FEBRUARY 23, 1904
May it Please the Court:
It is with feelings of profoundest sorrow that I arise at this time to announce to this court the death of Hon. GEORGE H. DURAND, lately one of its distinguished members, and to ask that a fitting tribute to his memory be entered upon its records.
Judge DURAND became a member of the Genesee county bar at the time of his admission to it, in 1857, about the same time he became a resident of Flint, and it was at this time that his real life work began. He remained a resident of the city of Flint and a member of the Genesee county bar until his death, and during all that time his daily life was such that the one was proud to claim him as a citizen, the other as a distinguished member and leader. During this time he occupied many public positions, the duties of all of which he discharged with great ability and the most unswerving fidelity; but it was as a man and a friend that he shone the brightest, earned the proudest laurels, and is entitled longest to be remembered. His time, his talents, and his purse were always at the command of his friends, and to them he gave of each in heaped and rounded measure.
In his relations with his fellow men he knew no rank or station, no field but the world. In all his dealings with them he knew but one course to pursue, and that was to do equal and exact justice in every instance. His presence was like the sunshine, diffusing light and gladness to all about him. He was thoroughly unselfish. In a business association with him of nearly 19 years I never knew him to do one single selfish act. He was a great friend of the younger members of the profession, and always took a deep interest in their welfare. His office was the Mecca to which they all traveled whenever they needed assistance or counsel in any cause in which they were engaged, and they were always at such times kindly and cordially received, and the question which had been bothering them fully explained and elucidated.
Some time after his death the bar of Genesee county met and adopted a memorial, and had it spread upon the records of the circuit court there. They have commissioned me to present it to this court, and I now do so. This is the language and these the sentiments of a bar of which Judge DURAND was for nearly half a century a member, and for the last quarter of a century of his life its distinguished leader, and every member of which knew him intimately and well. The record of such a life is not only an inspiration to every lawyer; it is also an added evidence of the great opportunities afforded by our country to every young man who will do his part.
In accordance with the request contained in the memorial itself, I now ask that it be spread upon the records of this court, and that a copy be sent to our deceased brother’s family.
When, on the 8th day of June, 1903, the bar of Genesee county learned of the death of its distinguished leader, Judge GEORGE H. DURAND, the sad news, though perhaps not altogether unexpected, was received with profound sorrow.
Judge DURAND was born in the Catskill mountains, near Cobleskill, Schoharie county, New York, February 21, 1838, and, to use his own words in his eulogy of ex-Justice MCGRATH, “began his education upon the farm, –that wonderful school of nature from which have been graduated so many of the world’s greatest jurists, statesmen, and soldiers.” His father’s rocky little farm, on which he toiled as a boy, was none too fertile, and yielded but scant returns for the labor necessary to cultivate it; and for him the life of a farmer soon lost all its attractiveness. His ambition lay in the direction of other fields of greater activity and larger usefulness; and in early youth he planned to adopt a course more in keeping with his natural tastes and instincts. This resolution, once formed, was never relinquished. With but little in his surroundings to encourage, and the most meager opportunities on which to base the possible realization of his hopes, he nevertheless set about his plans for the future with an earnestness and determination that bespoke the great success and eminence which he afterwards achieved. While his days were spent in work upon the farm, his nights were devoted to study and the improvement of his mind. By carefully saving his small earnings, he was able later to finish his education at the Lima seminary. We next find him, a mere boy, but 18 years of age, bidding good-bye to his family and friends, with barely enough money to pay his way, leaving his mountain home and starting westward alone, to cast his lot among strangers in the newer State of Michigan.
Soon after coming to this State, and after teaching school for a short time at Oxford, Oakland county, he began the study of law in the office of the late Col. William M. Fenton, and was admitted to the bar on the 10th of December, 1857. He immediately began the practice of his profession at Flint, and continued to reside there until his death. His rise in the profession was marked and rapid, and he not only became the recognized leader of the bar of the county in which he lived, but his great abilities soon won for him a place among the distinguished and foremost lawyers of the State.
While devoted to home and his profession, never seeking public place or honors, he was, nevertheless, many times induced to yield his personal inclinations and serve the people in various positions of public trust. He has filled the offices of city attorney, alderman, and mayor of his home city. In 1874 he was nominated for Congress in a district where the normal majority against his party was upwards of 6,000, but so great was his personal popularity that he was elected. During his term in Congress he was acting chairman of the important committee on commerce, –an unusual distinction for a member serving his first term. In 1893 he was elected president of the Michigan bar association, and was also president of the first board of law examiners of the State. In every position of trust and honor which Judge DURAND was called upon to fill, he discharged its duties with great intelligence, marked ability, and unvarying fidelity.
His ability as a lawyer is perhaps best evidenced by the number and importance of the cases and matters which have been committed to his charge, and the remarkable success which has attended his efforts in behalf of his many clients. In this connection it may be said that his practice extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, and from the Lakes to the Gulf, and on one occasion he was employed to argue an important matter before the supreme court of Mexico.
Among the notable trials in which Judge DURAND took part may be mentioned the famous Chinese and opium smuggling cases on the Pacific coast, in which he appeared as special counsel for the government of the United States to prosecute the offenders. These trials covered a period of three years, from 1893 to 1896, and the defendants were, almost without exception, me who stood high in the business, social, and political circles of that part of the country. They were surrounded and backed by powerful personal and political friends, and defended by the shrewdest and ablest lawyers that wealth could command. Notwithstanding, nearly every one indicted—some 16 or 17 in number—was convicted. Among those who were brought to justice and punished was a relative of a United States senator; a chairman of the State central committee of one of the great political parties; a collector of customs of the port of Portland, Oregon; a special agent of the treasury department; and several other important personages. As a further result, the corruption and intrigue which had successfully defied the law and the government authorities for years along the Pacific coast was effectually uprooted and stamped out. In these trials Judge DURAND scored one of the most signal and complete victories in the history of American courts, and added new and lasting lustre to his already splendid fame. He, however, took far more pride and satisfaction in the thought that the law had triumphed over lawlessness and defiance of its authority than that his standing and reputation as a lawyer might be bettered thereby. He dearly loved his profession, and held its interests far above any consideration of a personal nature; and, as he contemplated the results of these trials, it was far more gratifying to him to consider that his efforts would redound to the lasting credit and renown of the profession than that they might bring fame and honor to himself.
In his large and extensive practice Judge DURAND met and measured swords with the ablest lawyers of the country, and it can truthfully be said that he carried off his full share of the honors. Than he, no lawyer ever had a higher regard for the standards of the profession, and none strove more faithfully and conscientiously to uphold and elevate them. He despised sham and pretense, and in the practice of his profession never resorted to craft or cunning to win a case. To him a victory secured by the least sacrifice of fairness or honor would have been more deplorable and humiliating than the most ignoble defeat. For more than 40 years he practiced in the courts of this and other States, and in all his long professional career, in the many fiercely contested and heat-engendering legal battles in which he took part, no matter what the provocation or how sorely his patience was tried, he was never known to lose his self-control, and was never betrayed into giving utterance to any word, or the commission of a single act, which we, who labored with and loved him, would change or have otherwise.
As a lawyer, Judge DURAND’s conduct was directed and controlled by a mind every though of which was “coined in the mint of and honest purpose.” Upon his professional record there rest no stain, and not a shadow dims the lustre of his splendid achievements. We earnestly commend his example to the careful consideration of every young member of the bar who would achieve enduring fame or lasting success in the practice of his profession.
In 1892 Judge DURAND was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court of this State to fill the vacancy caused by the voluntary retirement of Justice MORSE. His term of service on the bench was not long, and the opinions written by him not numerous; but the manner in which he discharged the exacting duties of this high office amply served to demonstrate his entire fitness for the position, and to fully justify the good opinion which the members of the bar had always held of his great abilities. In composition and literary excellence his opinions were admirable; in logic, clear and cogent; in analysis and reasoning, ample, forceful, and convincing; in the manner of stating premises and issues, peculiarly felicitous and without the least of confusion or uncertainty; the conclusions remarkably free from doubt or ambiguity, and in every instance a sound and correct exposition of the legal principles applicable to the case. No man need ask a better monument than the record made by him in his brief service as a member of this distinguished judicial tribunal.
As a man, Judge DURAND was possessed of great personal dignity, but with nothing of hauteur or austerity. His natural dignity was tempered with an affability and charm of manner which captivated and compelled the lasting friendship and admiration of all who knew him. He bore malice toward none, and found good in all classes and conditions of men. With Judge DURAND, his kindly greeting, his genial smile, the friendly warmth of his manner, and unselfish interest in the welfare of others, were not the mere mask of conventionality, practiced simulation, or acquired polish; but rather the direct, unstudied, and natural expressions of a noble and magnanimous nature. To know him was to appreciate the splendid qualities of his mind and heart; and we who knew him best, loved him most, and will ever cherish the memory of his many virtues.
There is nothing grander or more beautiful in this world, nothing more potent for good or more enduring in its beneficence, than the influence of an unblemished and spotless character. The best evidence of a man’s character is the impression he makes upon his friends and associates. Of Judge DURAND’S character it need only be said that whenever his name is mentioned, whenever he is brought to mind, kind thoughts arise unbidden. Than this, no higher tribute can be paid to the character of any man.
In the quiet modesty and simplicity of his blameless life, Judge DURAND exemplified the highest virtues of American citizenship. He has been taken from us, and we shall meet him no more; and while our hearts are sad that he is no longer with us, yet, if we estimate the nobility of his character and the grand lesson taught by his commendable life at their true worth, his memory will ever remain a perpetual wellspring of sweet inspiration, impelling us to higher ideals and loftier aspirations.
On behalf of the bar, we request that this memorial be received by the court and spread upon its records, and a copy sent to the family of the deceased.
CHAS. H. WISNER.
GEORGE W. COOK.
EVERETT L. BRAY.
JOHN J. CARTON.
Following the reading of the memorial, remarks eulogistic of the deceased were made by Messrs. William T. Mitchell, of Port Huron, Lee E. Joslyn, of Bay City, T. E. Tarsney, of Detroit, and S. L. Kilbourne, Russell C. Ostrander, and C. P. Black, of Lansing, Justices MONTGOMERY and GRANT, and Chief Justice MOORE, responding on the part of the court; and it was ordered that the memorial be printed in the Reports.