David Davis was born in 1815 in Maryland, was educated at Kenyon College in Ohio and studied law at Yale University. In 1836, he settled in Bloomington, IL where he began practicing law, and three years later, after making a modest fortune, married Sarah Walker, daughter of a Massachusetts probate judge.
This journey they embarked on lasted 40 years. Along the way, Davis went from a circuit-riding lawyer to a U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice, and maintained a long-time friendship with Abraham Lincoln.
From his earliest days riding the circuit with Lincoln to the years when he served as Lincoln's appointee to the highest court in the land, Judge Davis played out his life at the very center of American politics and society.
In 1844, Davis won election as a Whig to the Illinois legislature, and four years later was elected Judge of Illinois' Eighth Judicial Circuit, where he served on the bench during Lincoln's remaining years as an attorney on the circuit. The two became close friends, and Davis worked diligently as Lincoln's campaign manager at the 1860 Republican nominating convention in Chicago. Along the way, Davis went from a circuit-riding lawyer to a U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice, and maintained a long-time friendship with Abraham Lincoln.
In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Davis to the United States Supreme Court, where Davis wrote the majority opinion in Ex parte Milligan, a landmark decision restricting the rights of military courts to try civilians. In 1877, Davis resigned from the court after being elected to the United States Senate by the Illinois legislature. Davis served as Senate president pro tempore from 1881 to 1883, and was known unofficially as "Mr. Vice President." He retired from the Senate in 1883 and spent the remainder of his life at Clover Lawn.
Davis had the distinction of being one of the largest landowners in Illinois. Although he was not as wealthy as the state's wealthiest businessman, Cyrus McCormick, at Davis' death, his estate was valued at between four and five million dollars -- a huge fortune in his day.
Neither Lincoln nor Davis rose to prominence solely because they were self-made men, however. It was the genteel lifestyle of women such as Sarah Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln that also played an important role in their husbands' accomplishments. Sarah Davis was a cultured woman who helped to bring gentility and middle-class values to the masculine frontier when she arrived in Illinois in 1839.
Sarah made a home for her family and became a prominent citizen in her own right. She was a cultured woman who helped to bring gentility and middle-class values to the masculine frontier when she arrived in Illinois in 1839. Together, she and David established a legacy that lives on in the elegant Victorian mansion and garden they built. Today, the letters of the Davis family and the events and programs presented at the Mansion help keep that legacy alive.