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HENRY W. BLODGETT.
Judges of both its Supreme and trial Courts. Until the adoption of the Constitution of 1848 the two houses of the legislature by joint ballot elected the Judges, and since then the method of election by popular vote has been the rule—and from the study of the subject I have been able to make my conclusion, that election of Judges by the people themselves is far preferable to the method first adopted of election by the legislature; although my private preference is for the appointment of Judges by the Executive, and confirmation by the Senate—the Senate being sufficiently in touch with the people to give the people a representative voice in the selection of Judges.
Still there has so far, in our experience, been no reason for fault-finding with our Judges elected by popular vote. Our Supreme Court has always been an able and independent branch of our state government.
Its decisions are respected and held in high esteem both by the Supreme Court of the United States, and by the Courts of other States; and it seems to me that, in the light of our experience so far, no one can fairly say that an elective judiciary has been a failure, or in any respect furnishes a sound argument in favor of going back to the appointive system.
No court in any other State, in my estimation, stands higher, or is a sounder exponent of the principles of our State and National Constitutions than that of Illinois, and the wonder is, when we consider the beggarly compensation paid them, that so able lawyers have been obtained to do the work of our courts when the Judges could earn so much more by the practice of their profession at the Bar.
S. S. GREGORY, OF CHICAGO.
It sometimes seems as if one called upon to read before this organization, ought to select for his theme some question of the hour, of present interest, with which we are, in a measure, immediately concerned, and such has, in general, been the custom here observed.
But it is not altogether unprofitable to take occasional glimpses of the past, to scrutinize the page of history or of biography, in some respects its most attractive department, and to seek what is there permanent and great and true, undistorted by that very personal factor which, in a measure, lends interest to the things of here and now.
Great events and great characters, like majestic mountain peaks, can only be rightly viewed in considerable perspective; a closer view is obstructed by the intervening foot-hills which exclude the greater prospect.
So I have thought it might not be wholly without interest, to briefly review the life and character of one of the most attractive figures in English jurisprudence; a great judge, a devoted friend of liberty, a just, humane, and merci. ful man.
Nor is the subject less interesting to the American lawyer when it is remembered that though this man was an English judge and statesman, he yet championed with abso
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lute fearlessness and unyielding conviction the essential rights of the American colonies when they were threatened and trampled upon by the crown of England.
Charles Pratt, afterward Earl Camden and Lord Chancellor of England, was born in Devonshire in 1713. I have been unable to ascertain the exact date of his birth. He was the younger son of Sir John Pratt, who, having been a puisne judge in the Court of King's Bench, in 1718 succeeded Lord Macclesfield as chief justice of that court.
At the age of ten he lost his father, who left but little property; however, his mother determined that he should have the education demanded by his birth and station, and soon after his father's death sent him to Eton.
He there formed a friendship with William Pitt, destined to be the greatest of English statesmen, which lasted through life. Among his other companions were Lyttleton and Horace Walpole. True to the traditions of Eton, he became deeply imbued with a love for the classics and a diligent student of Latin and Greek. He afterward entered Cambridge and took his degree of A. B. in 1735 and formally entered upon his studies for the bar in the Inner Temple.
He was admitted in 1738. He had studied faithfully and was well qualified to enter upon the practice of his profession; but, as so frequently happens, others, less gifted, but better equipped with self-assurance and self-assertiveness, met with much greater success in securing employment. Then, as now, people delighted to be humbugged; and a shallow brained, loud talking fellow, ever ready to sound his own praises, could secure clients, while poor Pratt went absolutely briefless. After some years of this experience he undertook to ride the western circuit, where his father had practiced. For some years he tried this with no better success. In 1741 his horse died, and he was so poor he could with difficulty raise money to buy another and very inferior animal.
After eight or nine years of such experience, than which nothing
is more deadening to a man's faculties nor better calculated to break his spirit and absolutely unfit him to seize such opportunities as do actually present themselves, he resolved to quit the bar, to return to college and there fit himself for the church.
He communicated his plan to Sir Robert Henley, afterward Lord Northington and Lord Chancellor, who was then the leader of the western circuit.
Henley prevailed upon him to keep on, helped him to a retainer in an important cause as junior, then absented himself from the trial so that Pratt conducted it; and as he did so with great ability and eloquence, was applauded by the audience, complimented by the judge and above all secured a verdict, he received several additional retainers before he left the hall.
He soon after secured cases in Westminster Hall, where then as well as now all the great courts of England sat for all important business, and was much employed in cases of magnitude, though never having, as we are told, “a great share of routine business, which, with less eclat, is attended with more profit."
It is a singular fact that his first case attracting general attention was the defense of a printer prosecuted on a charge of libel in consequence of some comment on the commitment of one Alexander Murray by Parliament for refusing to kneel at the Bar of the House. This is singular, in that his last public appearance in Parliament was on the occasion of his advocacy, in the Lords, of the Libel Act, declaring the law of England to be what he contended for on this trial with great courage and persistence, against the ruling of Lee, then Chief Justice of King's Bench.
The jury having, amid general popular acclaim, rendered a verdict of not guilty, the Chief Justice, at the solicitation of the Attorney General, called them back and asked them whether the evidence was not sufficient to satisfy them that
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the defendant had sold the book containing the libel, and hence published it. The foreman was at first somewhat disturbed; but the question being repeated, replied in a firm voice, his associates nodding assent:
“Not guilty, my Lord; not guilty. That is our verdict, my Lord, and we abide by it,”—an example of independence and spirit worthy of emulation.
This occurred in 1752, some thirty years prior to the cele. brated trial of the Dean of St. Asaph's, where the same question of law was ruled in the same way by Mr. Justice Buller; and in resisting his efforts to coerce the jury, Erskine, to his threats to "proceed in another manner," replied, "Your Lordship may proceed in what manrer you think fit; I know my duty as well as your Lordship knows yours. I shall not alter my conduct,”—a brilliant manifestation of professional courage and loyalty which will live so long as the traditions of a great profession are preserved.
For several years young Pratt continued his practice with success, distinguishing himself particularly in political causes. It is said his selection as King's Counsel was deferred because Lord Hardwicke, the Lord Chancellor, feared he might rival Charles Yorke, the second son of that great judge. When he finally "took silk” and, appearing in the chancery, began to interfere with Yorke, it is said Lord Hardwicke treated him with great civility but marked disregard, showing plainly that he never listened to anything he said; which only illustrates that a wig and gown can not alter human nature.
In 1757 Pitt became prime minister and resolved to promote the fortunes of his boyhood friend. Accordingly, Pratt was made Attorney General, was Knighted, and became a member of Parliament for Downton, which borough he continued to represent until he was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1762, having first become «r Sergeant in order to qualify himself for this promotion.
In the following year John Wilkes, that strange character