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comprehension of all facts of legal import, however multitudinous; a luminous and penetrating insight into the intricacies and obscurities of the most complex relations; and an efficacious power of reason, which produced the many admirable exhibitions of his faculties at the bar and on the bench, which for forty-two years have served the administration of justice and attracted the attention of the profession and of the public.
Resolved, That we commemorate with no less satisfaction and applause the moral qualities which illustrate the whole professional service of our deceased brother-his justice to all, his kindness to associates, his fidelity to the courts and to the law, his scrupulous contribution of his best powers and his complete attention to every cause whose advocacy he assumed - his resolute maintenance of the just limits which separate the duties of an advocate and the duties of an adviser and of a declarer of the law upon professional opinions-his fidelity to society, to government, to religion, to truth-all these traits of duty, as the rule of his life, we present to the living lawyers and to their successors for their sincerest homage.
Resolved, That the Attorney-General be requested to present these resolutions to the Supreme Court, and to move, in our behalf, that they be entered upon its minutes; and that the chairman of this meeting be requested to forward a copy of them to the family of our deceased brother.
After the reading of the resolutions, the Honorable REVERDY JOHNSON said:
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before moving, as I propose to do, the adoption of the report of the committee, I beg leave to trespass for a few moments upon the time of the meeting. The event which has brought us together was a severe blow upon the heart of the entire profession. Of the many bereavements which we have had heretofore to deplore no one has given us more sincere sorrow than the death of BENJAMIN R. CURTIS. In all respects he was a man to be loved and admired. As a friend he was warm and sincerc; as a lawyer, learned and accomplished; as a judge, of transcendent ability. To those who knew him intimately (and I am of that number) his death is a great personal affliction.
My acquaintance with him commenced when, in 1851, upon the recommendation of Mr. Webster, he became one of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, and this acquaintance soon ripened into a close friendship which continued unbroken to the last. And having been a very constant attendant on the court for the last six years of his connection with it, and during the seventeen years that have elapsed since his resignation, when, at every session, he appeared as counsel, I was afforded the best opportunity of forming an opinion of him as judge and lawyer. I think, therefore, that I have a just estimate of him in both characters. As a judge of this high tribunal, it is impossible to imagine one who could be more fully competent to discharge its high and arduous duties. With a wealth of learning always adequate to the occasion, he was ever felicitous in his application of it to the case before him. His judicial opinions, indeed, all of them, were models of a correct style. It may with perfect truth be said of them, what, upon an occasion like the present, he said of the opinions of the late pure and great judge, Chief Justice Taney, that they were characterized "by purity of style
and clearness of thought." His arguments at the bar possessed equally sterling merit. The statement of his case, and the points which it involved, were always transparently perspicuous. And when his premises were conceded or established, his conclusion was a necessary sequence. His analytical and logical powers were remarkable. In these respects, speaking from the knowledge of the great men whom I have heard during a very long professional life, I think he was never surpassed. And his manner of speaking was excellent. He ever suited "the action to the word, the word to the action," and never overstepped "the modesty of nature." He was always calm, dignified, and impressive, and, therefore, persuasive. No lawyer who heard him begin an argument ever failed to remain until he had concluded. Were I to select instances as exhibiting his highest judicial excellence and his highest forensic ability, I would point, for the one, to his dissenting opinion in what is known as the "Dred Scott Case,” and, for the other, to his opening argument in the defence of President Johnson in the Impeachment Trial. Able as was the opinion of the majority of the court in that case, delivered by Chief Justice Taney, it was admitted at the time, I believe, by most of the profession, that the dissenting opinion of Judge Curtis was equally powerful. Lawyers may differ, as they have differed, as to which of these two eminent men were right, but they will all concede that the view of each was maintained with extraordinary ability, whilst those who knew them both will never differ as to the sincerity of their respective convictions.
As to the other, his defence of President Johnson,-having listened to it, and having more than once read it carefully, I think I am justified in saying that it covered every question which the case involved, and, although it was afterwards enforced by his able associates, it of itself greatly contributed to the defeat of the impeachment.. Nothing could have exceeded the clearness of statement, the knowledge pertinent to the contest, or the power of reasoning by which he maintained his conclusions. It was, I believe, and, having been one of the judges, I think I know, generally thought to be fatal to the prosecution. When such a man, lawyer, and judge, in the inscrutable dispensation of Providence, is taken from the profession, they cannot avoid feeling that it is not only a private but a public calamity. And it is due to his memory that we should express the sense of our loss and the great regard we entertained of him as a man, a lawyer, and a judge. And this will be accomplished by adopting the report of the committee. I therefore move its adoption.
Mr. Johnson was followed by the Honorable R. T. MERRICK, who said:
MR. CHAIRMAN: Few men in any age, either in this country or in England, have so faithfully illustrated the power, dignity, and honor of the legal profession as Mr. CURTIS.
His learning was profound and copious; his mind clear, earnest, and powerful, and all his faculties were severely disciplined.
His arguments at this bar, probably the most perfect models of forensic debate know not the profession, rested upon the fundamental principles of the science of law applied and analyzed by deep but seemingly easy thought, and enforced by a logic whose severe features were never disfigured by en
feebling ornament. An appreciative listener could not refuse to follow him in his course of reasoning, for his statement of his case was so plain, simple, and persuasive, that it commanded attention to the fuller development of his propositions. However voluminous the record or complicated the nature of the case, a statement easy, clear, and concise, though full and comprehensive, disclosed at once the exact questions at issue, and deeply impressed upon all who heard him the convictions in the mind of the advocate. When, in that great trial in which the President of the Republic was arraigned before its Senate, sitting as a High Court of Impeachment, Mr. CURTIS had concluded his opening statement for the defence, there was-nothing left of the case.
His convictions were ardent, hearty, and earnest, and he clung to them with a firmness and tenacity that nothing could affect save only the proof that they were erroneous.
In the dark hours of our national trouble his voice was heard above the tempest of loosened passions vindicating the supremacy of law; and when the clash of arms had ceased but the storm still raged, he poured forth in this hall his appeal in behalf of a calm and considerate justice which should bear no sign of wrath or passion.
The death of such a man is a severe loss to the country as well as the profession.
I did not rise for the purpose of pronouncing a eulogy on Mr. CURTISthat I leave to others-but only to gratify a demand of my own feeling. I knew him well and was honored by his friendship and a reasonable share of his confidence. I have listened to him with instruction and delight in public, and been greatly benefited by his counsel in private; and as I admired and loved him in life, I would place upon his grave an humble tribute of respect for his memory.
The Hon. J. A. CAMPBELL, Chairman, then addressed the meeting as follows:
A natural sorrow exists in the judicial tribunals and among the legal pròfession of the Union by the event of the death of the late Justice CURTIS.
His connection with the distribution of that justice which constitutions and laws define and regulate during a period of eventful history has been so intimate, so useful to the country, and so honorable to himself and to his profession, that its severance occasions a pause, and is felt as a calamity. To form and to maintain this connection was the aim of his life, the cherished and continuing aspiration of a mind and character well composed. To the members of the same profession, such a life, such a mind, such a character are objects of particular interest. His aspirations were favored in his birthplace, by his education and by his associations. The history of Massachusetts just before the Revolution, during the Revolution, and until the time that Justice CURTIS received his impressions and impulse, was determined in a great measure by its legal profession. During that period its courts were occupied by men of extraordinary endowments, and of large and liberal culture in law, jurisprudence, philosophy, science, and literature. The profession of the law was not misdescribed by the term of a learned profession. Dane and Parsons and Dexter; Otis and Story and Wilde;
Parker and Shaw, had stamped their names and characters upon it. The competitors that Justice CURTIS had to encounter were Webster, Choate, Loring, Bartlett, and others whose impulses were the same as his own. The scrutiny his arguments had to experience was that of Story, Parker, Shaw, Wilde, Putman, Dewey, Metcalf, Sprague.
His first conviction must have been that, to consummate his purpose, he must need to
"Pitch his project high: sink not in spirit."
His first counsel to himself,
"Let thy mind still be bent, still plotting where,
After twenty years of labor on this "project" and under this counsel, in 1851 he was selected, as was the report of that day, by Mr. Webster, as the fittest person to fill the vacancy, occasioned by the death of Justice Woodbury, in the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Webster said he wanted a full term of lifelong service. He called for Justice CURTIS in the meridian of professional life. The appointment came to Justice CuxTIS. He was not required to pursue it or to beseech it. It came to him by a divine right-as the fittest.
At the time the court was presided over by Chief Justice Taney, who had established, to the acknowledgment of all, that his commission was held by the same title. He was then seventy-three years of age, bowed by years and infirmity of constitution. In the administration of the order and procedure of the court there was dignity, firmness, stability, exactitude, and with these benignity, gentleness, grace, and right coming. The casual visitor acknowledged that it was the most majestic tribunal of the Union, and that the Chief Justice was the fittest to pronounce in it the oracles of justice.
Justice CURTIS at the same time met seven associates-Justices McLean, Wayne, Catron, McKinley, Daniel, Nelson, and Grier.
All of these had passed the meridian of ordinary life before their junior associate had come to the bar. There was much stateliness in their appearance, and, with diversities of character, education, discipline, attainments, and experience, all of them had passed through a career of honorable service, were men of strong resolution, large grasp of mind, and of honorable purpose. The reception of Justice CURTIS was cordial and hospitable, and with all of these his judicial career commenced and terminated with a single exception. The death of Justice McKinley made a vacancy, and that vacancy was supplied by one recommended by the Justices-Justices Catron and CURTIS bearing their recommendation to the President.
The Reports of Howard disclose that during his judicial term he was generally in accord with the majority of the court. He did not dissent often, and his dissent was usually with a large minority-rarely, if ever, did he stand alone. They show that in some of the most important cases, he prepared the opinions of the court. That these opinions embraced intricate questions of constitutionl law, of admiralty jurisdiction, of commercial law, of the law of patents, of common and equity law. The range of his professional experience in Massachusetts had been wide and comprehensive. His professional studies had embraced the principles of law and the under
standing of jurisprudence, and the court rested with confidence upon his ability to expound principle and procedure. The opinions show elaboration, a mastery of facts, authorities, and arguments, and a skilful employment of precise and accurate statement and discussion. But these Reports exhibit an imperfect history of the duties actually performed.
The duties of the Justices of the Supreme Court consist in the hearing of cases; the preparations for the consultations; the consultations in the conference of the judges; the decision of the cause there, and the preparation of the opinion and the judgment of the court. Their most arduous and responsible duty is in the conference.
It was here that the merits of Justice CURTIS were most conspicuous to his associates. The Chief Justice presided, the deliberations were usually frank and candid. It was a rare incident in the whole of this period the slightest disturbance from irritation, excitement, passion, or impatience. There was habitually courtesy, good breeding, self-control, mutual deference-in Judge CURTIS, invariably so. There was nothing of cabal, combination, or exorbitant desire to carry questions or cases. Their aims were honorable and all the arts employed to attain them were manly arts. The venerable age of the Chief Justice, his gentleness, refinement, and feminine sense of propriety, were felt and realized in the privacy and confidence of these consultations. None felt them more, none has described them so well as Justice CURTIS has done in his graceful tribute to our illustrious Chief Justice since his death, in the Circuit Court of the United States, in Boston.
In these conferences, the Chief Justice usually called the case. He stated the pleadings and facts that they presented, the arguments and his conclusions in regard to them, and invited discussion. The discussion was free and open among the Justices till all were satisfied.
The question was put, whether the judgment or decree should be reversed, and each Justice, according to his precedence, commencing with the junior judge, was required to give his judgment and his reasons for his conclusion. The concurring opinions of the majority decided the cause and signified the matter of the opinion to be given. The Chief Justice designated the judge to prepare it. Justice CURTIS always came to the conference with full cognizance of the case, the pleadings, facts, questions, arguments, authorities. He participated in the discussions. His opinion was carefully meditated. He delivered it with gravity, and uniformly it was compact, clear, searching, and free from all that was irrelevant, impertinent, or extrinsic. As a matter of course, it was weighty in the deliberations of the court. The older judges oke of this period with great satisfaction. Justice Nelson, in a letter written within the last year, said to me that it was the happiest period of his judicial life, and alludes affectionately to the share of Justice CURTIS in these proceedings. The Chief Justice so regarded it. The reverence of the junior Justices was gratefully felt and recognized by him.
The last event at the spring term of the year 1857, was the delivery of the dissenting opinion of Justice CURTIS, in the case of Dred Scott.
The court adjourned then, and it proved to be the last event in the judicial career of Justice CURTIS. I have never supposed that his resignation had any connection with that or any other occurrence in the court. There was nothing in the deliberations in that cause to distinguish it from any