1814 - 1857

From "The History of Warren County (OH)"

John Probasco, Jr. was born in Trenton, N.J., January 19, 1814. He was the son of Rev. John Probasco, a Baptist preacher of Huguenot extraction, who moved with his family to Lebanon (Warren Co.), Ohio, in 1823. The removal was effected in wagons, and the family were on their journey just one month. His mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Olden. She belonged to a family long settled in New Jersey, and died at Lebanon in 1881, in her eighty-eighth year, having survived her distinguished son more than twenty-three years. Young John Probasco received a good English and classical education at Lebanon. He entered the Junior class at Miami University and remained one year, not waiting to graduate. Returning to Lebanon, he commenced the study of law, under the instruction of Hon. Thomas Corwin, then a Member of Congress. He was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law in the year 1836.

One of the earliest cases in which the extent of his talents and the vigor of his character were displayed was in a State prosecution against a man of influence and talents. The defendant was a lawyer of ability and considerable practice--a member of the Lebanon bar; but he was violent and reckless in his temper, and unforgiving and vindictive in his character. While under a paroxysm of anger, he shot at a man who had given him some offense, and was recognized to the Court of Common Please to answer the charge of shooting with intent to kill. The offense was punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary. The Prosecuting Attorney happened to be distantly related to the defendant, and was excused from appearing against him. Many of the bar were retained in his defense; others were unwilling to appear against him, as they had practiced at the same bar. This court appointed Mr. Probasco, the youngest member of the bar, as special prosecutor. He accepted the appointment and conducted the prosecution with masterly energy. Every effort of the able counsel of the defendant was unavailing, and he was found guilty.

On the 13th of February, 1838, Mr. Probasco was married to Mrs. Susan Jane Freeman. She was the daughter of Thomas Freeman, Esq. who died in 1818, and who practiced law at the same bar with such lawyers as Judge McLean and Judge Collett, with great success.

In 1840, Mr. Probasco was first called into public life. During that memorable period of political excitement which aroused the whole country, he was too ardent to remain inactive. A Whig from conviction and principle, he had ever been faithful to his party attachments, but he was too much devoted in his profession to mingle in the ordinary conflicts of politics. But when, in 1840, he was, though little more than eligible, invited by his party to take a seat in the Legislature of his State, he accepted the place. In the Lower House, to which he belonged, his party was largely in the ascendant, but the Democrats had a majority of the Senate. The most exciting question which divided the two parties was the banking system; and the Whig Speaker showed his appreciation of Mr. Probasco's abilities by placing him on the Standing Committee on Banks and Currency. This was posting him in the van of the battle, and he sustained himself triumphantly, though he was then in a legislative body for the first time, and though among the Democratic members was a large number of their able leaders, who have since been Governors, and Supreme Judges, and Members of Congress. His legal attainments were thus early very strikingly displayed in a protest which he put upon the journal against the passage of a bill whose provisions he alleged to be unconstitutional. He was re-elected in 1841, and was now in a minority. The same stormy conflicts were renewed, and he was still one of the leaders in shaping both the course of debate and the course of business. It was the intention of Mr. Probasco, at the close of his second term of service, to decline a re-election; but this design was changed by the events of an extra session held in July and August, 1842. Congress had delayed so long the passage of a law to apportion the members of the House of Representatives among the several States under the census of 1840, that the regular session of the State Legislature was ended before that apportionment was made. An extra session was therefore called to divide the State into districts for Congressional elections. That session proved to be the stormiest which had, up to that time, occurred in the annals of Ohio. The parties were almost equally balanced in both Houses, although the Democrats had a slight ascendancy. The Whigs, under the lead of Seabury Ford, Robert C. Schenck and John Probasco, in order to prevent the Democrats from redistricting the State in a manner that would have left the Whigs almost without representation in Congress, adopted the bold, but questionable, policy of dissolving the General Assembly by tendering their resignations in a body, and thereby leaving both Houses without a quorum of two-thirds. The movement succeeded, and the two Houses were compelled to dissolve and go home without districting the State for Congressional purposes.

However impolitic and revolutionary this movement may seem, since the excitement which produced it is past, it serves strongly to indicate the extent of party feelings at that period, and as strongly illustrates the energy and courage of men who could venture all their future prospects and hopes by leading in so daring a movement to defeat the tyranny of a majority.

Mr Probasco now very naturally desired to have his course approved by his constituents, and was therefore a candidate for re-election. He was elected again, with scarce a decreased majority.

In the Legislature, Mr. Probasco was always an active and laborious member, and introduced a number of important measures of legislation. He did not speak frequently, considering the excitement of the times, but he was always listened to with great interest and attention, for he always spoke to the point. The solidity of his judgment and the determined energy of his character gave him his influence. He showed himself in debate rather a forcible and impressive speaker than a brilliant declaimer. He derived great improvement from the intellectual conflicts of his legislative life, and returned to the bar more fully prepared for the successful prosecution of his profession.

From 1848, when he retired from the Legislature, for the subsequent period seven years, Mr. Probasco devoted himself to the practice of the law with eminent success. This period of his life, quiet as it seemed to be, he spent so as to lay deeper and broader the foundations for a life of future usefulness.

In February, 1850, though he had not been a candidate, he was elected, by the Legislature a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. He remained upon the bench two years, when his term of service was cut off by the adoption of the new constitution.

Having declined a re-election to the Common Pleas bench under the new constitution, he resumed the practice of law at Lebanon in 1852. He soon afterward, in partnership with Gov. Corwin, opened an office at Cincinnati. As a member of the Cincinnati bar, he at once took high rank, and was regarded as one of the ablest lawyers in the city.

But he was not long permitted to engage in the contests and achieve the victories of his profession in this new field of labor. A sickness, brought on by labor in the harvest-field of his farm in Illinois, cut off his life in the prime of his manhood and the midst of his usefulness. He died at his residence in Lebanon, September 18, 1857, in the forty-fourth year of his age.

Judge Probasco was nearly six feet high, large and well proportioned, of robust health and vigorous constitution. Though not corpulent, he was of full habit. His hair was black, his eye quick, sparkling and black, and his features and head well formed. His voice was sonorous, clear and distinct. Though warm-hearted and social, he was quiet and reserved in his manners. In company, he was rather a listener than a leading talker. He always evinced the tenderest attachment for his family, and spared no pains in the proper nurture and education of his children. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and a man of the purest and most exemplary morale.



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