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Sidney Breese was born July 15, 1800, in Whitesboro, New York. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1818. Breese was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1820 and concentrated his career efforts in that state.
In 1821, Breese was appointed postmaster of Kaskasia, Illinois. From 1822 to 1826, he served as prosecuting attorney for the Illinois Circuit Court, and from 1827 to 1829, he performed the duties of federal district attorney. In 1831, he published Breese's Reports, a compilation of the decisions of the Illinois Supreme Court from 1820 to 1831.
In 1832, Breese fought in the Black Hawk War, which was a conflict between the white settlers of Illinois and the Sac and Fox Indians. After the war Breese resumed his legal career.
In 1835 Breese was selected as a judge for the Illinois Circuit Court and he remained on the bench until 1841. From 1841 to 1842, he served as justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois.
"With nations, might is too commonly regarded as right."
Breese's career continued to be varied during the latter part of his life. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1843, and represented Illinois until 1849. During his senatorial term, from 1845 to 1849, he also acted as administrator of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1850, he became a member of the House of Representatives of Illinois. In 1857, he was again selected to act as justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois. He served on the bench until 1878, becoming chief justice of this court in 1873. In 1873, Breese was responsible for the noteworthy court decision in the so-called Granger Cases, specifically Munn v. Illinois, 69 Ill. 80, by deciding in favor of States' Rights in the regulation of grain elevators. This ruling was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court the following year. 94 U.S. 113 (1877).
As an author, Breese gained prominence with the publication in 1869 of Origin and History of the Pacific Railroad.
He died June 27, 1878, in Pinckneyville, Illinois.