In Memoriam George Van Ness Lothrop

NOVEMBER 14, 1897

 At the opening of court on Tuesday, November 3, 1897, Mr. JAMES H. POUND presented to the court the following memorial, adopted by the Detroit bar on the death of the Honorable GEORGE VAN NESS LOTHROP:

The bar of Detroit have learned with profound sorrow of the death of their distinguished leader, GEORGE VAN NESS LOTHROP.

Mr. LOTHROP was born at Easton, Mass., August 8, 1817. He graduated at Brown university in 1838. After studying at the Harvard law school, he came to Michigan in 1841, and has resided here ever since. His success was assured from the start. He easily rose to recognized leadership of the bar of the State, and maintained it to the close of his professional career, 12 years ago, when, at the call of President CLEVELAND, he accepted the post of minister to Russia, amid the enthusiastic plaudits of his fellow-citizens, regardless of party affiliations.

His legal knowledge was wide and accurate. He was equally well versed in common law, equity, and admiralty. His legal instincts were keen and almost inerrant. His power to apply his knowledge to a case in hand was exceptionally great. He was most extraordinarily gifted as an orator. His mind was saturated with the spirit of the classics. His imagination was rich and chaste; its manifestation always consonant with perfect taste. He was of magnificent presence. His great personal dignity was always tempered by a most gracious manner and uniform courtesy that never, under any circumstances, failed him.

Ardently devoted to and proud of his profession, he yet found time to serve the public in many ways. He was the recorder of the city of Detroit, the attorney general of the State from 1848 to 1851, and a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1867. When he accepted the Russian mission he was one of the commissioners of the public library. He was much attached to the political party with which he had always been allied, and was many times its choice for governor, member of congress, and United States senator. On these occasions Mr. LOTHROP led a forlorn hope with all the courage of his convictions. He represented the party in the Charleston convention in 1860, and there won renown by his eloquence and labors.

Mr. LOTHROP was not only great as a lawyer and politician, in the best sense of that much-abused word; he was great as a citizen. Whenever there was occasion to give expression to the public mind, all men instinctively turned to him as their spokesman. How well he acquitted himself on such occasions, none but those who heard him will ever realize. In the simplicity of his life he exemplified the rarest virtues of American citizenship.

But he has gone from us. He breathed his last at his late residence in this city on the forenoon of Monday, the 12th day of July, 1897. Of what was once a great and beneficent presence in our midst, there remains to us a fragrant memory.
Resolved, that these expressions of the bar be presented to the federal courts of this circuit, to the Supreme Court of this State, to the circuit court for the county of Wayne, and to the recorder’s court of Detroit; and that the secretary be directed to send a copy to the family of the deceased.
Detroit, July 13, 1897.

Mr. POUND spoke as follows:
Your Honors:
I am commissioned by the bar of Detroit to present to this court a memorial and well-deserved eulogy, adopted by them upon the occasion of the death of their respected and able leader, Mr. G. V. N. LOTHROP; and I am instructed to ask this court to order the same inscribed upon its records, and published in its reports, as a just tribute to a very able, eloquent, worthy, and highly-honored member of the bar of this State.

It may not be inappropriate at this time to offer a few observations upon the life and career of this great man, who came to us of this generation as a rich legacy from a preceding one. Mr. LOTHROP appeared as one of the counsel of the Supreme Court of this State as early as the January term, 1844, as he himself tells us in his admirable address to this court found in the first part of the 51st Michigan Report. And true it is that, from 1844 to 1885, no counsel appeared more frequently before this court and its predecessors, in this State, than did Mr. LOTHROP, and none in their practice had the good fortune to have a wider field of professional labor and examination presented to them than was assigned to him,— professional trusts which he exhausted by his research, his painstaking, plodding, patient investigation, and thorough and brilliant discussion of the themes he was engaged in. And it is believed that no counsel of that imposing array of great men who flourished with Mr. LOTHROP in the beginning of this State’s history, and who did so much to mould the affairs of this State upon safe and correct lines, did more than he to aid this court in winning the reputation it possesses of having written opinions, deciding causes, which, for lucidity, erudition, intellectual strength, and polished culture, in the application of the rules of law to the manifold and diverse interests of mankind, are in many instances not surpassed by the most profound and best written judgments of Westminster Hall itself,— judgments which are the equal of the best thought of the highest judicial forums known to civilized man.

Mr. LOTHROP, as is well known to the bench and bar of Michigan, was an indefatigable worker. Never did man, so abundantly supplied by nature with that subtle essence known as “genius,” less rely upon it alone for success in his efforts, either in the courts or before his countrymen in his public addresses. Neither was there a man who relied more strongly upon patient, constant, plodding toil, and careful and intelligent preparation. And still no man could have more safely relied upon natural gifts. He possessed great intellectual powers, exceptional in the breadth and profundity of their grasp, united to an eloquent and silvery tongue, that, by its very music, charmed its hearers almost to conviction before the intellect, with abundant powers of persuasion, had scarcely more than begun to make an effort to convince its auditors. Mr. LOTHROP enjoyed in plentitude that attribute of the greatest orators, the love of the multitude, who hung spellbound upon his lips; but, more to his credit, be it said that he never made an ignoble or a paltry use of his glorious powers, and that he ever had the commending admiration of the able jurists who adorned this court during the period he practiced before them.

Mr. LOTHROP, although recognizing that the law is a jealous mistress, still spared time from an active professional life to perform his duty as he saw it as a public-spirited citizen. He was ever a true friend of the public school system of this State, and displayed his political courage in this respect by his position upon the question of the distribution of the public school funds, when that question was before the people of the city of Detroit. He then helped to inaugurate, and led, an independent political movement, which was entirely successful, having, for its object the preservation of the school system as now known to us, without religious assistance in the distribution of the funds raised by public taxation, and thereby securing their absolute secularity in the broadest sense. At other times he maintained his reputation for political independence by action apart from party in his endeavors to defeat unworthy nominations for judicial power. Mr. LOTHROP, during the Rebellion, pursued the course of a patriotic citizen. The well-beloved of the political school he affiliated with, he ardently believed in but one country and one flag, and was willing, if necessary to secure it, to sink all partisan wishes in an earnest opposition to sectional violence.

Mr. LOTHROP, during the decades running from 1860 to 1880, was in such demand in important causes in this State that his services were solicited, and he participated, it is believed, in nearly every case of great magnitude arising within the boundaries of this State during that period, to his own ever-broadening fame and honor.

A man of superb presence and physique, of kindly and genial disposition, the soul of integrity and honor; a simple man, an old-school gentleman, in the full sense of that term. A man whose statement of a fact was so fair and truthful and candid that it carried conviction, frequently in preference to testimony. A lawyer who loved his State, and who, although a practitioner in all courts, wooed most assiduously his mistress, and won his greatest victories, in the forums of his adopted State. One, too, who had the wisdom to retire forever from forensic efforts 12 years before his death, and before his abilities became in any wise enfeebled or impaired; who, after reflecting credit and dignity upon his State by his discharge of the Russian embassy, returned to his home to pass his twilight days in undiminished intellectual vigor, surrounded by his books, family, and friends, passing philosophically away the few remaining days allotted to him.

Mr. LOTHROP, although solicited, could not be tempted from his seclusion, after his formal retirement from the bar upon his acceptance of the Russian mission, to the struggle of the forum, and contentions with younger men. He realized he had indeed finished his work, and purposely passed his last years in philosophic contemplation of the stage upon which he himself had played so important a part. He seemed to remain as a majestic oak in its decline, awaiting, with majesty, its upheaval by some mighty storm,— waiting, with a quiet dignity and composure, the blow that must inevitably come. The blow has fallen, and, in the fullness of his years, G. V. N. LOTHROP has passed away. But it is conceived that such a character, such a man, and such an example of the quiet and unassuming, yet capable and competent, American citizen, should not be allowed to pass away without emphatic attention being called to the value of his pure and blameless life, as a model to the State, for its citizens, and for this State’s youthhood.

It is believed that the study of Mr. LOTHROP’S life will be particularly striking, and should be used to kindle and stimulate in the breasts of the younger members of our profession the lesson that no honor excels the able and complete discharge of the duties of private citizenship, and the exertion of the talents of industry in the performance of the duties imposed by an honorable profession; that no honor exceeds the thorough performance of life’s duties, as shown by the life of this exalted and most praiseworthy man.

He was a man who was qualified to fill any position in the State or Nation, whether as a representative to a foreign court from the Nation, or in discharging the duties of the important office of attorney general, which he filled in this State in the meridian of his life,— the one particular officer of the law in this State who is the effective instrument of this court in the initiating of public business, and whose duty it is to prompt this court for good in the conservation of the public laws, and the highest position in the gift of the State a mere advocate should desire; a position, it is believed, more potential for good to the citizens of the Commonwealth than probably any other position in the gift of the profession Mr. LOTHROP so long and ably adorned.

Mr. LOTHROP was a thorough lawyer, a polished and eloquent orator, a courteous officer of this court, and a former State official of high trust, whose every duty in every walk of life he discharged with fidelity, and the most steadfast purpose of doing right. He was a credit and an honor to Michigan. I ask his recognition by the granting of this motion.

 Chief Justice LONG responded as follows:
The members of this court are glad to receive the resolutions adopted by the Detroit bar upon the occasion of the death of the Honorable GEORGE V. N. LOTHROP, recognizing as we do that the tribute paid by them to the memory of their distinguished associate, in the resolutions themselves and in the remarks of their representative who presents them, is in no respect extravagant or undeserved. Indeed, the legal fraternity of the entire State, every advocate and every judge, will endorse it, and will feel that the action of the Detroit bar is a suitable and seasonable expression of their own sentiments with respect to the deceased.

In speaking for the court upon this occasion, I am privileged to represent not alone my associates, but, in a sense, all those who have preceded us in these judicial positions since the organization of the court; for it should not be forgotten that each and every one has personally enjoyed the acquaintance and friendship of Mr. LOTHROP. During the 40 years which preceded his retirement from active practice, he appeared here as counsel in a multitude of causes, in the conduct of which he displayed, in each instance, zeal for his client and thoughtfulness for the court. The volumes of the reports which cover this interesting period will ever remain a substantial evidence of his industry, his integrity, and his ability; for no man who lacked any of these characteristics could have maintained for so many years a position of such pre-eminence at the bar of the court of last resort. It is fitting that these resolutions and remarks should be made a part of the records of this court, and the clerk will be directed accordingly.