John H. Hanley

By Jess Miller, MC ‘09

Personality goes a long way in a small town community.  John Hamilton Hanley did not fall short in this category, whether he was working as a successful attorney or as mayor, freeing Monmouth of debt.  Not only did he free Monmouth of floating debt in 1920, he dealt with what may have been one of the most stressful times in a small community coping with the “Spanish” Influenza epidemic.

John Hanley was a two-time mayor of Monmouth, Illinois.  First elected in 1917, he was reelected in 1919; he devoted the majority of his time to his two administrations.  He was also a practicing attorney in the Warren County area.  He did not earn a law degree, though he had much experience in the field, and his devotion to the job, was shown in, despite being critically ill, he was still working four days before his death on July 15th, 1936.[1] John H. Hanley had many friends within the area who were shocked to hear of his death, for many of them did not even know he was ill.

He was born the son of John and Michael Marie (Fitzpatrick) Hanley in Washington County, Pennsylvania, on September 8th, 1860. He attended district schools during his early childhood, and in later years he attended academic schools.  He came to Monmouth in the year 1883, and graduated from Monmouth College two years later.  He later earned his Master of the Arts from Monmouth in 1888.  While Hanley attended Monmouth College, the institution was on trimesters, and classes were listed for each term Hanley was enrolled in for his junior and senior years. For his junior year he took classes in Demosthene’s De Corona; Whately’s Rhetoric; Plato’s apology; Political Economy; Principals of Greek; Alcetis; and also scripture lessons.  During his senior year he took classes in Hebrew or German; Storer’s Chemistry; Theoretical Ethics; Comparative Physiology; Natural Theology; Jevon’s Logic; Shakespeare; and Bible Lessons. He worked in the law offices of Grier and Stewart, a firm that conducted a large amount of business in the surrounding area.[2]

The city of Monmouth was then nourished by a series of streams through rich fertile farmland.  As described in the Warren County Illinois history,  “Monmouth Township, located in the north central part of Warren County, is watered by Cedar and Talbot Creeks, with Markham Creek flowing through the center of Monmouth.  Markham, in early years, was the cause of a great deal of flooding at times, however it is controlled now by sewer systems. There is good farming land outside the city of Monmouth.

He was described in his obituary as: 

John H. Hanley, practicing attorney in Warren County for nearly fifty years, twice mayor of Monmouth, master chancery of Warren Country at the time of his death, and prominent in the Democratic party circles in Illinois since early manhood, passed away at his home on West Broadway at 10:50 O’clock last night following a few days of critical illness. Although Mr. Hanley had not been in good health for several months he carried on his office in the business district of the city until four days before he died. His passing will come as a great shock to his wide circle of friends in Monmouth and Warren Country, few of whom knew of his critical illness....[3]

…As early as 1877, he had invested from his spare earnings in a set of Blackstone Commentaries, so he was not entirely unacquainted with the source of English Jurisprudence when he entered the law offices of Grier & Stewart in 1885, and was admitted to the bar in 1887. After his college course was ended, he became a teacher in country schools and became familiar with human nature in all its aspects, for man and woman are but children grown large. He loved the small college and the country school. Reason and argument brought his mind to embrace sound conclusions, and when he reached them he held fast to them as sacred things.  John H. Hanley was no common man in his maturity. However, he never forgot that he had risen from the common, hence he never ignored it. He had a deep sympathy and a broad charity for the common lot of men and women.

He nourished intelligence and strengthened his capacity almost to the end of his life.  He faced the future with courage. He profited by the mistakes of the past. He will live for a long time in the memories of his legal brethren and among those who had contacts with him.

In legal conflicts he was an adversary to be admired—sometimes feared. As a host about his own hearth, he was wonderfully interesting, and the guest departed knew he had left an uncommon charm. John H. Hanley loved the type and character of Lincoln. He has on various occasions been the principal speaker on occasions commemorating the life and work of Lincoln, and those addressed indicated research and study.

He was a member of the Elks Lodge of Monmouth, loved its principles and was interested in its charities.[4] The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) carries out acts of charity and community service. This organization also cares for the needs, furthers Americanism, and also services veterans. Four words that are used to describe the BPOE are charity, justice, brotherly love, and fidelity.

In politics he was a Democrat of the Jefferson-Jackson type, always interested in the well being of his party, often a delegate to its conventions, and never forgetting that only a ballot that could be counted. He was a Presidential Elector in 1892 at the time of the second elections of Grover Cleveland.

He was twice Mayor of Monmouth, first elected in 1917 and again elected in 1919. He gave unstintingly of his time to his two administrations of the office of Mayor, and the city was able to reduce its debts over $60,000 during the periods of his administrations. His pride was in things done. While he could talk intelligently on many phases of municipal matters, he delighted in the discussion of the reduction of municipal expense of the City of Monmouth. To this union one child, Helen, was born. These constituted a family circle that has remained unbroken until now.  The home drew a large circle of friends to its fireside where literature, politics and other interesting questions were often discussed.

Through many years, Mr. Hanley was engaged in the law practices with George E. Cox and was interested in much of the important litigation of the period this partnership existed.  Later Mr. Hanley was engaged in the law practice with John Ryan.  Since becoming Master in Chancery, he had not been in active practice other than the duties appertaining to the office of Master in Chancery.  At the time of his decease, he occupied and had occupied for a number of years the position of president of the Warren County Bar Association.”[5]


 In the small community of Monmouth, Illinois, John H. Hanley was a highly regarded individual; his death was mourned in this community. John Hanley married to Sara Helen Bond on September 5th, 1889.  Mr. Hanley was twenty-nine years of age when the marriage occurred, and Sara was twenty-four years of age at the date of the marriage. The couple would remain together for the duration of their lives.  The two lived at the address of 724 West Broadway here in the town of Monmouth. The house is still standing today.  On July 15th, 1936 John Hamilton Hanley died from a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried on Bond Cemetery in Greenbush Township. His funeral services were at the Turnbull Funeral Home another company and building that is still operating today.

Sarah, Hanley’s wife, was born in Iowa, while her father, Jesse Walton Bond, was born in Alabama, and her mother, Anna C. Harrah Smith, in Ohio. Her father was and her mother is Anna C. Harrah Smith.  John and Sarah were joined in matrimony on October 25, 1863. Sarah  was involved with “The National Board of Management of NSDAR authorized ‘Mildred Warner Washington’ and ‘Puritan and Cavalier’ chapters to merge into a new chapter named ‘Warren County’ on April 15, 2000.

Mildred Warner Washington‘Hearts of Oak’ of Monmouth, Illinois was organized April 2, 1902 from Warren Chapter which was organized April 7, 1897 with Mrs. Susanna I. (Nye) Webster (Mrs. John R.) with fifteen charter members.

The Puritan and Cavalier Chapter of Monmouth, Illinois was organized April 26, 1902 with Mrs. Sarah (Bond) Hanley (Mrs. John H.) as organizing regent with eighteen charter members.

The purpose of NSDAR is:  To perpetuate the memory and the spirit of men and women who achieved America’s independence; to promote the development of an enlightened public opinion, to foster patriotic citizenship.  National DAR motto is ‘God, Home, and Country.”[6]

These chapters contribute often to the state and national DAR projects, Bible records and cemetery records.  “Several members have served District, State, and National offices and committees including State regents:  Mrs. John (Sarah Bond) Hanley 1918-1920, Mrs. Ralph (Frances Brent) Killey 1963-1965 and Mrs. Victor (Jane Gregg) Lucas 1979-1981.”[7] The DAR chapters have marked many historical markers in the Monmouth area, including where Abraham Lincoln spoke on October 11, 1858, in a senatorial contest, with Stephen Douglas, at the square on the northeast corner, The Sugar Tree Grove Church in Warren County, Pope Creek Church in Mercer County, and the Lincoln/Indian Trail on the Cabeen Farm near Pope Creek Church in Mercer County. 

The Library

The Warren County Public Library went through a major transformation during the time of Hanley’s position as Mayor of the City of Monmouth. The Monmouth Reading Room and Library opened for business in 1868 however.  “The increasing demands upon the library from the schools and from the general public in Warren County found the resources of the institution quite inadequate to supply the books and periodicals that the library service needed. In November, 1917, the trustees appointed a special committee to inquire into the possibilities of converting the Warren County Library and Reading Room Associations into a free public library, with some form of public support. This committee was continued from year to year.  Fortunately, in 1919 the legislature of Illinois passed a county library law, enabling any county in the state, by a majority vote of its citizens, to authorize the board of supervisors to levy a tax for the support of a county library system.

At the Meeting of July 6, 1920, the trustees appointed a special committee to consult with a special committee of the supervisors, and, if deemed advisable, to make plans for submitting the question of a free county library to the voters at a special election September 15, 1920. This plan was decided upon.  A campaign was conducted during the intervening time, and the proposal for a free county library was carried by a majority of 1,584 votes out of a total of 2,600 cast. Warren County this became the first in the state of Illinois to establish for its people a free public library.

“Since the opening of the free county library at Monmouth, branch libraries and stations have been established at Roseville, which had been maintaining a free village library, but now merged with the county system; at Kirkwood, at Alexis, where a small voluntary library had for some years been maintained through the enterprise of a well organized woman’s club; at Roseville, where a village library was being maintained at public expense; at Little York, Smithshire, Greenbush, Youngstown, Swan Creek, Cameron, Berwick, Gerlaw, and at Tylerville. Each of these branches has a paid librarian, responsible to the central library board in Monmouth.  From the central library books and periodicals are bought and distributed to the branch librarians and a circulation system is in constant operation. These branch librarians are under the active management of the central board and librarian.”[8]

The movement that provided Warren County with a free public library in 1917 was obviously very important to the people. There was an overwhelming majority of whether or not the movement should be passed. Not only was Monmouth interested, but because of the central library in Monmouth, many smaller communities around Monmouth are equipped with suitable libraries.   

The Water Fountain

    The water fountain that now stands on the public square is not the original structure.  The original piece was built in 1890 by the J. L. Mott Iron Company of New York City.  The fountains was bought and installed in October in 1890 by the City of Monmouth for only $350.00.  The fountain was originally made of iron, was eighteen feet high, and it stood in a pool twenty feet in diameter.  At the top of this Renaissance-style fountain stood a figure of a boy (cupid) holding a staff. It was said to have sprayed a fine mist of water during  its dedication.  During the time of mayoral duties of John H. Hanley (1917-1921) the fountain was removed, because it was too much of a burden on the city’s water supply.[9] When the original fountain was sold it was scrapped and sold to interested parties.  The whereabouts of many of the original pieces are still unknown today. 

The City Council

     On May 7, 1917, this first city council meeting.  The new mayor John Hamilton Hanley called.  “The following members of the City Council responded to roll call:  Jas. Costello, Geo M. Dickey, I. M. Eastman, O. S. French, F. H. Hewitt, W. E. Lofftus, L. E. Robinson, Frank Shellenberger, J. M. Strand, J. K. Teare.  The Mayor presented the following as the standing committees for the year.”[10]

Many ordinances that are active for the City of Monmouth today were originated in the days of Mayor John Hanley.  A few of the ordinances introduced during Hanley’s time in office are as follows, “Be it Ordained by the City Council of the City of Monmouth, Illinois.  Section One.  That no person shall within the City, wear or carry, concealed on or about his person, any pistol, revolver, slingshot, metallic knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, razor or other dangerous or deadly weapon, nor shall any person display or flourish any such weapon in a boisterous or threatening manner.  Provided, that the provisions of this section shall not be held to apply to any police officer, constable or other peace officer, while in the discharge of his duty, nor to any person summoned by any such officer to aid him in making an arrest or preserving the peace. 

Star-Spangled Banner 

One ordinance was introduced as a wartime measure to prevent the misuse of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. 

 “Every person violating any of the provisions of this section shall, on conviction of such violation, be fined in the sum of Two Hundred ($200.00) Dollars for each and every violation.”[11]  “Whereas the indiscriminate rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, or parts thereof in connection with other compositions, tends to lower the esteem and reverence in which the national anthem should be held by the people of our nation.

 Section 1 ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ shall not be played, sung, or rendered in the city of Monmouth in any public place, or at any public entertainment, or in any theatre or moving picture hall, restaurant or café, except as on entire and separate composition or number, without embellishments of national or other melodies, nor shall “The Star-Spangled Banner” or any part thereof or selection therefrom, be played as a part or selection of a medley of any kind, nor shall “SSB” be played at or in any of the places mentioned for dancing or as an exit march; and, whenever and wherever practicable, the musicians, performers or other persons shall stand while playing, singing, or rendering ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”[12]


During the time of mayoral duties of John H. Hanley, there was a movement to start the American Legion by the Congress of the United States of America.  “By an act of congress, the American Legion organization was incorporated on September 16, 1919, as a nonpolitical organization.”[13]  The Monmouth program did not get started until a later date, but is still operating in full today.[14]     

City Ordinances 

 “Section 1.  No person shall cut down, destroy or otherwise injure any shrub, flower, vine or tree in Central Park; destroy, injure or deface any sidewalk, drinking fountains, seat or other public property in said park; lay, recline or sit upon the grass or lawn in said park; walk across or on said park other than at the established walks thereon; or ride a motorcycle or bicycle within said park.  Any person violating any provision of this ordinance shall be fined not less than ten dollars.”[15]    

The City Council Minutes of Monmouth during the time of duty of Mayor Hanley were rather boring, but had some interesting highlights.  Hanley had a variety of issues to deal with during his time as Mayor of Monmouth.  He wanted to name a battleship after the City of Monmouth; he had to deal with using boulevards as gardens, barking dogs, and the “Spanish” Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919.  There was even a request by the Masonic Fraternity to celebrate St. John’s Day on Coburn Square.  The request was presented by council member Costello as follows; “Alderman Costello addressed the council relative to a number of streets in the city that were not used extensively for travel, stating that they could be utilized for garden purposes by residents of the city. The first city council meeting was adjourned on this movement.”[16]

“A petition from the Masonic Fraternity of Monmouth, asking permission to use Coburn Square and a part of the streets adjoining, for the celebration of St. John’s Day, June 26, 1917, was presented, and on the motion the permission was granted.”[17] The celebration was intended to celebrate the birth and death of John the Baptist.  St. John inspired many individuals to follow the ways of Christ when he was given the title “Lamb of God.”  According to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist is the cousin of Jesus Christ.  Christ himself said of his cousin, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.”[18] He, however, was beheaded at the request Salome.  St. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and there is a feast that celebrates his birth, and also his beheading (August 29th). The celebrations that occur during St. John’s Day are most likely holdovers from the pagan times after they were disapproved by the clergy in the thirteenth century.  In the early days of the celebration, the festivities were held in the participant’s churchyards. St. Johns day is actually the twenty-fourth of June, but on this year the day of John the Baptist was celebrated on the twenty-sixth in Monmouth.  Nationally, the celebration consists of wrestling and races accompanied by the usual gamblers. Eating, dancing, singing, and drinking were also major facets of this celebration. Also during the celebration plays would be performed, usually based on scripture, and the audience would try to interact with the performers. These plays were called somergames, and even though they were based on scripture, they were not entirely truthful.

“A petition, signed by ten owners of barber shops, asking the city council to pass an ordinance, which they submitted, making it a misdemeanor for any person, firm, or corporation to keep open for business on the Sabbath Day.”[19] The owners who signed this petition in Monmouth had strong religious views, and the majority of the owners had direct connections to the Masonic Fraternity of Monmouth.

The issue regarding “blood hounds” is as follows. Although there was a petition signed by residents, who had been bothered by these dogs, the movement was postponed and nothing was done.  “A petition signed by fourteen residents to remove “blood hounds” because they are a menace to the community. This movement was postponed.”[20]

“On motion a vote of thanks was extended to J.D. Diffenbaugh for the interest he had taken in getting a battleship named for the City of Monmouth.”[21]

“A communication from the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, stating that in honor of the birthplace of John M. Glenn, Secretary, Illinois Manufactures Association, the U.S. shipping is desirous of naming a ship after the City of Monmouth, and extending an invitation to the Mayor to be present at the launching and to designate the sponsor for same.”[22]

“Mayor Hanley addressed the council, giving a report of the manner in which the ship was named for the City of Monmouth, was launched and said the data relative to the description of the ship would be sent to the city in the near future.”[23] 

The Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 affected nearly every person of the United States.  Despite the name, the influenza did not originate in Spain.  Rather, it was named this because the pandemic received the most attention in Spain.  Many individuals in the world feel that World War I was a direct cause of the virus.  This is not true; however, it is a direct correlation to the speed of transmission of the virus.  The soldiers were very susceptible to the virus, because of their worn-down immune systems due to the stress of fighting and chemical attacks.  In fact, one theory of the origin of the virus is that it developed at Fort Riley, Kansas, by two mechanisms known as genetic drift, and antigenic shift.  The poultry and swine the fort bred to feed the troops were said to have carried viruses.  The string of mutation of the virus was said to have developed in birds, then through the swine, but recent studies have shown that the virus jumped straight to humans from the poultry.    In a community of perfect health, the disease would spread so fast that almost overnight a hospital that was once bustling with life would be swamped with the sick.  New admittances were nearly impossible.  Monmouth was no different than the rest of the world.   Mayor Hanley was dealing with a pandemic that killed more people than the First Great War itself, killing somewhere between fifty to one hundred million people worldwide.  For a simple comparison of the level of devastation the pandemic caused is that in the first twenty-five weeks of the pandemic killed as many people as the AIDS virus has in its first twenty five years. This pandemic was so devastating that it, alone, killed more people than the Bubonic Plague during its four year stretch. In the United States the pandemic infected nearly twenty-eight percent, and it is estimated that nearly 500,000 to 675,000 people died from the virus.

The problem with this epidemic as opposed to others is that other epidemics would kill infants and the elderly, but this influenza was killing young adults with strong immune systems. The influenza struck victims so fast that within hours a once healthy individual would be unable to walk. Other symptoms included a blue color to the face and a blockage in the lungs leading to coughing up blood. The influenza in later stages would eventually cause a hemorrhaging in the lungs inevitably drowning its victims in their own fluids.

In most places less than one-third of the population was infected, but a number of small towns and communities were entirely wiped out. Monmouth, being a small community, in fear of this, did what it could to avoid spreading the disease.  “Alderman Robinson of the Hospital committee reported that the committee had provided a temporary hospital for the care of patients afflicted with “Spanish” Influenza, and on motion the council went on record as to discourage public gatherings and meetings of all kinds during the prevalence of the epidemic.”[24] Because of the effects on many small communities everyday life would sometimes come to a complete stop.  Some businesses in Monmouth actually closed down or would not allow people to enter the building, but forced them to give their orders outside. The epidemic reached such a demoralizing point that a city council meeting did not occur because of fear of the influenza. “Owning to the epidemic of Spanish Influenza, the City Council did not hold their regular meeting on the above named date, by order of the Health Department of the City.”[25]

The once two-time Mayor of Monmouth, and highly-regarded attorney for over fifty years has left his mark on this once much smaller community. Hanley did more for this town than most people may think, mainly because he decreased the debt in this town by $60,000. Although names like Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and Wyatt Earp overshadow the name of John Hanley, he directly and positively affected this town more than the listed, yet more famous, individuals of historic past.  Closing out Mayor Hanley’s duties the city council noted: “Resolved, that it is our feeling that Mayor Hanley has set for our municipality a record in fidelity to duty and constructive achievement which we, speaking for the people of Monmouth, greatly appreciate, and which we believe will be not only of lasting value to the city of Monmouth but of perpetual benefit to his successors in office.”[26] 

This biography was written in William Urban's historiography class in the fall of 2006.

[1]The day that he died was the hottest day ever recorded up until 1936.  The temperature reached a mark of 110 degrees.

[2] Grier and Stewart are two influential people at Monmouth College.  Grier later became the president of the College, also having a dormitory named after him, and the Stewart House is the town home of Stewart and his family.

[3] “Mr. Hanley was among the last of the lawyers of the Old School of the Warren County bar who did not obtain his legal education in a modern law school with its many facilities.  He found his way, after completing his college course in Monmouth College, where he graduated into the law offices of Grier and Stewart, which conducted a large law business in this and adjoining counties at that period.  Here he mastered theory and maxim first, and immediately afterwards the abstruse problems of practice.  No lawyer who knew him well can say he did not obtain thorough training in this university of experience.  His lot was cast in an office where capacity, integrity, and industry prevailed, and he grew in this environment to stature in his profession any lawyer might envy.”  This was part of the obituary of John Hanley in the July 16th, 1936 edition of the Monmouth Daily Review.

[4] The Elks Lodge is a program dedicated to build a better future by providing tomorrow’s leaders, with a healthy beginning.

[5] Monmouth Daily Review, July 16th, 1936.  On July 15th, 1936 John Hamilton Hanley died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  He is buried on Bond Cemetery in Greenbush Township.  His funeral services were at the Turnbull Funeral Home another company and building that is still operating today. 

[6] Warren County Illinois: History and Families, Turner Publishing Company, 2003, p.66.

[7] Warren County Illinois, 66.

[8] Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County Illinois in the Monmouth College archives, p. 239.

[9] Water recycling pumps had not yet been invented.

[10] Council Minutes, May 7, 1917, p. 55.

[11] Monmouth Daily Review.  May 22, 1917.

[12] Monmouth Daily Review.  September 5, 1917.

[13] Warren County Illinois: History and Families,  Turner Publishing Company, 2003, p. 59.

[14] Warren County Illinois, 59. “The Marion B. Fletcher Post #136 was organized in Monmouth in 1919 also.  Their first forming meeting was held in the Odd Fellows Hall with 100 men attending.  They received their charter that same year, but didn’t get underway until March 17, 1920.  Dell B. Hardin was elected their first commander.  A committee suggested the name of Marion B. Fletcher as the post name, because he had left high school to go with company H. 6th.  Illinois Infantry, in 1917 and was killed in France in 1918.  He is buried in Ellison Cemetery.  Every memorial day, the Legion members pay tribute to him at his grave.”

[15] Monmouth Daily Review, July 19, 1920.

[16] Council Minutes, May 7, 1917, p. 55.

[17] Council Minutes, May 21, 1917, p. 57.

[18] Matthew 11:11, (Revised Standard Version).

[19] Council Minutes, August 6, 1917, p. 65.

[20] Council Minutes, June 18, 1917, p. 60.

[21] Council Minutes, July 1, 1918, p. 100.

[22] Council Minutes, July 15, 1918, p. 102.

[23] Council Minutes, October 7, 1918, p. 108

[24] Council Minutes, October 7, 1918, p. 107.

[25] Council Minutes, October 21, 1918, p. 108.

[26] Council Minutes, May 7, 1921, p. 212.