John Milton Scott was born on August 1, 1823 in Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois. In 1848 Scott was admitted to the bar, and he then moved to Bloomington to begin his legal career. While practicing law, he became acquainted with other prominent lawyers of the time, most prominently Abraham Lincoln, David Davis, and Asahel Gridley.
In 1862, he was nominated by bar of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court to fill the vacancy which had been left by David Davis as judge of the Eighth Circuit. Davis had vacated that position when he was appointed as a judge on the United States Supreme Court by President Abraham Lincoln.
In August 1870, he was elected to the Illinois State Supreme Court, where he did his best-known judicial work. In early 1887, Judge Scott overturned the sentences of 8 anarchists when the Haymarket Case was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. While he despised anarchy and would not condone such acts, Scott was sympathetic to the plight of the working man.
Other notable cases presided over by Judge Scott included Dimick vs. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company, and the 1884 case Ker vs. the People.
Judge Scott retired from the bench in 1888, and wrote two books, studied history, and traveled. He was also a founding member of the McLean County Historical Society, founded in 1892, and served as its president until his death in 1898.
The Judge John M. Scott collection contains several folders in four boxes. The items included are correspondences, abstract of titles, poems, law school handbooks, newspaper clippings, ledger books, and diary notes relative to or owned by John M. Scott or his relatives. There are several land deeds and mortgages.