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McLean County, Illinois
History and Genealogy



HON. REUBEN M. BENJAMIN, the youngest son of Darius and Martha (Rogers) Benjamin, was born at Chatham Center, Columbia Co., N. Y., June 29, 1833. His father was a private in the War of 1812, and his grandfather, Ebenezer Benjamin, was a Captain in the Revolutionary War. He is descended from English and Welsh ancestry, who in the colonial days lived in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Mr. Benjamin of this notice lived on a farm until he was fourteen years old and was prepared for college at Kinderhook Academy, N. Y., whence he entered Amherst College, Mass., and was graduated in 1853, receiving the third honor of his class. He soon afterward became Principal of Hopkins Academy at Hadley, near Amherst, and in 1854 entered the Law Department of Harvard University. In 1855-56 he was tutor in Amherst College. In April of the year last named he came to Bloomington, Ill., and in September following was licensed to practice law, his examination certificate being signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Shortly after his admission to the bar Mr. Benjamin became a partner with Gen. A. Gridley and Col. J. H. Wickider, and remained with them as long as they continued to practice law. In 1863 he formed a partnership with Hon. Thomas F. Tipton, afterward Circuit Judge and Member of Congress, and since then, at different times, has been associated with Hon. J. H. Rowell, Member of Congress, and Hon. Lawrence Weldon, Judge of the Court of Claims at Washington. In 1869 Mr. Benjamin was chosen a member of the convention that framed the present constitution of the State. He served on the committees of Bill of Rights, Municipal Corporations, State Institutions and Schedule. He was one of the most active and efficient members of the convention, and during the session and after its close was the recipient of highly complimentary remarks by his co-laborers and by the press.

Our subject was one of the counsel for the people in the celebrated Lexington case (C. & A. R. R. Co. vs The people, 67 Ill. Rep.), a case involving the question as to the right of railroad corporations to charge more for a less than for a greater distance. He was subsequently employed as special counsel for the State Board of Railroad and Warehouse Commissioners, assisting also in the prosecution of the Warehouse case, Munn vs The People, 69 Ill. Rep. 80, which was taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, being there affirmed Munn vs Ill. 94 U. S. Rep., and became the leading case in the series familiarly known in 1876 as the "Granger cases." These cases established the constitutional power of the Legislature to regulate railroad and warehouse charges, and thereby protect the public against imposition. In the latter case, Ruggles vs. The people, 91 Ill. Rep., the Supreme Court of this State declared broadly that the Legislature has the power to fix the maximum rates of charges by corporations or individuals exercising a calling or business public in its character, or in which the public have a right to be protected against extortion or oppression. In commenting on this case the Western Jurist says: "It is probable that the people of the State are indebted for the results of this agitation as given in the above decision to Hon. R. M. Benjamin, of Bloomington, in a greater degree than to any other single individual. As a member of the Constitutional Convention, he made the clearest and most convincing argument in favor of the rights of the people which was delivered in that body, and as special counsel for the people in the cases of the C. & A. R. R. Co. vs The People, and Munn vs The People, has very materially contributed in establishing the principle contended for by him before the convention and established in the above cases."

In 1873 Mr. Benjamin was elected without opposition to the office of County Judge of McLean County. He was re-elected in 1877 and also in 1882. He soon won, and ever afterward retained the respect and confidence of the bar and of the people by his judicial aptitude, the soundness of his decisions and the quiet ease with which he dispatched business. He preferred not to be a candidate again for the office and accordingly retired from the bench at the close of his third term, in December, 1886. Shortly afterward he resumed his law practice in partnership with Mr. John J. Morrissey. Upon the organization of the Law Department of the Illinois Wesleyan University, in 1874, Judge Benjamin was appointed Dean of the Law Faculty and still holds that position. In 1879 he published a work entitled "Student's Guide to Elementary Law," which has proved of great assistance to those for whom it was appointed.

Judge Benjamin was married at Chatham, N. Y., Sept. 15, 1856, to Miss Laura E., daughter of David G. Woodin, who for many years was County Superintendent of Schools of Columbia County, N. Y. The family residence in Bloomington is finely located, and in all its appointments indicates the exercise of cultivated tastes and ample means. Its hospitable doors admit the best people of the city, whose society is enjoyed by our subject and his wife, who are greatly respected as cultured and useful members of society.

[SOURCE: Portrait and biographical album of McLean County, Ill. : containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States. (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887). Transcribed and annotated by Judy Rosella Edwards.]


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