Transcribed by Teresa Kesterke from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


John M. Mercer, practicing at the Burlington bar as the senior member of the well-known law firm of Mercer & Mercer, has not only attained prestige as an able representative of the legal fraternity, but also as one of the foremost representatives of Democracy in his district; and although his association with the party is not of as active a character as formerly, he is nevertheless a champion of the principles of Democracy, and has wielded a wide influence in political circles.

A native of Illinois, Mr. Mercer was born in Kewanee, Aug. 28, 1858, His father, William Mercer, was born in the parish of Dromore, County Down, Ireland, and came with his parents to America when about twelve years of age, settling near Allegheny City, Pa. He afterward removed to Henry county, Illinois, where he grew to man hood upon his father's farm, situated at Virginia Grove, through which ran Indian Creek. Not desirous of making agricultural pursuits his life work, he learned the painter's trade in Allegheny City, Pa., and was afterward employed by the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company, at Burlington, about 1867. He went to the West during the gold rush of 1863, and prospered during that trip. He spent about three years in the Pacific Coast country, being in the gold fields of California, Idaho, and Oregon. Then returning to Burlington, he continued to make his home in this city until his death, which occurred April 4, 1890. For some years he was at the head of the locomotive painting department of the Burlington Railroad, thus occupying a responsible position in connection with industrial interests in this city. He held membership in Washington Lodge, No. 1, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, of which he was a past noble grand. In early manhood he married Sarah Chambers Miller, who was born near Downpatrick, in County Down, Ireland, and came to the United States when about thirteen years of age, and is now living in Burlington. They were the parents of eight children: William G., who has charge of the Buffington Wheel Works, at Burlington; Elizabeth Weede, the wife of W. H. Rhein, of Lander, Wyo.; Samuel Chambers, deceased; John M.; Charles and Laura, who have passed away: Margaret Jones, who has been a stenographer in the office of her brother John for twelve years: and Olive Ruth, who since her graduation has been a teacher in the North Oak public school of Burlington. The father and mother were reared in the United Presbyterian church, but in later years, with all of their children excepting John M., became communicants of the Episcopal church. In his youth John M. Mercer came with his parents to Burlington, where he was reared, and acquired his preliminary education through attendance at the public schools. He is also a graduate of the Allens Business College, and on completing his course there he entered the law office of Newman & Blake, under whose direction he did his preparatory reading, prior to entering the law department of the State University, from which he was graduated with the class of 1880, the degree of Bachelor of Law being then conferred upon him. In September of the same year he opened an office for practice in Burlington, and has since been a member of its legal fraternity, gaining the prominence that results from comprehensive understanding of the principles of jurisprudence, mastery of the salient points of a case, and the clear and forceful presentation of his cause before court or jury. He acted as private secretary to Judge Tracy for two years, while the latter was president of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad, during its construction in the Northwest. Later he formed a law partnership with Samuel K. Tracy, a son of Judge Tracy, who was general solicitor for the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, & Northern Railroad Company, and who was succeeded in the firm by George S. Tracy, which connection was maintained for several years under the style of Tracy & Mercer, the dissolution of the partnership occurring in 1891. In June, 1904, Mr. Mercer was joined in a partnership by his son, Herbert Miller Mercer, and the firm style is now Mercer & Mercer. Their clientage is large and of an important character, and the demands which his professional duties make upon John M. Mercer leave him little leisure time for outside interests. He is professionally and financially interested in several leading enterprises of the city, being vice-president, solicitor, and a director in the Tabor-Burns Paper Box Company, and one of the incorporators, directors, and solicitors for the Evans Automatic Car Coupler Company, of Burlington, organized for the purpose of manufacturing an automatic coupler which is pronounced by experts the most practical coupler ever tested. The patents therefor have recently been issued and manufacture of the couplers will be proceeded with.

Mr. Mercer is a Democrat, and in former years was very active in the party councils. He served as clerk of Burlington township for four years, was surveyor of customs for four years under President Cleveland's first administration, city clerk for eight years, and city attorney for two years. In recent years he has not been active in the work of the party, his profession demanding all of his time and energies, and yet in the performance of his duties of citizenship he is never remiss, and labors earnestly and effectively for the welfare of his adopted city. Fraternally, he is connected with Iowa Camp, No. 98, Modern Woodmen of America, and has represented the local organization in both the State and national camps. He became a charter member when the camp was organized in Burlington in May, 1885, and was its first camp clerk; during the nine years last past he has acted in that capacity. He is also a member of the Royal Neighbors and the Fraternal Union, and was a charter member of Lodge No. 89, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and a member of Flint Hills Lodge, No. 39, Knights of Pythias. His religious faith is indicated by his membership in the Baptist church. He served for five terms as moderator of the Baptist Association and for five consecutive terms as trustee and deacon of the Walnut Street Baptist church. He was also for many years a trustee and for several years secretary of the board of trustees of Burlington University, more recently known as Burlington Institute.

On Feb. 23, 1881, Mr. Mercer was married to Miss Jennie M. Bernard, a daughter of Cornelius and Martha M. (White) Bernard. Her father was one of the pioneer settlers of Des Moines county and a public-spirited man, who aided in the growth and development of the city, contributing largely to its material improvement. He helped in a financial way to develop the street railway system and the railroads leading out of the city to the north. Coming to the West from Vermont, he lived for many years in Burlington, one of its capitalists and leading men. His widow still survives him, and makes her home with her children. Mrs. Mercer was born and reared in Burlington, and is a member of the Stars and Stripes Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, being descended in the maternal line from five ancestors who fought in the war for independence.

Mr. and Mrs. Mercer have four children: Herbert Miller, Harry Bernard, Ralph Paul, and Jane Annette. The second and third sons are in the employ of the Tabor-Burns Paper Box Company, while the eldest son is practicing law with his father. He acquired his education in the Burlington public schools, the Burlington Institute, and the State University, from the law department of which he was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Law in 1904. He is now the junior member of the law firm of Mercer & Mercer. This name has long figured prominently in connection with the legal records of the city, for John M. Mercer possesses the strong mental force, marked individuality, laudable ambition, and unswerving purpose which are ever concomitants of successful accomplishment.

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