In Memoriam David Darwin Hughes

JANUARY 8, 1884

 At the opening of the afternoon session on Tuesday, January 8th, 1884, Mr. MITCHELL J. SMILEY addressed the Court as follows:
May it please the Court: On the 12th day of July last, one who has often met with us here, and whose words have been listened to with deep interest in this Court, passed from this earth. His place at this bar his been occupied by him for the last time. He of whom I speak was David Darwin Hughes, a distinguished member of this bar and in many respects the most gifted lawyer of the State.

Soon after his death, his brothers of the bar met and passed resolutions suitable to the occasion, and appointed a committee to present them to the several courts. As I had been associated with him in the practice of the profession during the last eleven years of his life, and had known him for some years prior to that, during which time I had esteemed him a great friend, and learned to love him as an elder brother, it was thought proper that I should present the resolutions to this Court, and ask that they be spread upon the records.

With your Honors’ leave I will read the resolutions:

At a general meeting of the Grand Rapids Bar, called to give suitable expression to their common sorrow at the sudden death of their brother, D. Darwin Hughes, and to render to his memory as a lawyer and a citizen their sincere tribute of respect, it was, on motion of Mr. J. W. Ransom, unanimously

RESOLVED, That his intellectual vigor and acumen, his thorough knowledge of the law, his fidelity to professional duty, his catholic views of men, his integrity and high sense of personal honor, his thorough appreciation of the true duty of the lawyer to the public, made him a successful leader at the bar and one whose opinion and advice were widely sought and thoroughly respected in the most important business affairs of our State;—that we remember him not alone as honoring the profession he had chose; he was a true man in all life’s relations and duties, a good citizen, a warm friend and genial companion; that we tender to his bereaved family our respectful sympathy in their sad affliction; we too mourn an associate and brother; that we attend his funeral in a body; that a committee be appointed by the chairman and members thereof designated to present these resolutions to the Supreme Court and the courts of record of this city and move the appropriate action; that an engrossed copy be transmitted to the family of the deceased.

These resolutions, may it please your Honors, but mildly state the preeminent qualities of our departed brother. As a lawyer he stood not only in the front rank, but at the very head of the profession in his State. He was born at Camillus, New York, Feb. 1st , 1823, and came to this State in 1840; was admitted to the bar in Calhoun county in 1846, and commenced active practice at Marshall in 1850. From that time his reputation as a lawyer gradually extended until his entire time was devoted to the trial of leading cases. I remember first seeing him about the time of my admission to the bar in 1862. I made inquiry of brother lawyers at the time and learned that he had a fair and growing reputation. Soon afterward he defended in the case of Stone v. Anderson, tried at the Kalamazoo Circuit, and made what was considered a very able defense. This greatly increased his reputation and he began to be employed extensively in leading cases; and a few years later, was regarded by many as the strongest trial lawyer in the State. He was able in the management of causes–peculiarly ingenious in the arrangement and statement of the facts and wonderfully strong in the argument of questions of law and fact as they arose during the progress of a case. His final arguments, although not what would be called eloquent, were logical, keen and interesting, and commanded from beginning to end the attention of those who heard them. He struggled hard to win before he reached the jury, but he never gave up the contest until the end, and one of his trials was a fair but determined struggle from first to last. He was honorable and courteous toward court and counsel, and especially toward junior counsel but an adversary who had met him once generally understood, when entering into a trial with him that there was labor and difficulty close at hand.

In the later years of his practice he acted almost entirely as senior counsel and rarely conducted a case alone, but he was very quick in understanding the leading points of a case as they were presented by junior counsel, and he generally had considerable preparation of his own. He could prepare a case rapidly and well, and his briefs were generally thorough and able. He did not use or need many authorities. He was very effective with a single one, and he only needed it to show that his reasoning had been approved by legal authority; and he could aptly distinguish his case from the authorities cited against him. He was not uncommonly learned in cases and authorities, but he was well grounded in the general principles of the law, and could readily classify cases and refer to the leading maxims and principles governing them.
He exhibited perhaps his greatest strength in the argument of purely legal questions before the courts. His arguments were complete, graceful and strong.

In this particular he had few equals. I have heard many of the most famous lawyers of the last twenty years, but never one whom I thought his superior in this respect. This gift was what he termed, in speaking of others who possessed it, “ability to lift a heavy weight.”

Upon the whole he was fully entitled to rank, as he did, as one of the ablest lawyers of the Northwest.

But it was not as a lawyer alone that he was entitled to our respect and admiration. He was learned in other sciences. He was a worthy citizen, an upright and honorable man, a kindly neighbor, an amiable head of the family, a true and open-hearted friend, and a jovial and magnificent character. Always cheerful and looking upon the bright side he had a strain of good nature, merriment and wit, which made him the centre and admiration of pleasant little gatherings of old and young people at his own house and in the houses of his friends. Although he had a pardonable vanity and delight in having, his greatness acknowledged, he had with it a happy faculty of making his humble associates and followers feel, while in his society, that they were nearly if not quite his equals.

I cannot at this time speak more in detail of his virtues and manly qualities, but they were many, and such as to command for him the admiration of his brother lawyers and fellow-man. With all his admirable qualities of head and heart he has departed from among us forever, but he leaves a bright example for the guidance of followers in the profession, and his memory will long be cherished and kept bright by those who knew him and enjoyed his acquaintance and friendship while he lived.

In presenting these resolutions and remarks, bearing my humble testimony to the character and personal qualities of our deceased brother, I feel that I should not fail to mention that towards those with whom he was associated in business he was uniformly kind, obliging and even partial.

In conclusion I ask, in behalf of the Bar, that the resolutions which I now present be entered among the records of the Court.

 The CHIEF JUSTICE said: The Court has listened with great sensibility to the remarks just made concerning Mr. Hughes by his friend and former business associate, and they agree very cordially in the propriety of placing upon the journal the resolutions that have been submitted.

The judges of this Court have many times listened to arguments made by Mr. Hughes in important public cases, and they can truthfully say that he never brought a case to their attention in which he did not for the whole time which he occupied command their undivided attention. Neither, it may be added, did he ever present a case, when the members of the Court did not feel, from the very beginning of the argument to its conclusion, that they were being instructed. As a man, as a citizen, as a neighbor and a friend, his character has been admirably portrayed in what has been said. Personally I knew him–not so intimately as many knew him–but well enough to know his great strength of mind, his vast logical powers, his fullness of illustration, his kindness of heart, his generosity of character, his excellence in all the relations of life; and it was always a delight to be in his company when his leisure permitted him to give his time to his friends and to social enjoyments. And it may be affirmed with great confidence that every one who has occupied a seat on this bench during the period covered by his practice has counted it a pleasure to be among the number of his friends. Twice he was made a candidate for a seat on this bench; and while on each occasion nearly one half of all the electors of the State gave him their suffrages, it may be safely affirmed that of all the rest no one withheld his vote from any doubt concerning his fitness for such a position. The people of the State knew very well that were he selected for any of the high offices for which his eminent abilities and acquirements fitted him, there would be no question but that in the discharge of its duties he would do honor to himself and to the State.

Such a loss is a serious one to the whole commonwealth, but it is peculiarly appropriate that the profession, of which he was so distinguished an ornament, should honor his memory in the manner proposed.

The Clerk will therefore be directed to enter the resolutions at large upon the records of the Court.

 Mr. Justice CAMPBELL said: I have but few words to add to what has been said by the Chief Justice, and I would not add even this except for the fact that my personal acquaintance with Mr. Hughes dates back further than that of my associates. I became intimately acquainted with him while I was in practice, before coming upon the bench, and it was my good fortune to be associated with him considerably in the management of legal controversies. He was all that he is represented to have been in the resolutions presented and in the remarks which have been made. He was always a pleasant associate, doing his full share of the labor of a cause, and always willing to allow his colleagues their full share of the responsibilities and of the honors of the litigation. Mr. Smiley referred to his ability in the discussion of legal questions as his most prominent characteristic. This is a just estimate, but I think he would never have shown that ability unless he had possessed some other qualities of no less value. It was due to his strong common sense, and to his sagacity in observing and interpreting such facts and things as came within his range of observation. He noticed everything, and his knowledge of human nature enabled him to understand what he saw. He could read very correctly the expression of men’s faces, as witnesses, jurors and business men, and his sagacity saved him from making too much of law points which were attenuated, or which it was not wise to dwell on under the circumstances. He escaped in this way some perils that lawyers sometimes fall into.

Our private relations were of the pleasantest character. He was of a genial and kindly nature, always desirous of making life pleasant to every one about him. He will be remembered with affection by all who knew him.