JUNE 10, 1880
At a session of the Supreme Court held Thursday, June 10, 1880 Mr. GEORGE MORELL CHESTER of Detroit was present with his mother, Mrs. CATHERINE M. CHESTER, a daughter of the late Chief Justice GEORGE MORELL, and addressed the Court:
YOUR HONORS:— It is my privilege, as the representative of my uncle Gen. George W. Morell, who at one time was himself a member of the bar of Michigan, to present to you the portrait of his father, Hon. George Morell, who was one of the original members of this Court and the second to preside over its deliberations as Chief Justice. The portrait is sent with the following letter:
BEECHWOOD, SCARBOROUGH P. O.
Westchester Co. N. Y., April 26,1880.
DEAR SIR:— Some time ago I was informed that the authorities of Michigan desired to have the portraits of its State officers, including the Judges of the supreme Court, to place them in the Capitol at Lansing.
My father, the Hon. George Morell, was one of the Judges of the first Supreme Court of the State, and also of the District Court of this United States for the Territory of Michigan. I take great pleasure in presenting to you, as the head of the judiciary, his portrait, which I beg you to accept for the purpose above mentioned.
I am very respectfully your obedient servant, GEORGE W. MORELL.
To the Hon. Isaac Marston, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Lansing, Mich.
Chief Justice MARSTON received the portrait in behalf of the Court and said that it was eminently proper that the portraits of the early Judges should be placed in the court room. He referred to Chief Justice Morell as one of the ablest of the Judges of Michigan. The court and bar, he continued, should remember with gratitude the early Judges, because of the ability and learning with which they had built up on the foundation of the common law system of jurisprudence which exists in the State.
Mr. Justice CAMPBELL also replied for the Court, the substance of his remarks being herewith presented:
It is a great gratification to all of us to have this memorial of Judge Morell where it will be constantly in view, and it is the more desirable because by a somewhat singular chance he has been deprived of the means of remembrance which are usually found in the reports of decisions. During the early years of his judicial work it was not as customary as it is now to have the decisions of the Supreme Court written out, and there was no short-hand writer in attendance and no other person to preserve the language of the opinions delivered. For several years the Court had no official Reporter, and when one was appointed, he found that most of the decisions had been either delivered orally, or lost. Judge Morell always wrote out in full his important opinions, and a full series of his manuscripts was found, but they could not well be published without the rest. The Reporter therefore, although his friend and admirer, was reluctantly compelled to begin his work at a time when the materials were more complete; and our series, for this reason, contains but a few of his opinions, and these all belong to the later years of his judicial career.
As there are probably not more than one or two persons present who ever knew Judge Morell, it may be proper for me to give some account of a man who was a very eminent and useful magistrate. It was my good fortune to know him from my boyhood. I passed my studentship during. his continuance on the bench, and came to the bar shortly after he left it. He was very kind in making suggestions to young lawyers, and I received from him some useful hints in practice after his retirement. As any one can see from his portrait, which is a very good and natural likeness of him, he was an amiable and courteous gentleman of great dignity and firmness. He was a very thorough and learned lawyer, and nothing but his personal and professional qualities could have secured him almost at once on his arrival here the respect. and confidence of the community. He came to Michigan under circumstances not calculated to win these unless he had deserved them. He and the late Judge Wilkins—one residing in New York and the other in Pennsylvania—were appointed in 1832 to succeed two old residents of the Territory, William Woodbridge and Henry Chipman, who were dropped for political reasons, Judge Sibley being re-appointed. The Territory was then expecting the time when it should be received into the Union as a State, and the people were more than usually jealous of outside appointments. It was an old territory, and had an extremely able bar, from among whom it would have been easy to find suitable incumbents. But from the first, Judge Morell became identified in feeling with the people, and his judicial ability and personal qualities secured confidence and regard. In the subsequent course of events his sympathies were throughout with the inhabitants of the Territory and were shown in various. ways. When the Territory adopted a Constitution and organized a State government in 1835 (although not fully admitted to representation in Congress until 1837) he from the first respected the local action. There are some amusing stories told of his intercourse with Governor Horner, who was sent out in 1835 as Territorial Secretary and Acting Governor, and who had a mistaken idea that the people of the young State could be made to recognize his authority. Judge Morell gave him some plain hints as to consequences if any attempt were. Made— as he desired— to enforce it by any active means.
The State Legislature met and the State history began in the fall of 1835. But. It was. provided by the Constitution that the Territorial Courts should retain jurisdiction of all judicial business until July, 1836. There was no difficulty about this, because the Territory of Michigan was larger than the State, and included, in addition to what became the State, what is now Wisconsin and the country westward of it. The Territory of Wisconsin was not organized till July 4, 1836.
Judge Morell was re-appointed Territorial Judge in 1836. He was also appointed a Judge of the State Supreme Court in July, 1836, and thereafter acted, not as Territorial but as State Judge continuously. The last act of the Territorial Judges in Michigan was in the beginning of July, before the Territory of Wisconsin was set off A board consisting of the Governor and Judges of the Territory of Michigan had immediately after the destruction of the old town of Detroit in 1805 been vested with authority to settle titles and dispose of lots in the city. A corporation known as the Detroit Young Men’s Society, which filled for many years an important place in the literary advancement of the community, was incorporated by the State Legislature, and to this State corporation the Territorial Judges granted a lot of land in Detroit. This was the last occasion on which they met officially.
The State Supreme Court, appointed in July, 1836, was made up of William A. Fletcher as Chief Justice, and George Morell and Epaphroditus Ransom as Associated Justices. The Judges then performed circuit duties, and Judge Morell’s circuit included the eastern counties. The amount of business was very great. The country was full of speculative undertakings, and corporations were created in great numbers. When the crash came, and until the Bankruptcy Law, passed in 1841, took effect, the courts were crowded with litigation, involving all sorts of questions. The work of Judge Morell’s circuit, which was much the largest, was done promptly and thoroughly. He was a completely trained and ready lawyer, prepared to deal correctly and at once with the questions arising on trials, and the business of his court was disposed of to the general satisfaction.
Although not a native of New York, he received his legal training there, where his contemporaries and immediate associates included William L. Marcy, Judge Nelson and Chancellor Walworth. The New York Revised Statutes were passed, and the practice under them became to a considerable degree settled during his professional career in that State. He had always a peculiar aptitude for methodical proceedings, and became thoroughly familiar with pleading and practice under the new system then perfected. The extent of his influence may be estimated somewhat from the fact that although a majority of the Territorial and early State Judges obtained their legal training in other States and under different systems, the practice here became very closely allied to that of New York, and borrowed a large share of the New York statutory and common law changes. It is the more remarkable because some of his colleagues had a decided preference for a different system, and our first Revised Statutes favored to some extent the Massachusetts rules.
On the resignation of Chief Justice Fletcher in 1842, Judge Morell succeeded him in his office, which he held until he left the bench in 1843, after which he took no very active part in practice. He was justly regarded as an upright and eminent jurist of great acquirements and adequate knowledge of men, and a sincere lover of justice.
THE COURT directed the entry of the following order upon the journal of the Court:
WHEREAS, Gen. George W. Morell has presented to this Court a portrait of his father, Hon. George Morell, one of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan; therefore it is
Ordered that such portrait be accepted and placed in a proper and conspicuous place in the Supreme Court room.
And this court desires to express its thanks to the donor for his valuable gift, and its gratification in having its court room adorned by the likeness of a gentleman whose character and eminence will always make his memory honored and venerated in this State.
*Judge Morell was of Huguenot descent, his ancestors having fled from France to Germany on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and afterwards come to America. The name was formerly spelled Morele. George Morell was born at Lenox, Mass., March 22, 1786; was educated at Lenox Academy, and at Williams College from which he graduated in 1807; studied law at Troy, N.Y., with Walworth and Marcy in the office of John Russel who was said to be the best common law practitioner In the State; and was admitted to practice as an attorney Feb. 14, 1811, and as a counselor Oct. 31, 1818. He lived in Cooperstown, N.Y., from 1811 to 1832, during which period also he was In the State militia, rising from the rank of sergeant to that of Major General. He was clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of Otsego county in 1815, and was appointed first judge of that court Aug. 20, 1827, and re-appointed to that position in 1832. He became master in chancery in 1819 and solicitor and counselor in chancery in I823. In Nov., 1828, he was elected a member of the Assembly for Otsego. He was appointed by President Jackson, Feb. 26, 1832, Judge of the United States Court for the Territory of Michigan. He died at Detroit March 8, 1845.