In Memoriam John W. Stone

October 3, 1922

Upon the convening of Court for the October term, 1922, on Tuesday, October 3d, MYRON J. SHERWOOD, of Marquette, presented the following resolutions, prepared by a committee of the twenty-fifth judicial circuit, and moved the Court to place them upon the records of the Court:

 May it Please the Court:

At the unanimous demand of the bar of the twenty-fifth judicial circuit, the undersigned committee voice the universal recognition and appreciation of the faithful and conscientious public services of the late Honorable JOHN W. STONE, for nearly twenty years as circuit judge of that circuit and for twelve years as one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of this State, and desire to have engrossed on the records of this Court this expression of the great respect and high esteem accorded him.

Justice STONE was born at Wadsworth, in the State of Ohio, on the eighteenth day of July, 1838. He came of staunch colonial parents. He received his early education in the public schools of Ohio, and at the academy at Spencer, in that State. In 1856, his father’s family moved from Ohio to the State of Michigan and settled on a farm in Allegan county. At the early age of twenty-two years, while he was still laboring upon his father’s farm, he was elected county clerk. While serving in the office of county clerk he studied law and was admitted to the bar in the month of January, 1862. At the expiration of his term as county clerk, he was chosen prosecuting attorney, and was twice re-elected to that office. In 1873, he was called to the high office of circuit judge of the Allegan circuit. He resigned from this office after only a short service, preferring to enter into the active practice of his profession. From 1876 to 1880 he served as a member of the American congress, at a time when such giants as Blaine, Conkling, McKinley, and Garfield were members of that body, and his labors there won the lasting regard of these men. James A. Garfield, afterwards president of the United States, moved for his admission to the United States Supreme Court. Declining re-election to congress, he entered into the general practice of the law in Grand Rapids, and was in that same year (1880), appointed by President Arthur district attorney for the western district of Michigan. He served with distinction in this office until his term expired and then moved from Grand Rapids to Houghton, to engage in active practice. In the year 1890, though a resident of another circuit, the people of the twenty-fifth judicial circuit, recognizing his great learning and ability, called him to preside over the circuit court of that circuit, which did then and does now include the counties of Marquette, Iron, Dickinson, Delta and Menominee. He served in that office continuously until in 1909 when he was elected to the high office of Justice of the Supreme Court of this State. On the first day of January, 1910, he assumed his place on the Supreme bench and served there without interruption until the time of his death on the 24th day of March, 1922. These are the simple milestones marking the pathway and the end of a Christian gentleman, a great lawyer, and a great judge.

In the evening of that day in March came to its close a life devoted to duty, to his profession, to his family, to his nation and to his God.

It is not in the power of us to add to the glory and beauty of the life of Justice STONE. We may only by our words voice and record the universal sentiments of the bar and the citizens of Michigan in paying this tribute to a career at once the admiration of the mature and an inspiration to the youth of this country. What we may say on this occasion may be soon forgotten, but the character and the life and the work of Justice STONE are indelibly impressed upon the history of Michigan, and will furnish an inspiration to the generations now living and to those yet to come.

From the early dawn of his manhood to the going down of the sun of his old age, he served the people of his State and nation almost continuously in positions of great trust and responsibility, and gave to each the full vigor of his mentality and manly strength. He manfully met every task and every duty and fulfilled each with the fullest merit of his great mind and great accomplishments. He was a self-made man and his greatness largely came from the natural dignity and the absolute uprightness of his character. He was a Christian gentleman. He worshipped God and followed the teachings of his Son not only while in the tabernacle but in his every act, thought, and deed. Religion with him was not a function; it was life.

As a lawyer and judge, he was learned, sagacious, broad-minded and impeccable. His mind was an intellectual ocean, whose waves touched all the shores of legal learning.

As judge of the twenty-fifth judicial circuit of this State, in which place he served almost twenty years, he earned and retained the admiration and respect of every citizen by his pre-eminent fairness, by his profound learning, by his sympathy with common people, by his ability to cut through all technicalities and to keep a single eye to the administration of abstract justice. Those things which did not pertain to the justice of causes found little sympathy and less respect in his court.

He brought to the Supreme Court a ripened experience, an essentially judicial temperament, a profound knowledge of the law, an unusually active mentality, a prodigious capacity to work, a wonderful love of justice, an elemental calm and a singular uprightness, and he graced and did honor to this Court as he did to every other position and place which he filled during his long and fruitful life. He was an honest lawyer, a great lawyer; an honest judge, a great judge. if “the voice of the law is the harmony of the world,” he was ever an instrument through which that harmony found expression.

As a judge his active and legal mind swept aside every technicality and moved direct to the merits of the case before him. He always sought and found abstract justice, the purpose and demand of all law, and neither fear nor favor blinded his vision.

If it be possible to say of any man, it may be said of Justice STONE, that when death called him, “death laid low the most towering antlers of all the forest.”

This memorial is presented to the Supreme Court of this State by the unanimous request of the bar of the twenty-fifth judicial circuit, with the request that it be placed upon the records of that Court and that a copy thereof be forwarded to the members of the family of the late Justice STONE.

M. J. SHERWOOD, Chairman.
A. H. RYALL, Delta county.
A. L. SAWYER, Menominee county.
M. H. MORIARTY, Iron county.
JOHN O’HARA, Dickinson county.

 MR. FRANK A. BELL, of Negaunee, spoke as follows:

As a representative of the Marquette county bar, I speak of Justice STONE particularly as we of that bar knew him as our circuit judge and friend. Many of us now in that county tried our first cases, in courts of record, before him. Many of us had a large proportion of all our trial work in his court. When many of us came to the bar of that circuit as boys he was a man and a lawyer of ripe age and experience. He had before that time been judge of the Allegan circuit, congressman, United States district attorney, and had taken a leading place at the bar of the State, among the many splendid lawyers of that day. To us he was the personification of legal wisdom. We listened to his rulings, his charges and his decisions not only with profound respect but with great confidence in the correctness of his conclusions. We generally confirmed these first impressions when we wavered in our faith and made an occasional call on the Supreme Court in an effort to redress our fancied wrongs. He had a wide knowledge of the law and of the practice, and an ability to apply both to the work of his court that made him a rock upon which we could and did often rebuild with great assurance and confidence our own frail structures of pleadings and briefs. If he sometimes impressed us with these truths with words that were more penetrating than soothing for the moment, he more often led us safely through a bad day, around the pitfalls of our own digging, to the amendment or suggestion needed to save a mistrial and our standings with critical clients.

And often, in the quiet days, when court was not in session, to his room behind the judge’s desk would go young lawyers and inexperienced prosecuting attorneys, entangled in the meshes of the net of pleading and practice, for the aid and comfort they were always sure of receiving. To the charge of being one of these the speaker frankly pleads guilty, and acknowledges, with a heart full of gratitude, the receipt of many kindnesses there bestowed with a generous hand.
He lived to be an old man, but he was never a lawyer of the old school, as the term is generally understood. Trained to the practice of law in the old days he was a master of the art of special pleading, but he never allowed the lack of technical language to stand in the way of, to quote one of his own expressions, “getting at the meat of the thing.” He was a graduate of the old school, but he was a leader of the new to the last day.

He was devoted to his profession. To it he gave his all. Often when others, lured by the promise of increased financial return, turned aside to take up some industrial or business pursuit, he would call some of the members of the bar to his room, tell them that such a one was leaving the profession, and, with a shake of his head, deplore the fact that one committed to the law could by any means be induced to leave it. And as he thought, so he worked. His office in the Marquette court house was for twenty years a work shop. There he would be found, when not holding court, with his books and his fountain pen, until the last record was read, the last brief studied, and the last word of the last opinion written.

Not only would he brush aside technicalities, but he was practical in all ways. Often in criminal cases, and in civil cases involving some moral dereliction, he would say: “Well, boys, we must take people as they are. After all, what is the right thing to do?” And to do the right was always uppermost in his mind.

Fair-mindedness, common sense and hard work were the outstanding characteristics of his life, and the foundation on which his structure of success was erected. He was guided by no other influences. Let it be recorded to his everlasting honor that no one of the many lawyers who practiced before him, even in the disappointment of bitter defeat, ever attributed to him an unworthy motive.

Just a word of Justice STONE off the bench. He was always a friend to and took much interest in the affairs of his boys, as he called the attorneys of his circuit. From an earnest heart a word of congratulation for good fortune or of sympathy for troubles always went out from him to his boys. At the bar meetings he was one of the boys and enjoyed a joke on himself as well as on another.

On a fishing excursion, of which he took many, he was a genial companion, an ardent fisherman, and, even in his later years, a sportsman who took his share of the hardships and hard luck with cheerfulness.

This was the Justice STONE whom we knew in the circuit. A hard-working, careful, ruggedly honest, highly professional, intensely practical, capable, learned judge, seeking only to do justice within the law with a careful consideration of human frailties, without fear, a good friend and a good fellow.

 Justice STEERE spoke as follows:

No adequate review of Justice STONE’S life work and public service would be possible within the limits of this occasion. To what has been so well and truthfully presented by representatives of the bar from his old circuit in the Northland, where he served so long and to which he was so strongly attached, little can appropriately be added beyond a few words of tribute to his valuable services in this Court and his congenial, helpful relations with his associates here.

These outstanding characteristics when a circuit judge both as a judicial officer and citizen which we have heard so graphically described continued with him until the end. He came to this Court through the unsolicited efforts of those who knew him best at a time when he was past the scriptural life of man and we can pay no higher tribute than to say he won amongst his associates here, and those who came to know him in his broader field of service, the same high regard for his ability as a jurist and his generous, sterling qualities as a man and citizen.

Justice STONE was of sturdy, New England colonial ancestry. Emigrating to this State as a youth his early years were spent amongst the hardships and privations of pioneer life in which were developed so many forceful leading characters of this country. By his independent efforts he acquired a sound literary and professional education. His ability and integrity were soon recognized by official preferment and he advanced rapidly in his chosen calling.

His judicial career began over 49 years ago as judge of the twentieth judicial circuit of Michigan. With the exception of four years spent in congress his adult life was devoted to the arduous duties of his profession, at the bar or on the bench. He became a distinctive figure in the State not only by reason of the length and variety of his public services but because of his ability and the quality of his service. His intellectual interest covered a wide range. He was a life-long student and reader with a keen, inquiring mind and tenacious memory stored with accurate information which served him well.

Equipped with legal attainments of the highest order and a judgment ripened by years of judicial experience, he had at his command a ready recollection of rules of procedure and leading decisions on many phases of the law, always available to his associates and often most helpful in their deliberations. His cheerful acceptance of any task which fell to his lot, unflagging interest in the work of the Court and high sense of official duty were example and inspiration to his associates. One of his quaint maxims which he faithfully observed towards them both in work and social relations was that “Associate Justices should associate.”

No case was ever slighted by him whether great or small. He worked with an energetic interest approaching enthusiasm at whatever case he had in hand. In court and at our consultations he was an attentive listener when reasonably debatable questions were under discussion. While sturdily tenacious of the fundamental principles of our government within its constitutional limitations, he always viewed new laws and new questions which changed conditions gave rise to with an open mind. With a judgment ripened by long experience to estimate things at their true worth, he was not of those who as they advance in life live in the past, but with abiding mental poise he lived and worked in the present and hopefully looked to the future, in full realization that with advancing civilization and changing conditions of life justice between man and man demands at times new laws and new application of old ones. He was endowed to a marked degree with a logical, judicial mind which centered impersonally upon application of controlling legal principles to established facts. In performance of official details he hewed to the line so defined regardless of where the chips fell, absolutely untouched by any personal or unworthy thought.

His published opinions running through 59 volumes of our Reports bear witness to his ability and the quality of his service, but not to the full measure of his efforts and influence as a helpful participant in disposition of the many other cases reported during his incumbency. His last work was of his best. He continued with his mental faculties alert, always insistent on doing his full share of the often arduous and sometimes unpleasant duties of the Court, until his final summons came, met by him complacently and unafraid, with the expressed hope that he might not linger after his days of usefulness should have passed.

The thought of him most present and tender with us today is a deep sense of great loss in his going from amongst us. But with it is the consolation of great gain to this Commonwealth in his many years of devoted public service, of which it can most appropriately be said: “His life work was an unselfish dedication to the public good.”

Chief Justice FELLOWS:

The memorials which have been presented and the words of appreciation which have been spoken will be made records of the Court and will be published in the Reports, and in token of respect the Court will adjourn until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.