In Memoriam Robert Mcclelland

OCTOBER 5, 1880

 At a session of the Supreme Court, held Tuesday, October 5, 1880, Mr. THEODORE ROMEYN, in presenting resolutions of respect to the memory of Robert McClelland, adopted at a meeting of the bar, held in Detroit, August 31, 1880, spoke as follows:

ROBERT MCCLELLAND died August 30, aged 73 years, after a long life of active service during which, I think, no aspersion or suspicion ever attached to his name. I have little to say, your honors, beyond presenting these resolutions.
With the permission of the court, I will read them:

At a meeting of members of the bar, held in the office of the secretary, without formal call on the occasion of the death of ROBERT MCCLELLAND on the 30th day of August last, it was

Resolved, That the secretary should request the attendance of the bar at the funeral, and that resolutions adapted to the occasion should be presented to the courts in session in the city, and also at the next term of the Supreme Court of the State.

The resolutions proposed and approved are as follows:

ROBERT MCCLELLAND, born on August 1st, 1807, at Greencastle in the state of Pennsylvania, graduated at Dickinson College, Carlisle, in same state, in 1829, and was admitted at the bar at Chambersburg, Pa., in the year 1831. In the year 1833 he came to Michigan, and from that time was a most distinguished citizen, holding high and responsible public offices. As early as 1835 he was an active and influential member of the convention which framed the constitution of the State. In 1838 he was elected a member of the State Legislature; in 1842, again a member of the State Legislature. He became the speaker of the House of Representatives. Shortly afterwards, when Michigan was allowed a second member of Congress, he was elected from Detroit district, over Jacob M. Howard. He was re-elected for the 29th Congress. His eminent capacity and industry were recognized, and he was placed at the head of the committee on commerce. In 1874 he was re-elected to Congress for a third term.

Although a strong party man, he declined to act with the majority of his party on the subject of slavery, and supported the Wilmot Proviso which was intended to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories.

In 1850 he was made a member of the State convention to frame a new constitution, and took a leading part in its deliberations.

In 1851, when the new constitution took effect, he was elected Governor for the short term, and in 1852 was re-elected to serve as Governor for a full term, and he continued as Governor until March, 1853, when he was made Secretary of the Interior under PRESIDENT PIERCE.

His administration as Governor was popular and conciliatory, and there was no organized opposition to his election.

His administration of his federal office was marked by industry, order, economy and efficiency.

He was elected a member of the convention which framed the constitution of 1867, and was, perhaps, its leading member.

During this long career of public service, to which he was called, with but a single exception, by the votes of the people, he was always efficient and industrious, discharging the duties of every station with ability and with such integrity of purpose and conduct as to secure the approbation and respect of men of all parties.

No shadow of suspicion was ever cast upon the purity of his motives and conduct.

During his long career of public life he never ceased to be a lawyer. In early life he had been a close student. Shortly after his admission to the bar he acquired a large general practice, and for a considerable time was the partner of Judge WING, subsequently of this court.

As an advocate at the circuit, as an adroit and skillful manager of his cases before juries, and at the bar of this court, his learning, industry and tact were always made apparent. Great common sense, knowledge of human nature, capacity to understand the modes of thought of common people, and familiarity with legal principles and practice made him most effective and successful. If he had given to his profession what he gave to his public official duties, he would have occupied the very foremost place.

Take him for all in all–in the discharge of public official duties, and in the practice of his profession–he showed himself always skillful, industrious, able and efficient; and in all his varied relations he proved himself honorable, truthful, courteous and just.

He was one of the class of men who in former days served the State of Michigan with honor to themselves and to the great benefit of the public. BARRY, MANNING and others, who filled high executive positions, have gone. ADAM, who so worthily served the state as treasurer and otherwise, in former days; FELCH, whose career of office went even beyond that of Governor MCCLELLAND (for in addition to the highest legislative and executive trusts he was judge of this court), still survive, beloved and respected by all.

The private life of Governor MCCLELLAND was without spot or blemish. Courteous, genial, unobtrusive, fulfilling all social obligations as husband, father and neighbor, “None named him but to praise.”

If the sentiments of respect to his memory and regret for his death could be crystallized and preserved, they would furnish his brightest and best memorial; and the members of the profession which he loved and with which he was so long connected, will keep his memory green.

Resolved, That this expression of the feelings of respect and regard of the members of the Detroit Bar for his character and services, be presented to the Supreme Court of this State, at its next session, and that the judges may be asked that the same may be entered upon the journal of the court.

I would say that I was Governor McClelland’s nearest neighbor for many years, and had, perhaps, more intimate personal relations with him than almost any other person. Certainly nobody could know him intimately without having respect and high regard for the actions of his daily life. He was a man of marked character in all things, with a strong sense of justice. While a person of decided feelings, perhaps prejudices, those feelings sprang from earnest convictions. He was frank in expression of thought, yet never uncharitable or utopian in any degree. In all things he seemed to be actuated by a desire to do what was right. His public career is, of course, well known. When he died, I lost my best friend.

 Mr. ALFRED RUSSELL said: It is rather as a public man and a genial friend than as a lawyer, that we shall remember Governor McClelland. He was not engaged in contests at the bar after I came to the State, which was at the time when he filled the Governor’s chair so acceptably. After his retirement from the cabinet of President Pierce, I remember meeting him a few times in the circuit at Detroit, and I call to mind the admiration which was expressed at his facility and quickness, and the extent of his recollection with regard to legal matters, in view of the fact that he had so long disused the practice of his profession. It is, however, as a neighbor and friend that we recall him most vividly. We cannot forget the winning smile, hearty laugh and warm greeting of Governor McClelland. I remember it was said of him that this smile and laugh were matters of great importance to him when he was conducting his political canvasses. His manner was quite irresistible, and he was highly esteemed even by his political opponents. He was a man of sound judgment, extensive acquisitions, high purposes and pure character, and these qualities secured for him elevated positions in the State and nation. It is meet that by us, members of the same profession to which he belonged, this tribute should be paid to his memory.

Mr. Justice CAMPBELL, by invitation of the Chief Justice, replied for the court and said: My acquaintance with Governor McClelland goes back to the time when he was in partnership with Judge Wing and Judge Christiancy at Monroe. At that early time I had more or less business with him, but I became much better acquainted with him after he came to reside in Detroit. It so happened that for a good many years, down to the period when he was obliged to retire through sickness, that our offices were immediately adjoining. I was in the habit of seeing him very nearly every day. I became, therefore, not only very well acquainted with him in all his various ways, but attached to him, and obtained a very much higher respect, if it were possible, than I had before.

In the old political contests a great many hard things were said, but nothing was ever said against Governor McClelland that I now think strictly true. It was sometimes charged that he was not as firm as he might have been in some things. My own impression now is that he was misjudged in that regard, because I know he was very sincere in his utterances, and always exerted himself to have justice done in all matters of public as well as private policy. His opinions have been referred to by Mr. Romeyn in regard to certain matters which once agitated the country. Governor McClelland was, I believe, really the author of the Wilmot Proviso. Although not called by his name it unquestionably was introduced in such a way as to make him responsible for it. I know his feelings continued all through his life in harmony with the views he expressed in Congress, which caused the presentation of this measure. He has been sometimes censured for not living up to them, but like other men of his party, he found great difficulty in carrying out views of that sort. He was really not responsible for the failure of that movement.

Governor McClelland all through his life was, I think, more than usually acquainted with the minutia of public affairs all over the country, and in fact all over the world. During the last twenty years of his life he had a great deal of leisure, and he spent most of it in studying political matters and in keeping informed in regard to the course of events. He was in the habit of keeping large scrap books containing clippings from newspapers, and whenever anything of importance came up, either in the shape of a document or leading editorial, or anything else, he was in the habit, not of abstracting, but of cutting it out bodily and keeping it in these books properly indexed. It was always possible for you, if you wished to find out the character of any important political movement, to go to Governor McClelland, and he could give you all the information to be obtained about it. He always took a lively interest in what was going on, and with strong political feelings be would often differ from you on questions of general importance, but I never knew Governor McClelland to show the slightest bitterness against those who differed from him politically or otherwise. He was a man of singularly warm heart, always willing to do what he could to relieve the wants of those in distress.

As a companion I never knew any one his superior, either in genial qualities, or in the facility of making himself agreeable to all with whom he conversed. His knowledge was various, not only of things, but of men. He had a happy faculty of describing the characteristics of men whom he had seen, and of picturing incidents which had come under his observation, and you could listen to him with great pleasure and profit.

It was not until very serious domestic misfortunes—the loss of a favorite daughter by sudden death—that he changed in any of these qualities. From that time he practically disappeared from among his friends, and the last portion of his life was under somewhat melancholy surroundings. All who knew him personally will remember him with kindness and affections, and no one can fail to honor his memory.

THE COURT directed that the resolutions be entered on the record.