In Memoriam Charles Edward Stuart

JUNE 21, 1887

At the opening of Court on Tuesday, June 21, 1887, the Hon. CHARLES S. MAY, in behalf of the Bar of Kalamazoo county, presented to the Court the resolutions adopted by that body upon the death of Hon. CHARLES E. STUART, and, accompanying said request with appropriate remarks, asked that they be spread upon the Journal of the Court.

Mr. Justice SHERWOOD and the Chief Justice responded in behalf of the Court, and thereupon it was ordered that the resolutions be spread on the Journal, and that the reporter be directed to publish the same in the next volume of reports, with the remarks of Mr. May and the responses made thereto.

At a special meeting of the Kalamazoo County Bar, held at the court room, in the city of Kalamazoo, on the 6th day of June, 1887, to receive the report of a committee theretofore appointed to draft suitable resolutions commemorative of the life and services of Hon. CHARLES E. STUART, deceased, the committee reported the following preamble and resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:

“To the Bar of Kalamazoo County:

Your committee, to whom was referred the preparation of resolutions fitted to express the feeling of the Bar on the occasion of the recent death of a distinguished member thereof, beg leave to report as follows:

The decease of our veteran friend and brother, the Hon. OHARLES E. STUART, both on account of his prominence in and early association with our Bar, and also on account of his eminent rank in civil life, requires that we should put on record some permanent recognition of his character, which shall bear testimony, not only to the present time, but also to the future, of the esteem and consideration in which he was held by his associates and contemporaries. To this end, it is therefore

Resolved, that while we deplore the stroke that has taken from us one who more than half a century ago began the struggle of life and the high endeavors of our profession in this community in which he grew and ripened, and among whom he now lies buried,-yet it is the end of an honorable and illustrious life.

He was a great example of the self-made man. Unaided, and by his own sheer strength of character and fine abilities, he won his way to a high place in professional and public life. Deservedly eminent as a lawyer from an early date, he was distinguished also as a civilian and statesman.

In the national council he devoted his great talents with fidelity to the public welfare, and according to his own convictions of duty took a distinguished part in the maintenance of principles he deemed essential to the general peace and prosperity of the country. When those measures failed of adoption, he yet loyally followed the flag, and contributed by his influence and example to establish its undisputed supremacy.

Resolved, that it is due to his memory that we acknowledge in him the attributes of a faithful friend, the wise counselor, and public-spirited citizen. From his long and intimate association with the early life of the State, and the active and influential part he took in it, his name is indissolubly connected with its history, and will be held in honor, as it deserves to be, by those who recount with patriotic pride how the foundations of the State, among a quiet and prosperous and intelligent people, were laid, and the names and services of the builders.

Resolved, that we tender to the family of our deceased brother the assurance of our especial sympathy with them in the common loss, and that a copy of these resolutions be sent to them.

Resolved, that request be made to the circuit court for the county of Kalamazoo that the foregoing resolutions may be spread upon its records.

 MAY IT PLEASE THE COURT:—I am charged by the Bar of Kalamazoo county with the honorable and agreeable duty of presenting their resolutions of respect to the memory of the Hon. CHARLES E. STUART, and requesting that they be spread upon the records of this Court.

These resolutions do not speak too strongly of the high sense of honor and regard in which he was held by the members of that Bar at which he has so long practiced, and by his neighbors and fellow citizens, in whose midst his honorable career had been passed. They are but a just tribute to a distinguished lawyer and advocate, as well as an eminent citizen and public man, whose work, owing to political changes and ill health, it is true, was done in the past, but whose rare and exceptional genius and brilliant career as an advocate amply entitle him to this mark of respect, and to the honor of a permanent place in our judicial history.

For myself, when I recall my boyhood’s admiration for this remarkable man, then in the first flush of his success at the Bar, and in the enjoyment of that brilliant and peculiar reputation as a jury lawyer which the men of to-day can scarcely understand, and remember how, at a later period, when he had returned to the practice, crowned with the honors of the senate, I have met him and felt his power in that forum of his early triumphs, I can but count it a mournful felicity of fortune that I am permitted to speak these last words in this high presence, before his fame is committed to those who shall come after us.

It is not my purpose, your Honors, to give here a history of Col. Stuart’s life, or even to outline the leading incidents of his long and honorable career. All that is outside the scope and purpose of these proceedings, which concern mainly his work and reputation at the Bar. Born in the state of New York in 1810, the merest glance at the opening of his professional life shows him, a young man of 25, settled in the practice at Kalamazoo, ever, after his home, and soon attracting attention by his remarkable talents, and becoming at once a leader at the Bar and in the new community. From that time to his first election to Congress, in 1847, with the exception of a single term in the State Legislature, he was exclusively occupied in the duties of an advocate, following the early circuits and practicing in every county in western Michigan. Perhaps this was the most brilliant part of his life, and one which in the retrospect afforded him the most satisfaction. Many times have I heard him, in his later invalid days, go over those early experiences, and in his own inimitable way, with description and anecdote, bring up again the buried past,—pleasant memories to him, for those were the happy days of early triumph and success, when melting juries and applauding crowds hung upon his eloquent and persuasive words, and he was the popular idol~ the bright particular star of his party and of the Bar in western Michigan. It would, indeed, be difficult to exaggerate his popularity as an advocate among the people at this period of his life. Every court house was a temple of his fame, every trial was a triumph, and the endearing popular appellation “Charley Stuart” became a synonym for all that was brilliant and fascinating in jury oratory. That appellation he ever after bore in Michigan. It was “Charley Stuart” still, and to the last—when he wore the senatorial toga, when his head was bowed and gray in old age.

For, though this man achieved the successes of public life and won the honors of the senate, his chief distinction, after all, was as an advocate and jury lawyer. Here his deepest impress was made. He had by nature, in extraordinary degree, what is known as the legal mind; he was predestined for the law, and his genius found its natural expression in advocacy, as the true poet’s does in song. His circumstances and surroundings in those pioneer days, at the beginning of his career, were not favorable to legal study, and he never became what might be called a learned or book lawyer. But it is doubtful if this circumstance, which under other and different conditions might have been a limitation and a hindrance, was any detriment to him in that early practice. He had a good knowledge of the foundation principles of the law; his natural powers of reasoning and analysis were very great; and cases were then tried upon their merits and upon the facts. He seemed to know instinctively what ought to be the law, and he had a memory which never lost a fact or overlooked a principle. There was little need to cite adjudicated cases, and there were less of them to cite than now. The whole weight of a trial, therefore, fell upon the jury and the facts. To this field and to this duty he brought extraordinary gifts and equipments.

If I were to characterize these in a single sentence, I should say that he had large observation and intuitive knowledge of human nature; a judgment that made few mistakes; remarkable coolness and self-possession; courage, quick decision, and great firmness of will; natural logic in handling facts; and an easy, graceful, and most persuasive eloquence, assisted and set off by an unusually rich and sonorous voice, and a commanding dignity of carriage and gesture.

If it be said that this language describes a great advocate, I reply that he was one. I have seen, I suppose, all the great lawyers and advocates of our State who are entitled to compare with Col. Stuart-seen them in the trial of causes and at their best-and while I would not be unjust or seem invidious, or disparage in any way the great abilities of men like Howard, and Lothrop, and Van Arman, and Hughes, I must still say that though each one of these able advocates might have excelled him in some single particular, yet, take him all in all, Charles E. Stuart was the greatest jury lawyer we have ever had in Michigan. He had no weak points. He was a wise manager, an able examiner of witnesses, and a powerful speaker and reasoner before the jury. Courteous and suave in manner, he repelled nobody; his wonderful observation and knowledge of practical things enabled him to see the bearings of evidence and to handle witnesses with skill, while his dignified fairness and candor gave him great inl1uence with judge and jury alike. He always seemed to me to fill exactly that view of an advocate who from the lowest to the highest tribunal is able, at every stage, to place the cause of his client in the most favorable light, and persuade his judges to a decision in his favor.
I cannot here go into particulars and describe the way in which all these gifts and advantages were brought to bear in the trial of a case. Those who have seen him at his best before a jury will not think my language extravagant, and have still in their memories the delight with which they witnessed as near a picture of perfect advocacy as we are ever privileged to see in our courts.

Your Honors, I am fully aware that in thus outlining the qualities of this eminent member of our profession, I have indicated his possession of mental powers of a high order. But I know-and your Honors, who have all had large experience on the circuit, know-that it takes great intellectual gifts to make a great advocate. No man wins such a height at the Bar without struggle and without intellectual power. Here no deception is possible, as in other cases. Not like the clergyman, with his undemonstrable, ex parte case behind his pulpit; not like the physician, with his prescription in the dark;—the lawyer’s work is done in the broad light of the open day, confronted at every step by able opposition and argument, and with the whole public looking on. To meet such a test requires the greatest and the keenest powers. That vulgar notion of advocacy which sees nothing higher in it than an effort to “befog the jury” is a great mistake. Rather is it often the business of the true advocate to clear and dispel, by the electric heat and lightning of his genius, the fog-bank which has already settled there. I know the great change which has come since the time when the people used to flock to that early arena where this man first won his fame, but I still contend that it was an intellectual arena, and that the view is not a proper one which practically holds the law to be a mere trade, the exercise of mere technical, mechanical skill,—nor that which the sensational press suggests by its irreverent, leveling headlines of “Law Shop” and” Law Factory”-law at wholesale here, at retail on the circuit!

I believe the court house should still be an intellectual arena, where the intellectual gladiators of the law should contend for the prizes of victory and justice. I cannot hold that change to be for the better where the people cease to take interest in their trial courts, and cease to crowd the court houses to listen to their advocates. In that brilliant picture which Macaulay has painted of ancient Athens at the height of her glory, it was the contests of the intellectual athletes which evoked the loudest shouts from that cultivated and wonderful people. Small credit to us, I think, with our boast of intellectual advancement, if it be true that after nearly twenty-five hundred years the people desert our court houses and flock to the rink, the minstrel show, and the ball ground. No, let us at least have the manliness to acknowledge this decline—temporary, we trust—from a great past. We still need our advocates and orators and statesmen. We need them for the just administration of the law, for our intellectual life, for the glory of art and letters, and, beyond all these, for the preservation of our free institutions.

May it please your Honors, I must be brief in what I shall say of Col. Stuart as a politician and statesman. Happily, we are now so far removed from the questions which agitated the country during his public life that no injustice need be done to his memory through partisan bigotry or prejudice. In politics always a democrat, his early popularity as an advocate, as times then were, naturally led to his political elevation. After serving two terms in the house of representatives with credit and distinction, he was in January, 1853, elected to a full term in the United States Senate, against formidable rivals, without leaving his duties at Washington, and without the expenditure of a dollar, as he himself has told me. In this body he found Casa, and Douglas, and Seward, and Sumner, and Chase, and other distinguished men; but with these able competitors he soon took high rank as a committeeman and debater, and won exceptional distinction as a parliamentarian. ‘It was said of him that no man in that body ever excelled’ him as a presiding officer. When the Kansas-Nebraska bill, repealing the Missouri compromise, was proposed, his native judgment and sagacity told him that it was not only wrong in principle but a great party mistake; and he has told me more than once of his remonstrances with Gen. Cass over the measure, and of a special visit of protest to President Pierce in which he told that official head of the Democracy plainly to his face that the North would be against him, and that his own state of New Hampshire would lead in the work of repudiation—a prophecy of coming party disaster which was soon strikingly fulfilled. Very reluctantly—and very unfortunately, I think—he yielded to the counsels of his distinguished colleague, and to the party sentiment and discipline, and thus lost the great opportunity of his life. Had he followed his own patriotic impulses and good judgment, opposed the bill and placed himself in accord with the rising sentiment of the North, there was no political distinction or promotion which he might not have attained. When the ill-starred measure bore its legitimate fruit in civil war in Kansas, and the infamous Lecompton Constitution, he did stand up manfully with Douglas and Broderick in the Senate and denounce the policy of Buchanan and his administration; and when his illustrious friend, Douglas, was opposed by the whole power of that administration, and by the ultra pro-slavery South at Charleston in 1860, it was Charles E. Stuart who gallantly and ably led the forces of the “little giant” on the floor of that historic convention. Then came his retirement from public life and the election of Lincoln, soon to be followed by the great rebellion, in which Col. Stuart showed himself a true patriot, raising our gallant 13th regiment. which won for itself imperishable renown on many bloody fields.

Returning now to the Bar, while still in the prime of life, Col. Stuart spent nearly ten years in the practice, showing all his old-time power as an advocate, and retiring at last about 1870, from ill health rather than old age, and spending the rest of his days in the seclusion of his home. He never went into court again, and only issued from his retirement on a few public occasions. While all the time a confirmed invalid and unfit for the duties of professional or public life, he was still able for the most part to be up and about, and especially to receive and converse with his many callers and old-time friends, to whom he was ever hospitable and genial. His mind was always clear and bright, and he retained his interest in all passing, and especially in all public, events. He was a man of very marked conversational powers, and frequently the old grace and eloquence would appear in the animated dialogue or earnest private discussion. Always an original, independent thinker, his views of men and affairs were very interesting as well as instructive to the little audiences of friends and admirers who so often gathered to listen to his words. Though a man of great natural dignity, with much of the courtliness of manner of a gentleman of the old school, he had a keen sense of the humorous or ridiculous, and no man ever enjoyed an amusing experience or anecdote more, or told one better than he did. He was a public-spirited citizen, a man of high sense of personal and professional honor. In his private habits he was simple, economical, and temperate—a wise and prudent counselor and manager, a provident, kind, and affectionate husband and father.

Your Honors, it was my great privilege and happiness for twenty years to enjoy the friendship of this man, and I count the many hours which I have spent with him in the friendly converse of his own fireside as among the pleasantest that I have ever enjoyed, or expect to enjoy in this world. Never shall I forget those hours, or the sage but genial presence of him whom I counted my model and master at the Bar, as, like another Socrates, he delighted and instructed me by his wise discourse on great themes,—on men, on politics, on religion.

But that rare picture and experience could not always be. To him the summons at last came, as it will come to each one of us in our turn. Happy for us if we can meet it with his resignation and philosophy, and his trust in the justice and mercy of God. It is a consolation to his friends to know that the bright and gifted intellect was never clouded, but, through weakness and sickness and the failing body, shone on to the very last.

May it please the Court, it is only our greatest who should receive these high marks of our honor at the hands of this our highest tribunal. This man, more by his rare natural gifts, and by fame as an advocate won early and elsewhere, than by practice in this Court, is entitled to a place in our judicial Pantheon. For he was a man of mark—one such as does not adorn our trial courts once in a generation. We are not apt to appreciate the limitations and disadvantages of our own great men. Had Charles E. Stuart’s early lot been cast at the Boston or New York Bar instead of the humble western circuit, I believe that his great abilities would have commanded immediate recognition, and that his fame as an advocate would have filled all the land.

We cannot afford to be insensible to such gifts, or to commit such a career to silence and forgetfulness. A man like this is too rare in our history; such lives are the best riches of our State. We honor ourselves in paying such honors as these and marking such an example for the emulation of the future lawyers of Michigan. If the noble words of the great Athenian orator who contended with Demosthenes over the crown be true, that “the character of a city is known by the character of the men it crowns,” then, indeed, the character of this Court, of our great and rising commonwealth itself, is dignified and exalted by crowning with the civic wreath a distinguished citizen, who, in his life work as lawyer and statesman, reflected honor upon both. .

 Justice SHERWOOD responded as follows:
I can hardly expect to add to what we have heard so eloquently expressed by Gov. May on this occasion. It gives me much pleasure, however, to say it was my privilege to enjoy the acquaintance of Col. STUART during the last 34 years of his life; and through all these years he was my neighbor and friend. When I first knew him he was serving his second term in Congress, but had not yet withdrawn himself from the practice of his profession, and was then regarded as occupying the first place at the Bar in western Michigan. At the close of his term in the house, he was elected to the United States Senate, where he took high rank among the statesmen of that day. After the close of his senatorial career he returned to the practice, and it was then that I became more familiar with his legal attainments and the great ability he always brought to bear in the discharge of the duties of his profession; and it gives me great pleasure to endorse all that has been so well and truthfully said by Gov. May on that subject.

He held the profession in high estimation. His ideas of the discharge of its duties were of the most exalted character; and he never failed to urge on all proper occasions, on his fellow members, that they should observe the highest standard of morals and ethics in the discharge of all the obligations it cast on them, and was himself a noble exemplar of the sentiments he thus urged on his brethren.

Col. STUART was a man of talent. His exhibition of genius in the trial of causes was seldom equaled. He took broad, comprehensive views upon all subjects. He was sanguine, but never impulsive, and all that he said and did showed careful thought and mature judgment. He was a good listener and close observer, remembered all that was said and done, and nothing was ever overlooked or omitted of interest to his client, where he was employed.

He never underrated the ability of his antagonist, but always treated him and his efforts with consideration and respect, and thereby won his confidence and esteem. His plain, frank, candid manner and pleasing address never failed to command the respect of the court, which always felt honored by his presence. He relied upon the facts of his case, and the common sense view he took of them, to settle the differences between litigants; and he seldom had occasion to refer to adjudicated cases, and was eminently successful in securing a satisfactory result in the circuit.

He possessed rare qualifications for judicial position, but was never ambitious in that direction. He preferred the advocacy of the rights of his fellow men, and in this, his chosen sphere, I think it may be truly said of him, when he was in full practice he had no equal in our State.

Col. STUART was scrupulously honest, a good neighbor, a kind-hearted man, a true friend. He was free, frank, interesting, and instructive in conversation, and few days of his twenty years of invalid life passed without the companionship of some one or more of his many friends. He never repined under affliction, nor bemoaned his ailments, but heroically bore them all to the last, and went down to the grave in a good old age, with a philosophical resignation and composure characteristic of his whole life, surrounded by his friends and a devoted but stricken family, honored and respected by all who knew him.

I cannot refrain from saying a few words expressing my own appreciation of Mr. STUART’s life and character. It has not been my good fortune to see him and know him for several years past, since he gave up political and much of his professional activity. My Brother SHERWOOD, who has known him intimately for many years, and Governor May, who has so feelingly addressed us, have said each what ought to be said of his life at home in his own community. While I cannot say that I was ever very intimate with Col. STUART, yet I knew him very well during the most active period of his life, professional and political, and he was the intimate friend and associate of some of my own closest friends of his own party, and I know very well in what esteem they held him. It would not have been my own estimate of him to place his chief strength in his great qualities as a jury lawyer. It is true, as Gov. MAY has expressed it, that eloquence is a gift that is of great value in a country governed by free institutions, and he was a very eloquent man. A free country has never existed without it, and a people that is not moved by genuine oratory is not in a promising way. But Col. STUART was a sound and able lawyer. When he came to the Bar, and in his earlier experiences in his profession, it was necessary for every lawyer to be well grounded in legal principles. The standard of admission was high, and no one could succeed in legal business without a knowledge of essential principles. Libraries were small and few in this region, and books could not be carried round the country from place to place where the courts sat. Every one had to rely largely on his stock of legal principles, and the necessity of doing this was a good thing for the establishment of jurisprudence on a broad basis.

Our early court of chancery held one circuit at Kalamazoo, and Col. STUART had a considerable and successful practice in that court. I have reason to know that he was highly esteemed professionally, as well as personally, by Chancellor FARNSWORTH, who was a good jurist, as well as a remarkably good judge of men.

Col. STUART was more generally known as a public man than as a lawyer. It never was my fortune to belong to the same party with him, but he was a prominent figure in state and national politics, and occupied a respected position in both. He came into the State about the time when it ceased to be a territory, and grew up with it. He was familiar with all of its leading men, who were men of mark and energy, and he had his share in shaping its public policy. He was well known as one of the most active and esteemed men of his party, and stood high among its leaders. His career in both houses of Congress was creditable, and he was personally liked and influential. He was a very good example in many respects of the western men who made their mark in our institutions. While he was in public life, he was the associate of many great men who were the leaders in that great movement which has made the West the seat of power and center of influence in the United States. They were personally the best representatives we have ever had of the true American spirit. They were not all—but many of them were—men of culture and attainments. But they all possessed great common sense and a thorough sympathy with the people, and a full appreciation of the feelings and spirit of the people.

They were men of breadth and generous qualities, and a thorough appreciation of all sides of human nature. Under their leadership the country expanded into what it now is, and they are deserving of respect and gratitude for the glory and prosperity of the most powerful and influential part of the Union. The West is now the political arbiter of the country, and those men chiefly made it so.

It is no doubt true that Col. STUART, like many other men, made mistakes which he regretted. But it is not fair or just to judge public men by taking a backsight from the present: everyone must be judged as things appeared in his own day, and in the light of his surroundings. Col. STUART had and deserved the respect of men of both parties in the Senate, and his reputation is clean and free from reproach.

The Court will accept the proceedings of the Kalamazoo Bar, and cause them to be recorded in the Journal, and will also order these proceedings to be published in the reports.