Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Corbus Plummer Gardner (1868-1925)

From "The Breaking of the Deadlock" published in 1904.

   We continue our stay in Illinois to highlight the life of another oddly named Prairie state political figure, Mr. Corbus Plummer Gardner of the city of Mendota. Described in Volume II of the 1916 Courts and Lawyers of Illinois as "a vigorous and ambitious lawyer" and "one of the best known men in Northern central Illinois", Mr. Gardner represented LaSalle County in the Illinois State Senate for three terms beginning with his election in 1898.
   Corbus P. "Busty" Gardner was born in Mendota, Illinois on September 2, 1868, the youngest of nine children born to George Washington and Margaret Gardner, both natives of Pennsylvania. Corbus worked on the family farm during his youth and attended the Blackstone High School in Mendota. In the late 1880s, he enrolled at the University of Michigan's Law School and graduated in the class of 1890. Following his graduation, Gardner read law in the office of Mayo and Wilder for a short period and in 1891 opened his own law practice in Mendota.
   Although he was only in his mid-twenties at the time of its opening, Gardner's law practice grew exponentially, branching out to include other areas in LaSalle, Bureau and Lee County. The Courts and Lawyers of Illinois give note that Gardner became affiliated with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in 1897 and served as that railroad's attorney for a number of years. He would later take on a position as an attorney for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad in 1904, and following that year was primarily based in Chicago. Gardner married on December 11, 1901 to Georgia Smith (1873-1963) and later became the father of two children, Margaret Wilda (1904-unknown) and Robert Bruce (1908-1925).

From the St. Louis Republic, February 6, 1903.

   Noted as being a "staunch Democrat" throughout his life, Corbus P. Gardner had never served in elected office prior to his election to the Illinois Senate. In November 1898 Gardner won election to that body for the first of three terms. He won reelection in November 1902, defeating Republican candidate P.J. Lucey by a vote of 7,919 to 7,347 and during his second term (1903-1907) Gardner served as chairman of the Appropriations committee. Gardner etched his name into the history books in 1905 when he introduced a bill in the senate that proposed $150,000 to provide for the construction of an Illinois Supreme Court Building. Gardner's bill was passed by both houses of the legislature and was approved by Governor Charles S. Deenan on May 18th of that year.
   Gardner's third term in the senate commenced in 1907 and during this session chaired the committee on Revenue and also held a seat on the following committees: Appropriations, Chicago Charter, Education, Judicial Department and Practice, License and Miscellany, Parks and Boulevards, Primary Elections, Sanitary District Affairs, State Charitable Institutions and Waterways. As one of the most influential Democratic senators serving in the legislature, Corbus Gardner was noted for his "fair dealing and honesty", but in his last year in the senate his sterling reputation took a significant hit when allegations of graft were leveled against him.

From the Indianapolis Daily Sun, June 25, 1910.

    As the Indianapolis Daily Sun related in its June 1910 edition, Senator Gardner was accused of "offering a $10,000 jackpot contribution" for securing the passage of a bill through the legislature. The bill in question (referred to as "a bill to permit the damming of rivers for power purposes") had been killed during the last session of the legislature, and Gardner's ethics were called into question when he appeared before a grand jury in Springfield to explain his involvement. This jury also heard testimony from H.S. Green, the manager of a power company in Morrison, Illinois who had mentioned that a "demand" concerning the bill  "was bluntly made of him by the Senator". 
   Gardner vehemently denied the charges against him, and despite being in the hot seat, had little to worry about politically. An article in the Rock Island Argus in February 1910 noted that a number of incumbent senators "had no desire to be returned" to office in November and that Corbus Gardner was among them. The Argus also related that it was Gardner's wish to "engage permanently in the practice of law in Chicago" after the conclusion of his third term. From what newspaper articles of the period have indicated, Gardner appears to have weathered the scandal, although the same cannot be said for state representatives Lee O'Neil Browne, Robert Wilson, Frank Traut and Louis Hersheimer, who were indicted by the grand jury in June 1910 on a conspiracy to bribe. 

From the Rock Island Argus, June 25, 1910.

   Despite his leaving the senate under a black cloud, Corbus P. Gardner spent the remainder of his life actively following politics, and in 1912 became affiliated with U.S. Senator Shelby Moore Cullom's campaign for reelection. Cullom established his political headquarters at the Hotel LaSalle and Ex-Senator Gardner was named as its head. In the end, however, Senator Cullom did not run for a fifth term and left office in March 1913 after serving 30 years in the U.S. Senate.
   Gardner continued to practice law in Chicago and Mendota for the remainder of his life and is also noted as having been a member of the LaSalle, Illinois, and American Bar Associations, the Bethany Commandery No. 28 of the Knights Templar Masons and the Medinah Temple of the Mystic Shrine. He died at his home in Mendota on May 3, 1925 at age 57 and was later interred at the Restland Cemetery in that town. Gardner's son Robert Bruce died one week later, aged just 17, and was interred alongside his father. Georgia Smith Gardner was also buried here following her death in 1963 at age 90.

Corbus Plummer Gardner,  from "Ottawa in Nineteen Hundred".

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