Samuel W. Moulton

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S.W. Moulton (1821-1905)

Samuel Wheeler Moulton (January 20, 1821 – June 3, 1905) was an educator, attorney, state legislator, and U.S. Representative from Illinois.

Early life[edit]

Samuel Moulton was born in Wenham, Essex County, Massachusetts, the son of William Moulton (1775–1858) and Mary Lunt Moulton (1776–1850). The Moulton family was one of old Massachusetts stock, with Samuel's family lineage in the Americas going back to his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, James Moulton, who likely arrived in Essex County from Norfolk, England in the early 1630s.

Moulton attended public schools in Essex County. After completing his primary and secondary education, he moved to Kentucky, where he taught school for several years, and then to Mississippi where he continued to teach. While teaching in Mississippi, Samuel met Mary H. Affleck, and they married in 1844. Census records show they were married in 1844, but the 1776-1935 Mississippi Marriage Index does not show a marriage between the two.[1] Similarly, the 1763-1900 Illinois Marriage Index does not show a record of marriage between Samuel and Mary.[2]

Legal, Military and Political Career[edit]

The newly married Moultons moved to Illinois in 1845 and settled in Oakland, Coles County where he commenced the study of law. He was admitted to the bar in 1847 and started a practice in Sullivan, Illinois. He moved to Shelbyville, Illinois in 1849 and continued the practice of law. Moulton was a contemporary of another central Illinois attorney named Abraham Lincoln. Moulton and Lincoln were co-counsel on a legal case in Illinois.

Moulton served as member of the Illinois House of Representatives (1852–1859), where, despite a relatively short tenure, he spearheaded free public education for all Illinois residents and the establishment of teaching college, now known as Illinois State University. He was also a presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1856, and President of the Illinois State Board of Education (1859–1876).

Although not widely documented, Moulton served during the Civil War in the United States Army Provost Marshal General. He was not clearly a well-regarded member of this organization, as President Lincoln personally wrote to Moulton on July 31, 1863. Lincoln wrote that he had been "strongly urged on the ground of persistent disobedience of orders and neglect of duty” to remove Moulton from his position. Lincoln further wrote that he was ". . . unwilling to do anything in your case which may seem unnecessarily harsh, or at variance with the feelings of personal respect and esteem, with which I have always regarded you." He concluded by writing, "[i]t is unnecessary for me to state however, that when differences of opinion arise between officers of the Government, the ranking officer must be obeyed. You of course recognize as clearly as I do the importance of this rule. I hope you will conclude to go on in your present position under the regulations of the Department. I wish you would write to me. I am very truly your friend and Obt Servt. A Lincoln"[3]

He was an unsuccessful candidate for election in 1862 to the Thirty-eighth Congress, and was elected as an at-large Republican to the Thirty-ninth Congress (March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1867). Of note, during the Thirty-ninth Congress, Moulton and fellow Shelbyville attorney Anthony Thornton served as contemporaries in the same chamber. Given that the population of Shelby County had only reached 25,476 residents by 1870,[4] having two of the State's 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1865-1867 was quite impressive.[5]

Moulton ran for Governor of Illinois in 1868, "but having no war record, he was shelved by the military element in the convention."[6] He was defeated by John Palmer, who went on to win the general election. Clearly, given Moulton's issues with command authority during the Civil War, his experience was not considered robust enough to qualify as military experience.

Sometime after Moulton left federal elected office in 1867, he disaffiliated with the Republican Party. He was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-seventh and Forty-eighth Congresses (March 4, 1881 – March 3, 1885) and served as chairman of the Committee on Mileage (Forty-eighth Congress). He was not a candidate for renomination in 1884.

Post-Congressional Life[edit]

Moulton Grave 1.jpg

After his final stint in Congress, Moulton then resumed the practice of law in Shelbyville. He was affiliated with the Republican Party after 1896.

The Moulton home, a beautiful Italianate mansion built in 1875, is located at 607 South Broadway Street in Shelbyville and is part of the Lincoln Memorial History Tour.[7]

Samuel Moutlon died at his home in Shelbyville, Illinois on June 3, 1905 at the age of 84 years and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery. Mrs. Moulton followed her husband in death in 1921. They are interred aside each other.


Built in 1920, Moulton Hall at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois is named after Moulton and houses various administrative offices for the University. From 1859 to 1876, he was President of the then Illinois State Normal School's original Board of Education.[8] In order to keep the fledgling institution afloat during the Civil War, Moulton mortgaged his own property.[9]

In Shelbyville, Illinois, the middle school, former Moulton United Methodist Church and Moulton Drive are all named in his honor.


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  6. ^ The Bench and Bar of Illinois. John McAuley Palmer, editor. Vol. 1. 1899, 460.
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United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James C. Allen
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's at-large congressional district

March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1867
Succeeded by
John A. Logan
Preceded by
Albert P. Forsythe
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 15th congressional district

March 4, 1881 – March 3, 1883
Succeeded by
Joseph G. Cannon
Preceded by
William R. Morrison
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 17th congressional district

March 4, 1883 – March 3, 1885
Succeeded by
John R. Eden

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.