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George W. McIlvaine

In addition to his legal career, George W. McIlvaine also owned newspapers.

He was born in Washington County, Pa. on July 14, 1822, and worked on the family farm while attending the county’s local schools. He furthered his education by studying law in the offices of attorney Seth T. Hurd and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1845. In 1847, McIlvaine moved to New Philadelphia, Ohio and established a law practice with Joseph Medill. The two purchased the Coshocton Whig newspaper in 1849. Soon after, Medill left their partnership and took sole ownership of the newspaper. Medill renamed the newspaper the Coshocton Republican in 1855, later sold it, moved to Chicago and purchased the Chicago Tribune.

McIlvaine first sought elective office in 1849 and was elected justice of the peace of Goshen Township, Tuscarawas County. In 1851, he campaigned successfully as a Whig for the office of mayor of New Philadelphia and served a one-year term in 1852. McIlvaine next held public office in 1861 when he was elected judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the Eighth Judicial District that included Tuscarawas County. Voters re-elected him in 1866. During his service on the common pleas court bench, he began an affiliation with the New Philadelphia Paper Manufacturing Company that was owned by the firm Judy, Knisely & Company and became a member of the Paper Manufacturing Company’s board of directors.

In November 1870, after securing the nomination at the Republican Party’s State Convention, McIlvaine defeated Richard A. Harrison, a Democrat from Madison County in the race for Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. He won re-election in 1875 and 1880. McIlvaine’s published opinions are in volumes 21 through 43 of Ohio State Reports (new series). Biographers and memorialists characterized McIlvaine’s written opinions as reflecting his idea that the law was a science to be practically applied. While he cited few cases in his opinions and held the view that the object of the law was to promote the public’s welfare, McIlvaine’s decisions show he did not allow his desire for equity to subvert settled case law.

During McIlvaine’s tenure on the Court, it was asked a number of times to rule on questions concerning the licensing and/or taxing of businesses engaged in the traffic of intoxicating liquors. Two cases in which McIlvaine wrote the majority opinion were The State ex rel. v. Frame, Auditor and Samuel Benner v. Levi Bauder et al. (1883). The cases asked the Court to rule on the constitutionality of the “act further to provide against evils resulting from the traffic in intoxicating liquors,” commonly known as the Scott Law. McIlvaine wrote the majority opinion for a divided Court and Justice John W. Okey authored a lengthy dissent. McIlvaine found the 1851 Ohio Constitution invested legislative power in a state General Assembly consisting of a House of Representatives and Senate. Legislative power, in McIlvaine’s view, gave the Ohio General Assembly authority to enact laws regulating business transactions involving controlled substances, including the sale and use of intoxicating liquor as a beverage, but not to prohibit its sale or use. As a result, the Court found for the State of Ohio.

The Ohio Republican Party nominated McIlvaine for a fourth term at its state convention in 1885, but he declined the nomination due to poor health. McIlvaine retired from the Court in February 1886 and returned to his home in New Philadelphia, where after a protracted illness, he died from a stroke on Dec. 22, 1887.

George McIlvaine married three times. His first wife was Jane M. Robb, whom he married in Florence, Pa. and with whom had one son. McIlvaine married a second time to Caroline Rinehart of New Philadelphia and they raised three additional children. Caroline McIlvaine died on May 5, 1878. McIlvaine and his third wife, Ursula L. Brush Higgins, were married in Cleveland; they had no children. Ursula McIlvaine died Feb. 6, 1918, in Elyria and was buried in Ridgeview Cemetery in North Ridgeville in Lorain County on Feb. 8.

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b. July 14, 1822

d. Dec. 22, 1887

49th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio

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