LEVI BAKER VILAS


From History of Dane County, Wisconsin, publ. by Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1880, page 536-537

LEVI BAKER VILAS was born in Sterling, Lamoille Co., Vt., February 25, 1811. He received an academic education and a partial course in college. He studied law and was admitted to practice at the bar in his native State in 1833. He at once entered into an extensive and lucrative practice, and soon ranked among the ablest and most successful lawyers in the State. In 1831, he was appointed Postmaster at Morrisville, Vt., but held the position only a short time, as he soon after settled in Johnson, in that State. From this town he was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1835, and he represented the town in Legislature in 1836 and 1837, and as in the latter year elected one of the Commissioners of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institutive of Vermont. During the same time, he held the office of Register in Probate. In 1838, he removed to Chelsea, and represented that town in the Legislature in 1840, 1841 and 1842, and was, in each of these year, the Democratic candidate for Speaker. He served on the Judiciary Committee all the time, and the last year was its Chairman. In 1844, he was the Democratic candidate for Congress, his Whig opponent being the late Jacob COLLAMER. In 1845 and 1846, he served in the State Senate and was unanimously elected President pro-tem of that body, which consisted of twenty-three Whigs and seven Democrats, though he belonged to the minority party. He held the office of Probate Judge in Orange County for three years. In 1848, he was the candidate of his party for United States Senator against William UPHAM. In the same year, he was a candidate for Presidential Elector, and was also a delegate to the Baltimore Convention. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of Vermont in 1850, and was the Democratic candidate for President of that body. Such was the public career of Judge VILAS in his native State prior to the age of forty years. He had occupied many years in public life, but had given such attention to his professional work as to become distinguished at the bar, and had accumulated a respectable fortune. His success was such as is achieved by but few men in any State.

In 1851, Judge VILAS removed with his family from Vermont and settled in Madison. In the first few years of his residence in Madison, he devoted attention to the practice of his profession, but he gave it up several years ago, having accumulated a competency; but it was among his regrets that he retired so early from active life in his chosen profession, one which he loved so well and in which he had been so eminently successful. He represented the capital district in the Assembly in the years 1855, 1868, and 1873. He was elected Mayor of Madison in 1862. He was appointed by Gov. Salomon, Draft Commissioner in 1862; was Regent of the university twelve years; was the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State in 1865, and for Speaker of the Assembly in 1873. In 1878, Judge VILAS was a prominent candidate in the Democratic convention for the nomination for Governor. These are the prominent positions he has held since his residence in Wisconsin, and he ever discharged his official duties with fidelity to the interests of the State and with distinguished ability.

He was a strong friend of education generally, and he illustrated this friendship in his own works for the State University. Five sons were graduates of this institution. In the university he took great pride, and was instrumental in rendering it efficient aid in many ways. He was also a valuable and working friend of agriculture, having done honorable service for many years as a member of the Executive Committee of the State Agricultural Society. He has rendered the State excellent service in many capacities.

In the death of Judge VILAS, Madison lost an enterprising and influential citizen - one who was ever alive in advancing the interests of the city in which his Western home was located. His zeal in promoting every city improvement never flagged, and his labors have been effective in the procurement of the many things that have resulted in the advancement of Madison.

In 1837, Judge VILAS was married to Miss Esther G. SMILIE, daughter of the Hon. Nathan SMILIE, of Cambridge, Vt. This union was one of long duration, and a happy one. It was blessed with ten children - nine sons and one daughter - five of whom, with the mother and wife, survive the father and husband. The four sons that now survive their father are an honor to their parents; three lawyers and one physician, all occupying prominent positions in their profession. Two (William F. and Edward P.) are lawyers in Madison; Levi M. is located at Eau Claire, and Charles H. is an eminent physician in Chicago.

Both houses of the legislature took proper action in the passage of resolutions of respect to the memory of the honored deceased. The flag on the capitol floated at half-mast during the day of his death. He died February 6, 1879.


Transcribed and contributed to this site by Carol

 

 

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