over the Presidency.

At that time the president of the Senate was considered next in line for the Presidency; now it is the Speaker of the House. When Perry Veazey was sick and Judge Davis went to visit him in Wilminton, Delaware, Judge Davis asked another Senator to sit in for him and preside over the Senate but some Democrats, fearing that if President Arthur died while the other Senator was presiding the other senator would become president, and would not allow the Senate to meet until Judge Davis got back. Perry Veazey was described as his former manservant. After the death of Lincoln, Judge Davis served as the Administrator of his estate.

The RoundsDavid Davis was born at the "Rounds" in Cecil County, the home of his grandfather, John Mercer. In more recent years, this house has been the hunting lodge of the late Felix DuPont. Judge Davis probably lived in Sassafras Neck, but also in Annapolis, Maryland; Wilmington and Newark, Delaware; Gambier, Ohio; Berkshire County, Massachusetts; and New Haven, Connecticutt. It seems that young David had a rather difficult childnood as his father died before he was born and he lived much of his youth with an uncle or his mother and step-father. By the age of 20, he had his college and legal education and set out for Illinois. This was remarkable in that he lived the rest of his life in this part of the country and probably had a hand in shaping the future of the country. Bloomington, Illinois, was the meeting place for immigration from both the North and the South, and Davis was popular with both factions.

The book is full of his correspondence to his wife when he rode circuit in Illinois. On many of these trips, his companion and co-worker was a tall young man named Abraham Lincoln. They became fast friends and probably helped shape the positions of each other. While they were close, they were also opposite in many ways. Lincoln was self educated and a frontiersman, with none of the polish of the Eastern establishment, while David Davis had come from the more civilized part of the country around Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Lincoln was tall and lank (David bemoaned the fact that his trousers and coat sleeves were never long enough), while Davis became very portly. Lincoln was an outstanding public speaker, but Davis preferred to leave the talking to someone else and work in the background. Thus, Davis was uniquely suited to work in the background as the floor manager for Lincoln's nomination. David wrote to his wife frequently and faithfully, and lamented the fact that Lincoln rarely contacted his family back home.

Contrast can also be seen in their respective homes in Illinois. If you have visited Springfield and seen the Lincoldn home, you will agree that it was a very nice middle class home, by today's standards, although Mary Lincoln considered herself high society in the capital city of Illinois.

But, if you visit the Davis home in Bloomington, which was not built until 1870, you will agree that it is indeed a "mansion," far overshadowing Lincoln's Springfield residence. Judge Davis had made his fortune in land by this time, and the house was nearly completed when there was a great depression which probably made him rue the day that he ever started it. However, this passed and he enjoyed his new home.

The Davises previous house on the site was a frame colonial that had been built by Jesse Fell, of the Quaker family, from whom Davis had bought a law partnership. Mrs. Davis admired Quaker simplicity which is probably why the interior of the frame house was more restrained than the exterior.

"Sarah Davis described her new house as 'comfortable and convenient.' With its central heating, gas lighting, indoor bathrooms, hot and cold running water, and mechanical call-bell system, the mansion boasted the latest in home improvements. But it was meant to be a showcase as well. The decorative arts through out the house reflected Sarah's tastes, as well as the faily's wealth and social standing. The elegant and ornate interiors included beautifully finished woodwrok, Renaissance Revival furnishings (purchased at the time of construction), and hand-painted walls and ceilings. Many of those features remain today." (Copied from the booklet, Clover Lawn, copyright, 1994, The David Davis Mansion Foundation.)

By the way, the renovations were completed and we have paid a couple of visites to the David Davis mansion to see it in all its glory, the most recent being in the Spring of 1998. Alice believes that this home has been renovated as a "museum of Victorian living," and that when the Judge and his family lived there, it was probably decorated more in a Southern manner. Alice remembers carpets that are more like those in the Hermitage of Andrew Jackson in Nashville, than those seen in the mansion today.

I would like to thank Alice Davis Cates for correcting my efforts on behalf of her ancestor and my cousin.

Ann Davis


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