JANUARY 21, 1890
At the opening of the Court on Tuesday, January 21, 1890, William P. Wells, of Detroit, in behalf of the Bar of the State, in presenting to the Court a portrait of ex-Chief Justice SHERWOOD, spoke as follows:
The members of the Bar of the State, who have provided the portrait now before you, have honored me by the request that I should present it to your Honors, with such remarks as shall fittingly express their esteem for the character, and their appreciation of the judicial services, of Chief Justice SHERWOOD.
The reports of proceedings upon occasions like the present, which have accompanied the placing upon the walls of this chamber of the portraits of eminent Judges, living and departed, display an admirable series of just and discriminating eulogies. It may well be the pride of the Bar, the Bench, and the people of Michigan, that such eulogies, while tempered by discrimination, have been wholly just. The subject of this portrait would be the last to desire that any estimate of his character and career, uttered in this place or elsewhere, should derive any exaggeration from the friendship or affection of his brethren. His friends may be well content that the language of exact truth can be the language of praise and approval, which describes the success, the dignity, the integrity, and the usefulness of his professional and judicial life.
THOMAS R. SHERWOOD, born in Ulster county, New York, inherited from an ancestry of French and English descent, and of the sect of George Fox and William Penn, the purity of character and the simplicity of life which have marked his own career. His youth was nourished and strengthened by the wholesome labors of the farm, and he received the advantage of an academical education, and was thus brought, with intervals spent in teaching, to the threshold of his legal studies. His admission to the Bar was followed by a short period of practice in his native state; and then, like so many who have become eminent in our own State, his ambition led him to the promising and rising West, and fixed his residence in one of the fairest portions of this Commonwealth.
From the year 1852 his professional history belongs to the annals of the Michigan Bar. In the flourishing and intelligent community where he fixed his home, in practice with competitors among the best equipped and ablest of Michigan lawyers, he pursued his profession, rising step by step, in diligent and successful labors, in public-spirited services, in every walk of good citizenship, in the acquisition of the confidence of clients, and in the esteem of the people, to a high place as a lawyer and a citizen. More than thirty years of such a life placed him among, the prominent candidates for preferment to judicial honors, and in 1883 he was elected a Justice of this Court, taking his seat April 19, 1883, and serving as Chief Justice in 1888 and 1889.
It would be superfluous for me to describe to your Honors, who have been his associates, the value of his judicial labors, or the pleasure you have found in his companionship. Apart from the common labors shared by all the Justices, the ties of friendship and esteem, growing out of long association upon the Bench, must always have for you peculiar tenderness. But the Bar can earnestly unite in expressions of gratitude for his unvarying courtesy to them and of appreciation of his unwearied diligence, his ample learning, his earnest sense of justice, his love and pursuit of the right,–which is the supreme qualification of a judge,–in the judicial controversies which have come under his consideration. In the contemplation of these, the disappointments of counsel and litigants fade away in insignificance, and the heart-felt encomiums of the whole Bar will accompany the placing of his picture among those which adorn these walls, to be at once an example and an inspiration to us and to our successors.
But it is not alone this memorial which will make known to those who follow us a knowledge of Justice SHERWOOD’S ability and industry. More than twenty-five volumes of the reports will exhibit his pains-taking examination of the cases submitted during his service here, and the thoroughness and accuracy of his application of legal principles. His opinions will remain as lasting testimony to his possession of the judicial qualities to which I have alluded, and to his constant exercise of his best powers in the service of the State.
The occasion would be a tempting one, if time permitted, to enlarge upon the relations of the Bar to the highest tribunal of the State, and to recall the pleasant intercourse which has been maintained between the Bar and all the Judges who have occupied this seat of judgment. We may content ourselves, with the opportunity which this occasion affords, to congratulate ourselves and you upon this fact, and to assure you that your labors are appreciated by us. Withdrawn from the contentions in which our lives are passed, your duties are performed in this serene atmosphere, and in this sacred temple, where the spirit of Justice presides from generation to generation. For your exhausting labors you find compensations denied to us, whose utmost successes are attended with the consciousness that the honors of the Bar are ephemeral, that the lives of even the most eminent lawyers are, for the most part, “writ in water.” But your just reward is in the consciousness that you are rendering high service to the State in bringing great interests to final determination, in administering justice, and in constantly upbuilding the structure and strengthening the foundations of an enlightened jurisprudence.
Happy the tribunal which is composed of such members; happy the Bar which has such examples constantly before its eyes; thrice fortunate the people which can command the services of such men, which appreciates their labors, and crowns them with honor and applause.
As the only member of the present Bench that was on it at the time when Judge SHERWOOD was added to the membership of this Court, it certainly gives me pleasure to be called upon to testify, even in a slight way, to the esteem I have always entertained for my valued associate.
Judge SHERWOOD had of course become very familiar with the duties of the Bench from having been employed in a very large amount of important litigation; he appeared before us very frequently, and always had his cases well prepared; he dealt with his cases as a good lawyer should. He had had some advantages in his early education, which helped to give him success as a lawyer and a judge. He prepared for his profession among a Bar that had secured a standing as high as the Bar of any part of the United States. It has always been one of the traditions of the American Bar that lawyers from the central part of New York were not inferior to those of any part of the country, and in this regard the Bar of Canandaigua stood as high as any other. It was here that Judge SHERWOOD received a clear and elevating idea of the dignity of the Bar, and of its true place in society, and of the duty of the lawyer to his clients and the court, and idea that he never lost.
When he came to Kalamzoo he was equally fortunate; the Kalamazoo Bar at the time when he joined it was composed of very eminent men, and Judge SHERWOOD from that time has only changed by growing his professional career.
In his intercourse with the members of this Court nothing could be pleasanter.
Any one can understand that on a Bench composed of men who are obliged to discuss among themselves matters that come before them any disturbing element would make them very uncomfortable. In all discussion there will be honest differences of opinion, but Judge SHERWOOD was uniformly courteous, and while he was, as he ought to be, tenacious of his deliberate views, he could express and hold his honest judgment on all subjects and still preserve an even and undisturbed temper; he could meet the other members of the Bench, and always did, as friends and as gentlemen.
Judge SHERWOOD was model in deportment, and was a gentleman through and through; a man who always respected the views of his associates, and at the same time never gave up his honest judgment until he was convinced. I think a more thoroughly honest mind I never met, and a man more determined to do what was right and just; and whether men differed or agreed with him there could be but one sense in regard to his opinions as a man and a judge, given as a man and a judge should give them; and in all respects association with him could not fail to be of profit to all who came in contact with him.
I feel that in honoring him the Bench is honored as well. He was one of those men whose friendship we will always cherish, and his memory will always stand as a very honored memory with the Bar of this State.
I heartily endorse all that has been said of Judge SHERWOOD. One would be obdurate indeed, who, if after more than six years of constant and confidential contact with a man of the genial, kindly, and generous disposition of Judge SHERWOOD, is not touched by the association, and molded into a kinder and better man. We have always found him pure in word and thought, high-minded and honorable in his daily walk and conversation. If he has ever failed or hesitated to follow the cold, hard lines of the law, it has been because his sympathetic nature revolted at the idea of following a precedent which in his judgment would work an injustice in the particular case.
It is not fitting at this time to enter into a review or express an opinion of his judicial work. When that time arrives, I think it will be said of him that he had a great dislike of legal technicalities when interposed to obstruct the due administration of the law, and that he had no regard for asserted opinions which to his mind were not founded upon the immutable principles of that justice which measures to every man his full share in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property.
We accept, with pleasure, this tribute to Judge SHERWOOD from the Bar of the State of Michigan, and will comply with their request in giving it a place among the portraits of the members of this Court which adorn the walls of this Temple of Justice.