OCTOBER 1, 1898
Upon the opening of court for the October term, 1898, Honorable DAVID D. AITKEN, of Flint, on behalf of the bar of the State, presented to the court an oil portrait of the Honorable GEORGE H. DURAND, a former justice of the court.
As the representative of and in behalf of the bar of the State, it becomes my pleasant duty to present to your honors this portrait of Mr. DURAND, late a justice of this honorable court, and ask that it be accorded a position upon the walls of this court-room, by the side of the portraits of the other eminent jurists who have been members of this court, and who, by reason of their high characters and great legal attainments, have not only been an honor to the State, but have made her Supreme Court justly famed throughout the land.
GEORGE H. DURAND was born at Cobleskill, Schoharie county, New York. His parents were also natives of the State of New York. His education was begun in the district school, and continued in the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, at Lima, New York, and later he took a course in classics. He came to Michigan while still a boy, and passed his first winter in the State teaching school at Oxford, Oakland county. At the close of his school term he began the study of law, under the instruction of Col. WILLIAM M. FENTON, who was then considered one of Michigan’s foremost lawyers. He was admitted to the bar in 1858, and at once commenced the practice of his profession at Flint. Since that time he has been in active practice, except when representing his State or Nation in a public capacity elsewhere.
His success at the bar has been attained by continuous application and intelligent effort. He strove to know the law, and had no wish to profit by appearances. He never believed that a man was born a great lawyer, but, if he ever attained that position, it must be by the exercise of industry, energy, and perseverance. Coarseness was an unknown element in his character, and under no circumstances did he forget to be a gentleman. He realized the obligation that a lawyer owes to his client, and recognized as fully the duty he owed to himself. In all his practice, extending over a period of more than a third of a century, there has never been an insinuation that he has ever resorted to other than legitimate and honest methods in his conduct of any case.
He is of kindly nature, sociable habits, and pleasing manners. He attracts to himself the closest and warmest friendships.
He is respected and esteemed, above all, in the community where he lives. The best evidence of the truth of this assertion was the result of his election to Congress, in 1874, when he received a majority of nearly 2,000, in a district where his party was 6,000 in the minority; and on other occasions, when before the people, he has ever been favored by a vote far beyond his party strength. And this is not because he has courted popularity, for he is naturally of a modest and retiring disposition, and studiously avoids all form of flattery.
In these later years, when, because of his reputation and fame as a great lawyer, he had become known throughout the State, he was much sought after by men controlling the destinies of great combinations; but his sturdy honesty impelled him to consider more the source of his earnings than the amount. He had no ambition to become rich; he preferred to be respected because of character, rather than courted because of riches. He recognized full well the tendency of the times to wealth-worship; he felt keenly the danger to the young by reason of it, and strove on every occasion to impress upon young manhood the necessity of a good character. He estimated men by what he believed to be their true worth, regardless of their social and financial position, and intended to do no man a wrong. He loves his home and friends, and no more cultured, hospitable host ever welcomed a neighbor to his door. The rich and poor alike are dear to him, and he is as gentle and courteous to the beggar child as to the millionaire.
His success as a lawyer is best evidenced by the Reports of this court. There are but few of those Reports issued within the last 30 years but bear evidence of his wonderful knowledge of the law. He strove for the principle involved in a law case; and few men in Michigan were ever able to prepare and place before a court more clearly and accurately the principles involved. As president of the Michigan Bar Association, he made every possible effort to impress upon the young practitioner the necessity of “building aright;” “for,” he said, “upon the bar of the country rests the hope of our jurisprudence.”
While an ardent student of the law, Mr. DURAND has been equally as successful before the jury, and he has been employed in many of the most important cases which have been tried in his section of the State. He never addressed his remarks to the back seats, but appealed to the hearts and consciences of the jury, and few men were ever more successful. He never believed gruffness, harshness, or discourtesy were elements of greatness, and was ever courteous and gentlemanly to the court, the counsel, and the jury.
His conduct on the bench, as a member of this court, is well known to your honors. His ability while associated with you is evidenced by his work, and by the good opinion I know you entertain of him. He has never deviated from the path of duty, or swerved from an honest purpose by flattery of speech or action. His decisions were never influenced by the demogogical rant of the blatant agitator, nor by the felt, but unseen, mechanism of corporate greed. He gave his highest and best thought to the work before him, and his ambition was that, when he ceased to be with you, his work might reflect some small credit upon the already illustrious name of the Supreme Court of Michigan.
Personally I am greatly pleased to see Judge DURAND’S picture upon these walls. I lived in the same city with him, and have know him intimately for more than 40 years. When he came to Flint to enter upon the practice of his profession, he was entirely unknown. He came a stranger; but soon, by his sterling worth as a man and his ability as an advocate and a profound student of the law, he had the entire confidence of his people. That confidence, once established, has never been betrayed or lost.
He became the mayor of his city, and subsequently served a term in the Congress of the United States. He was never a politician, and soon retired from the struggles of a political life, and devoted his entire time and ability to his chosen profession. His life and his practice in that profession have made him great. It never needed a stipulation in writing to compel him to keep his word in the conduct of a case. His word was never, to my recollection, forfeited.
He is one of the most genial of gentlemen; kind-hearted, true to his friends, and forgiving to what few enemies he ever had. He never bore malice toward any man. The older members, as well as the younger members, of that bar, seek his counsel, and he never fails them. Add to this his untiring energy and his great ability, and we find him yet in the forefront of his profession, loved and respected by all. He has thus become a great lawyer, though living a simple, quiet life.
It was my good fortune to serve several months with him upon this bench. By his opinions then written, the lawyers of the whole State saw and recognized the ability which we, his friends, have known for years. His picture upon these walls will be an every-day reminder to me of the many happy years I spent with him in the practice of the law. I loved him all those years, and I still love him as a brother.
Gentlemen of the Bar:
It gives all the members of this court great pleasure to receive, on behalf of the State and of this court, this excellent portrait of Justice DURAND. In accepting it, I heartily endorse all that has been said of his character. Nature gave him a sound mind in a sound body. He has made good use of both by right living, and correct habits of thought and study. He is a good example for the young men of our noble profession to follow. I count it one of my good fortunes and great pleasures that I have been intimately acquainted with him. The members of this court who were associated with him upon the bench and in the consulting room formed a friendship which I know will extend through this life, and I trust into that unknown country whose doorway is the grave. He is one of those men with whom it is not necessary to summer and winter in order to know. His life is an open book, in which all can read manliness of character, ability, and integrity. By his constant exhibition of these qualities he won our respect and esteem. He won our friendship by his uniform courtesy and constant practice of those qualities which are summed up in the one word, “gentleman.” You will please convey to him, Brother AITKEN, our good wishes for his continued prosperity and happiness, and the hope that he may long continue his career of usefulness and honor.