Kentucky: A History of the State, Battle, Perrin, & Kniffin, ed. 8-B, 1887 Boyd County

HON. JOHN M. BURNS, Judge of the Sixteenth Judicial District of Kentucky. The subject of this sketch is of Scotch ancestry, and comes along the same line of descent as Robert Burns, "nature's poet." On the maternal side is the name of Elizabeth Rewland, of a family famous in the history of the Huguenots of France. The ancestors in this country came first from Scotland, and settled in Maryland. Members of this family were in the Revolutionary war. The father of Judge Burns, Roland T., was a farmer, preacher, lawyer and legislator. He lived in what is now Boyd County, and represented his district in the State Legislature. He was distinguished as a lawyer and divine. Four of his sons are lawyers of distinction. William Harvey Burns died but recently in south-western Virginia, the most distinguished jurist and advocate of his time. Roland T., a brother, and Roland C., a son of the subject of this sketch, are prominent members of the bar of eastern Kentucky. Judge Burns was admitted to the bar in 1851, having completed his legal preparation under the careful tutorship of his brother, W.H. Burns, with whom he engaged in practice as partner for three years, the judge removing to Letcher County, where he was elected and served as county attorney until 1853, whence he removed to Prestonburg, Floyd County, there forming a partnership with Hon. John M. Elliott, the distinguished jurist, whose tragic death, when judge of the court of appeals, at the hands of Thomas Buford, is so well known. In 1857 Judge Burns was elected to the Legislature from Floyd and Johnson Counties, serving with distinguished ability, developing rare power in debate and legislative matters generally. He was elected to the Senate from his district in 1860. Meanwhile "grimvisaged war had reared his horrid front," and his county was alternately occupied by the Federal and Confederate troops, causing a suspension of courts and consequently an entire loss of business, and necessitating an abandonment of his profession there. Having cast his lot with the preservation of the Union of the States, he removed to Catlettsburg in 1864, within the Union lines, and resumed the practice of his profession. In this county, as in Floyd, he served as commissioner of common schools, and devoted his talents and energies in awakening an interest in the cause of education. In 1868 he ran as the Republican candidate for the office of common-wealth's attorney, and in 1876 for the office of judge of the criminal court, and again in 1880 for the office of circuit judge, all in the Sixteenth Judicial District. While unsuccessful in these contests, in every instance he made a brilliant popular canvass, and yielded only to the stubborn adverse political majority in the district. In 1872 he ran as the Republican candidate for Congress in the Ninth Congressional District. At the previous election the Democratic candidate had received a popular majority of more than four thousand, but so vigorous and aggressive was the canvass of Mr. Burns that the returns showed a majority of only one hundred against him. A contest followed, but the seat was finally awarded to his Democratic opponent. Mr. Burns served as special agent of the United States Internal Revenue Department for one year, 1884-85. During all these years Mr. Burns continued in practice of the law, and also successfully conducted a farm near Catlettsburg. He removed from his farm to Ashland in 1885, and in 1886 made the race for circuit judge of his district, and was elected by a large majority. His term expires in 1892. The judge is a leading member of the Baptist Church, and is a Royal Arch Mason. His friends are legion, and his popularity with all sects, creeds and parties is unbounded. Eloquent of speech, genial, warm-hearted and of kindly disposition, of broadest sympathy and unbounded charity, his character fits him eminently for discharging the responsible duties of his high trust. He is making an excellent record in his office for impartial judgment and devotion to official duties. His power as an advocate has been established in a long service at the bar, always in defense of the accused. A worthy cause never lacked a champion when the judge was appealed to, and many poor men will rise to call his memory blessed in recalling the innumerable instances when, without price, the generous sympathies of the distinguished advocate prompted him to the relief of the oppressed. The judge was born March 11, 1825. He still retains the mental and physical vigor of manhood's prime.



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