Jason Downer (1813-1883)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1864-1867)
"And he gave his whole heart and soul and energy to the study and practice of his chosen profession. They seemed to be his delight by day and his solace by night." - Chief Justice Orsamus Cole, Downer's memorial service (1884)
Jason Downer was born September 9, 1813, in Sharon, Vermont. In 1838, he graduated from Dartmouth College. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar.
In 1842, Downer moved to Milwaukee. He was one of the original founders of The Milwaukee Sentinel and served as editor for a time, before Rufus King was named editor.
Downer spent most of his life practicing law in Milwaukee. He was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1864 to fill the vacancy created by Justice Byron Paine's resignation to join the U.S. Army. Downer was elected to the Supreme Court in 1865, but disliked judicial duties. When Paine returned from military service in 1867, Downer willingly stepped down from the bench.
Although Downer served only three years on the Supreme Court, he was well respected by his fellow justices. Chief Justice Orsamus Cole said of Downer's style: "He conscientiously investigated each case for himself and mastered all its facts...He had a strong sense of justice, and thought the rights of parties would be the most fully protected and secured by a rigid adherence to settled principles."
After leaving the Supreme Court, Downer returned to private law practice in Milwaukee and was involved in numerous business ventures. He became a wealthy man and left the bulk of his estate to the Wisconsin Female College at Fox Lake. This college was later combined with Milwaukee College and renamed Milwaukee-Downer College.
Downer died September 1, 1883.