In Memoriam Henry F. Severens

January 15, 1924

Upon the coming in of Court on Tuesday afternoon, January 15, 1924, DALLAS BOUDEMAN, of Kalamazoo, addressed the Court:

 May it Please the Court:

I wish to present to this Court resolutions on the death of United States Circuit Judge HENRY F. SEVERENS, which resolutions were prepared by a committee appointed by the bar of Kalamazoo county, and which have been spread upon the records of the circuit court of that county, and by direction this committee has been instructed to ask this Court to allow the same to appear upon its records and to be published in its Reports.

The committee framing the resolutions was enlarged in its number by the addition of the name of George V. Weimer, circuit judge, to act with the three original members in making this presentation.

The resolutions referred to are as follows:

The HONORABLE HENRY F. SEVERENS was born at Rockingham, Vermont, on May 11, 1835, and departed this life at Kalamazoo, Michigan, on June 9, 1923.

The memorandum and resolutions herein contained have been prepared by a committee of the bar of Kalamazoo county, duly appointed for that purpose, and this report of the committee is presented as a memorial and as a token of sincere respect to our departed brother as a lawyer, a judge and an honorable citizen of this State.

Judge SEVERENS received a first-class education at Middlebury College in his native State and, having selected the profession of the law as his life’s work, he, in due course of time, was admitted to the bar of Vermont. He moved to Three Rivers, Michigan, in 1860 where he soon became recognized as the leader of the bar of St. Joseph county. He remained at this place until 1865 when he came to Kalamazoo where he enjoyed greater possibilities for advancement in his chosen profession and he resided here up to the time of his demise. After many years of successful practice as a trial lawyer, a vacancy having occurred in the United States district judgeship in the western district of Michigan by the death of JUDGE WITHEY, Mr. SEVERENS was appointed to fill this important office which he did to the entire satisfaction of the bar of the State and of the people thereof, such appointment being made by PRESIDENT GROVER CLEVELAND in May, 1886.

Congress having passed the law which established the United States Court of Appeals, JUDGE SEVERENS was promoted to the position of judge of that court, that appointment being made by PRESIDENT WILLIAM MCKINLEY in February, 1900, and he served as a member of that court until his retirement on account of his advancing years, being but a few years before his death. JUDGE SEVERENS, because of his natural ability, his thorough education, his industry and his reliability, became recognized while in the practice as one of the leading lawyers of the State. He was employed in some of the most important cases in the State and was looked upon by his associates as a most painstaking and successful lawyer.

As judge of the courts of which he was a member, he occupied an eminent position and his associates in the Court of Appeals regarded his knowledge of the law and his good, clear judgment as of much value, in deciding the many intricate questions which came before that court for determination. His desire to do exact justice to all the parties whose claims were submitted for his decision, his clearly defined reasons for the conclusions which he reached and the confidence which all had in his absolute integrity of purpose in all his judicial actions marked him as one of the leading jurists of his time and he justly secured the reputation which he gained as one of the leaders of the profession of law in the Nation. He filled the full measure of a successful life and it is but due him that we, who are yet left for a little time to succeed him in the mighty responsibilities of our profession, to present this tribute of our high regard and our full appreciation of our eminent associate and of the noble character which he bore and of the valuable service which he has rendered to this Republic.

We submit to this bar the following resolutions to be acted upon by it:

Resolved: That in the death of Judge SEVERENS this State and Nation have lost one of their most eminent jurists whose work during the long years of his judicial life has been of great benefit to all in construing and defining the scope of the laws which govern us, and that his unsullied character, his scholarly attainments and his industry, should inspire not only the members of our profession in their work but should aid all who have a wish to place the citizenship of our Republic on the highest possible plane of loyalty and efficiency.

Resolved: That we spread at large upon our records, not only the foregoing resolution but we also request the circuit court of the county of Kalamazoo to spread this memorial and these resolutions at large on the records of that court.
Resolved: That our secretary is directed to send, in behalf of the bar association, a duly certified copy of this memorial and of these resolutions to the surviving members of the family of JUDGE SFVERENS, being Mrs. Mabel S. Balch and Miss Catherine Severens.

Dated October 9, A. D. 1923.
Committee of Kalamazoo Bar Association.

MR. BOUDEMAN continued: In addition to that which appears in such resolutions, I desire to speak a few words regarding JUDGE SEVERENS, who for more than half a century was a prominent figure as a leading attorney of the bar of Michigan, including the years when he occupied the position of District Judge of the United States court for the western district of Michigan, and later on while he was a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the sixth circuit.

It was my good fortune and my pleasure to be associated with JUDGE SEVERENS for a number of years beginning with the year 1870, when I became a law student in his office, he being the senior member of the firm of SEVERENS & BURROWS, and on the election of Mr. BURROWS to congress, JUDGE SEVERENS invited me to become a partner with him in business, and we sustained this relation for six years and until, on account of his ill-health, he retired for a time from active duties, coming back again to his professional work after a few years of needed rest, and at this he continued until he was appointed to the office of United States District Judge. Naturally, we became confidential companions as well as firm friends and we fought together in many professional battles, in some of which important and difficult questions were involved. Judge SEVERENS was a man with a trained intellect; he was painstaking and industrious at all times; he analyzed subjects so fully and clearly that no one could misunderstand him and opposing counsel in cases were oft-times convinced that he was in the right and they were mistaken in the theories which they advanced upon the law. He was one of the valuable citizens of Michigan and every person who became personally acquainted with him, and those who knew him by reputation, joined together in their praise and admiration of his sterling qualities, his absolute reliability, his high character and his constant desire to see that exact justice was done to all litigants.

These various points marked him as one of the strong men of the judiciary of our country. In these days when turmoil prevails so greatly the world over; when war, with its blighting influence and inflamed passions, glorifying as it seems to do in the destruction of life and property, has become more violent than before it was ever known to be, or we had ever imagined it could be; when in our beloved nation the moral fiber has become so greatly weakened; when crime and bloodshed and violence and misdeeds of many kinds have become so common; and when our citizenship has apparently become so careless regarding the ordinary amenities of life; and we find so many whom we have regarded as
standard-bearers of human liberty having such disregard and even contempt in many cases for the plainest provisions of the law and the Constitution upon which this Republic must live if it is to exist at all, we need just such judges as was HENRY F. SEVERENS to be our guide and director and our defender— one with calm and fixed determination to do the right thing at all times, with the fearlessness that he possessed to guide and guard our Republic from destruction and preserve it as the leader of the liberties of the human race.

Another word may also be said: Day after day we observe the storms of disaster approaching with intensified force in foreign countries; we observe the downfall and bankruptcy of other nations apparently impending; we find the reflex of this in our own communities, and States and Country at large; we observe new questions have arisen and foresee others which are likely to arise; and there never was a time in our world’s history when there have been such burdensome obligations cast upon the judges of our courts, and we glory in the fact that the judiciary of our Nation, as a whole, recognize how greatly we must rest upon their good sense and sound judgment in the matters brought before them for their decision, and how upon them rests the momentous question of preserving our country.

Not only that, but the lawyers from whom the judiciary is selected, have seemingly more than ever become impressed with the conclusion that they have an important part with the judges in seeing that wrongs are suppressed and that right shall prevail. The loss of such a man from the bench as was JUDGE SEVERENS cannot be measured. All the words which we may utter in his praise and all that may be said in his honor are but weak testimonials of a truly great character and a useful citizen. There is one great law which we early learned and from which there can never be a dissenting opinion, and that is that death comes to every one and after many years has come the summons to this renowned jurist, and he has passed to his just reward, and it is as little as we can do and yet as much as we can do, to place upon the records of our Courts this memento of our appreciation and high regard which we have for JUDGE SEVERENS.
I move this Court that it make an order that the resolutions as presented be spread at large upon the records of this Court and appear in its printed volumes.

 MR. E. M. IRISH spoke as follows: HENRY F. SEVERENS was a lawyer who deserves a better memorial than I can write. More than fifty years have passed since I first knew him. He was a keen student of the law, and excelled in analytic statement. Things that escaped the attention of less observing minds fell into their proper places.

It was sometimes said that he was not an orator. If this were true,— so much the worse for oratory. When at his best his English diction was classic. His talks to courts and juries stimulated attention and started thought trains in the higher planes of the listener’s mind. His manner was dignified, the voice clear and pleasant, and when the matter was appealing, delivery became earnest and lively. His addresses were free from bombast and tricks of the speech maker. There were no bids for applause. It was always a pleasure for a lawyer to listen. The appeal was never to the low nor the coarse.
Courteous by nature, he was the student and scholar,—the type of the cultured Anglo Saxon lawyer that keeps the courts of the English lands up to their best standard. He was a blossom that budded on the rugged hills of New England.

His English was of the vintage that ripens from the old fashioned use of John Milton’s Paradise Lost as a passing book. Judge SEVERENS’ mind was independent, and clear as the flow of one of his native Green Mountain springs.

As a lawyer he practiced on the highlands of the profession. To observe his court room driving inspired the younger members of the bar with the wish to equal it. To them he was a bright example, and a kind and helpful friend. His arguments were hard to answer. It was a legal education to be opposed to him in a trial. The bubbles of the superficial exhorter broke and vanished against the Vermont granite of his logic.

Upon one occasion I heard him speak a tribute to JUSTICE GRAVES— loved and honored jurist of the Supreme Court of Michigan. He had recently passed away, and, as we all know, was worthy the best a brother lawyer could say of him. That farewell threnody seemed to me to carry a melody of bugle taps— heart warmed with the glow of personal friendship. It is printed on page 73, Proceedings Michigan State Bar for 1906.

I feel that JUDGE SEVERENS is worthy of as fine a tribute. And again at this time the wish comes that I could weave an equal to that simple and beautiful garland of memory. In personal character JUDGE SEVERENS was the Honorable Counselor,— an example that makes us proud to belong to the profession. His memory will be cherished by those who knew him, and these should pass it on to the generation that follows.

 MR. L. N. BURKE presented the following brief tribute: It is in no perfunctory sense that the bar of Kalamazoo presents to this Court its tribute to the memory of JUDGE SEVERENS. He was in every sense worthy of the highest honors the bench and bar of Michigan can bestow upon him. He was a man of great ability, learned in the law and was gifted with that weight and impressiveness which belongs to men of caliber. He was unostentatious in manner and represented the highest type of Christian manhood.

In presenting his case as a lawyer, he was concise and forceful and his argument was devoid of all unnecessary verbiage. On the bench, he analyzed with unerring skill the questions and arguments presented and made his decisions without fear or favor, impartially as he believed right and justice demanded.

I feel that the acceptance by this Court of this memorial, presented by the bar of his home city, is but a just tribute to the memory of one who, by reason of his great ability, lofty character and long distinguished service at the bar and on the bench of the higher courts, has reflected great honor upon his home city, the State, and the Nation, and I am sure that the members of the profession in Michigan, as well as leading lawyers and judges throughout the country who knew him professionally or otherwise, will recognize the propriety and justice of such action by this Court.

 HONORABLE GEORGE V. WEIMER spoke as follows: In the passing of JUDGE SEVERENS there is removed one of the outstanding figures in the profession in this State during the last half century. Throughout his long and active career as a lawyer and a judge he was an untiring worker and applied to his labors unusual skill and the most painstaking care. He attained true eminence. His opinions are little short of classics; his life and character an inspiration to all.

It is fitting that we should spread a memorial of our great respect for his memory upon the records of the highest Court of this State.

CHIEF JUSTICE CLARK: Is there anything further to be said?

In token of respect the resolutions presented and the words of appreciation which have been spoken will be received and made a part of the records of this Court and ordered published in our Reports.