In Memoriam Isaac P. Christiancy

OCTOBER 14, 1890

At the opening of the Court on Tuesday, October 14, 1890, Hon. BENJAMIN W. HUSTON, Attorney General, presented, with appropriate remarks, the following memorial on the death of the Hon. ISAAC P. CHRISTIANCY, formerly one of the Justices of this Court:

 Memorial adopted at a meeting of the Wayne County Bar, at Detroit, called by the Hon. George V. N. Lothrop, Wednesday, September 17, 1890:

The death of the Hon. ISAAC P. CHRISTIANCY, following so soon that of his distinguished colleague on the Bench, Judge CAMPBELL, is an event which cannot fail to make a profound impression on the bar and people of Michigan. Judge CHRISTIANCY was the last survivor of the original members of the distinguished Supreme Court of Michigan of 1858. Though his services in other spheres of his public life were marked and valuable, yet it was in his judicial career that his great qualities of mind and character shone forth most conspicuously. It was here that he found his proper field of labor.

He came to the Bench at the age of forty-five, in the full maturity of his powers. He had diligently prepared himself for his work. He had not only mastered his profession, but he had given the most thoughtful study to the grave political questions which then agitated the whole country. He was an inflexible lover of justice and human freedom, and in the light of these principles he felt that the great trust that had fallen to his hands was to be administered. For seventeen years his judicial service was continuous, and may be truly said to have been steadily rising in power and efficiency. His judgments in important causes were always distinguished for thorough research, for comprehensive survey, and for logical strength of expression. It was during his incumbency that our Supreme Court rose to its well-won and proud distinction among the courts of the Union.

His service as a senator and as a foreign minister, though brief, was honorable to himself and useful to his country. His private life was lived with purity and dignity. The influence of such a life, happily, does not end with death. It serves to make a man’s profession more elevated and useful, and survives as a monitor and guide to all who would rightly serve their country and their fellow-men.

The Bar of Detroit, thus venerating the memory of Judge CHRISTIANCY, speaking for themselves, and, as they, believe, for their brethren in the State at large, have thought it fit, by this brief minute, to give formal expression to their respect and affection, and to direct, that it be laid before the Supreme Court and the courts of Wayne county for such action as may be thought appropriate.

 Hon. MOSES W. TAGGART, of Grand Rapids, spoke as follows:
By appointment of the Grand Rapids Bar I was selected to represent such bar upon the presentation of resolutions of respect to the memory of Judge ISAAC P. CHRISTIANCY. The Bar of Grand Rapids adopted resolutions of similar import, to be presented in the absence of other suitable resolutions, the presentment of which would now be superfluous.
When a man has gone through life, done well what head or hand found to do, when to the performance of such duties he has brought to bear great energy, industry, and commanding mental gifts, and wavered neither to the right nor left, and wrought out results so strong and perfect that they stand as landmarks and beacon lights for others traversing the same paths, then indeed has he builded for himself a fitting monument, and acted the part of the wise servant. The works of Judge CHRISTIANCY are of this character. Painstaking, superior, conscientious judicial labor did he perform, as is abundantly evidenced by the records of this Court.

It is said no material thing is ever lost, however difficult of identity. In like manner it can as truly be said, the master work of the true genius in the fields of mental labor can never be lost. The author may become unknown, but the great truths and principles he has brought forth will survive to the end of time. I believe the labors of Judge CHRISTIANCY upon this Bench he so many years adorned, his able, at times eloquent, enunciation of legal principles, will last as long as law shall be administered in this Court, State, and Nation.

The record of this Court, like that of our admirable school system, is the pride of every true son of Michigan; nor is its fame limited to the bounds of the Atlantic or Pacific. In the making of such record Judge CHRISTIANCY was the peer of the great judicial minds that have given to the Court its enviable position and reputation.

To the young practitioner, coming to this Court with his maiden argument, Judge CHRISTIANCY, with his vigorous mind and physique, seemed the impersonation of greatness, to be feared, but, as his kindly presence became more familiar, to be trusted; to the more experienced attorneys, sure that both law and equity were upon their side, a rock to sustain the weak and overthrow the strong, if not the ally of right.

Judge CHRISTIANCY was neither self-seeking nor self-asserting,–evidence of true greatness,–but, in sustaining a position taken after mature deliberation, he was most forcible, and his reasoning difficult to be met and overcome.
He apparently little appreciated the high position actually held by him in the opinion of the profession or people. I have known of his asking some little favor in behalf of a friend, and in the request he was as unassuming as a child, and it was accompanied by an apology for what he thought might be construed improper interference with the duties of another.
The forced inactivity of the last years of Judge CHRISTIANCY, owing largely to his ill health, bore heavily upon him, and made him at times long for the great change which has now come. The love of labor was there, but the strength to perform it was wanting. He had felt the exhilaration of victories won in great mental contests, and could not rest entirely content a silent spectator in the world. Rest to him was in activity, not in freedom from labor.
“There is a fire
And motion of the soul which will not dwell
In its own narrow being, but aspire
Beyond the fitting medium of desire,
And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
* * * * * nor can tire
Of aught but rest.”
It is meet that we should pay tribute to such ability and worth in words and works, as we can no better honor him than to follow his footsteps in the profession of his and our choice. Kind friends have performed the last sad offices, and now that his spirit has passed from earthly scenes, and he laid away to rest, it but remains for his brethren of the profession to cull and lay aside a few flowers in his memory, give the last greeting, and move on.

I cordially support the motion made for the adoption of these resolutions, which are not of a perfunctory nature, but from the heart.

 Remarks of S. L. KILBOURNE, of Lansing: May it please the Court:

In this city of his home, and intimately acquainted with him for twenty years, I cannot be silent when a memorial is to be made commemorative of the manliness and worth of Judge CHRISTIANCY; and yet I need say little, for his life is an open book, in which all may read his eulogy.

His death removes from among us the last of the men first elected to the Supreme Court after its institution in its present form. Justices MARTIN and MANNING had long preceded him; Mr. Justice CAMPBELL, in his robes of office, had just fallen, and the Court was convened to do honor to the memory of that great lawyer.

Among the many and eloquent expressions of grief that fell from the lips of distinguished mourners on that occasion, well do we remember the faltering and emotion-laden utterances of Judge CHRISTIANCY, as he came, an old man, to speak for the last time in the Court he so long had graced, and tell of his deep sorrow at the sudden and unexpected death of the last of his first judicial associates. That event, sad to all, impressed him as it did no other man. He seemed to feel that none other stood between him and the great beyond, and he had nothing to do but follow on, out of this bright world he loved into the unknown realms. He looked back to the years when he worked as a member of this Court, and to its thousand associations, as the most pleasing of his life, and the men who began and continued that work with him grew dearer as the years advanced. The death of Judge GAMPBELL seemed a rude breaking of the dearest link connecting him with the early days, and it shocked and filled him with sadness.

Ascending the Bench in the year 1858, he continued uninterruptedly a member of the Court until February, 1875, when he resigned to take the seat in the United States Senate to which he had recently been elected. In February, 1879, he was appointed minister to Peru, and, leaving the senate, abroad in 1881, when his public career closed, and he returned to his home in Lansing, where he lived, engaged in literary work, until September last, when he put aside the cares and burdens of earthly existence, and entered into that broader and higher life, which he had long contemplated only with the pleasure and sense of relief that come from an intelligent belief in the wisdom and goodness of the Great Judge. Such, in brief, is the story of one of the foremost men of Michigan.

With the lapse of time–a decade, more or less, will do–the greatest life, and years of honorable and valuable public service, become but a memory, and are epitomized in a few lines; but how little do they tell of the real life and the labor of one who for seventeen years sat with dignity and learning in the highest judicial seat of a great people. Fortunately for the fame of such a man, historians are unnecessary. Day by day he reasoned and wrote his best thoughts, and the State has published and preserved them in enduring volumes. The present and the future will read them and take note of this man.

On this occasion we are only called upon, nor can we do more, than to place on record an expression of our great esteem for the man and the jurist. The resolutions, framed by those who worked with and knew him best, amply and truly testify to his great ability and worth.

Justly we cannot mourn for those who have nobly filled the measure of human life. He was fortunate in being called to office in the early formative period of the State, when her foundations were to be laid, and to have remained a member of the court of final determination until her judicial system had become rounded and fixed, and her constitutional limitations established. Equally fortunate was he in being associated with those illustrious men whose wisdom, learning, and industry joined his in guiding the young State through its rapid growth and developing needs, and moulding it into a commonwealth second to none in the Union, and within whose borders equality of the highest and the humblest before the law, by legislation and judicial decision, is firmly fixed. His was the fortune to contribute to the establishing of a court whose opinions rank with those of the oldest states, and have made Michigan known and respected wherever the common law is administered.

Such a life work should gratify any ambition, and to be spared in an honored old age, in health and mental strength, to witness the good fruits of his labors, was a pleasure that brightened his retirement, and as he looked back over years of public toil brought him as few regrets as falls to man.

In the quiet comfort of home, enjoying the friendships of years, with little of illness or pain, he sank to rest, thus peacefully closing a noble career, in which his splendid powers were illumined and guided by the highest sense of honor.
Chief Justice CHAMPLIN, upon behalf of the Court, responded as follows:

When the messenger of death beckons to one whose days are lengthened beyond the years allotted to man who walks wearily under the burdens of life, we bow with resignation to the summons which calls him to enter into the eternal rest. Such an one fills out the cycle of human existence. He springs from a source unknown, and sinks again into the unknown,–that vast cemetery in which the dead past lies buried, and over whose graves the dark wave of oblivion shall forever roll. To a few, a very few, history will recall and seek to perpetuate what they said and did; but to the many, to nearly all that have ever lived and trod the earth, the dark pall forever obscures them from the sight and memory of the living.

Our human existence is made up of the past and the present. The events of to-day become the history of tomorrow. The current of our lives is continually flowing into the vast ocean of the past. The great book of recorded time, whose leaves are composed of the yesterdays which have gone since creation’s dawn, tells the tale of each individual life. In the present are compressed all the realities of our being. It contains all its joys and sorrows, all its pains and pleasures, all its toils and hardships, all its rest and recreation, all its loves and hates, all the memories of the past, and all its hopes of the future. Who can adequately portray or define the future? It is the great realm from whose matrix spring the germs that people the earth with all there is or is to be. No one can penetrate its mysteries; but it approaches from beyond, and as its profound depths come in contact with the present it momentarily assumes a real existence, and instantly vanishes with noiseless tread into the past.

So the future and the past are separated by only a point of time, less than a tick of a watch, which we call the present, and our pulse-beats mark the silent boundaries between the future and the past.

It is a pleasant thought for us to entertain that our virtues, whatever they may be, will survive us, and live in the memories of our fellow-men. But how short and evanescent that life! It is like the sweet perfume of a flower, that gives a sensation of pleasure for a moment and is gone forever. We should decide ourselves if we should expect that the virtue, the worth, the grand character of those departed this life are engraved upon the memory of the living as in enduring brass, when they are in fact written as upon shifting sands, to be soon obliterated by the onward march and struggle for existence.
These thoughts are forcibly presented to our minds upon occasions such as this, when we are brought to consider the loosening of the silver cord that bound one so near and dear to us, and its breaking asunder. A bright and honorable career is ended, and fitting eulogies have been spoken in deserved praise of a great man, a distinguished jurist, and an esteemed fellow-citizen.

Our lamented brother has left an enduring memorial of his legal ability, of his wisdom, and his close discrimination of legal principles in the published volumes of Michigan Reports which contain the opinions written by him. He was a close reasoner, logical in his methods, philosophical in treatment, proceeding regularly from premise to conclusion. He was one of the four Justices who were first chosen to the judgeship of the independent Supreme Bench, and entered upon the duties of that office January 1, 1858. He resigned February 27, 1875, to enter upon the higher duties of Senator in the Congress of the United States. The wisdom of laying aside the judicial ermine for the senatorial toga is to my mind doubtful. He left the Bench in the prime and vigor of manhood; his judgment was ripe; years of experience lent aid to his natural attainments, and he was regarded by the bar of Michigan as one of the greatest jurists that adorned the Bench. Previous to his coming to the Bench he had filled several political offices, and had figured largely as a politician, and doubtless the political field had its allurements, and was congenial to his tastes. The high office tendered him also offered a broader field to his ambition, and we ought not to wonder that he accepted the glittering prize. After serving as senator he entered the more difficult field of diplomacy. Appointed minister to Peru, he saw that unfortunate people forced to succumb to the superior powers of Chili.

In looking back over the history of his life, and considering the various positions of trust and honor he has filled, the people of his State will point with greatest pride to his judicial labors as the brightest and most enduring monument of his fame.