OCTOBER 8, 1889
At the opening of Court on Tuesday, October 8, 1889, Mr. E. S. Eggleston presented to the Court a portrait of the late Hon. GEORGE MARTIN, in behalf of the members of his family, and, in that connection, spoke as follows:
May it please your Honors:
By the members of his family I have been requested to present to the State, through you, a picture of the late Chief Justice Martin; and in so doing I am expected to say something of the history and character of its original.
This duty is in no sense to me irksome, but it is to some extent burdensome; burdensome because I feel sensibly my inability to do justice to the subject upon which I am to speak. But to the extent of my ability, what I shall say will be an expression of the gratitude which I owe to the late Chief Justice, and a glad tribute to his great worth.
Judge MARTIN was a New Englander by birth; born in the State of Vermont, and graduated at Middlebury College in that state. He also pursued his legal studies in the state, up to the time of his admission to practice. These studies were pursued under the disciplining influences of the old English common-law system, up to that time, at least, rigidly adhered to in that state.
I know of but one man in this State to whom I could apply for information concerning the student days of Judge MARTIN. The most I learn is that, almost immediately after his admission to the Bar, he came to this State and located in the then village, now city, of Grand Rapids, and had for his contemporaries such men as Charles P. Calkins, a careful and painstaking student, and a close and technical adherent of the principles and practices of common law; Simeon Johnson, Mr. Henry Osgood, and Julius C. Abel. The latter was a man of but slight culture, but of much more than ordinary mental capacity; he had a pretty thorough acquaintance with Cowen’s Treatise, and an unbounded confidence in himself. Coming constantly in contact with Mr. Abel, Judge MARTIN soon became acquainted with all the practices of bush-whacking at law, and was compelled by his shrewd and wily opponent to bring to bear all the resources of his eminently logical mind, with all its thorough training.
He had also, as a competitor, the well-trained lawyer and silver-tongued orator, the Hon. Thomas B. Church.
Judge MARTIN for some years held the office of justice of the peace of the village of Grand Rapids. So meager were the proceeds of a legitimate law practice at that time, that lawyers of acknowledged ability were glad to accept almost any kind of extraneous help, such as insurance agencies and land agencies, to eke out a living.
Judge MARTIN was at once recognized as a well-trained and well-equipped lawyer, and took special eminence as an equity practitioner, not only at home, but throughout the State.
In the year 1848 he was elected to the office of county judge of Kent County, which office he held with credit and ability up to January 1, 1851.
At this time I made the acquaintance of Judge MARTIN. I had just arrived in the city of Grand Rapids, bringing with me letters of introduction to him from Judges Seth Sill and James Mullett of Buffalo, New York. From that time, until the fall of 1861, I was perhaps more constantly with Judge MARTIN, and had a more intimate acquaintance with him, than probably any other man, and visited with him, twice a year, every county in which courts were held from Grand Traverse to Allegan, up to the time of the separate organization of the Supreme Court of this State.
Judge Mundy occupied the bench of the circuit court of Kent County from the time of his appointment until his death, in March, I think, 1851. From this time until September of that year the bench of that circuit remained vacant. During that year Judge MARTIN was appointed judge of that circuit by the late Governor Barry. At the spring election of 1852 he was elected judge of that circuit by a very handsome majority, although the circuit was at that time very strongly Democratic.
By virtue of his office of circuit judge he was also a member of the then Supreme Court, and he continued the duties of both courts until the organization to which he was elected in the spring of 1857.
After Judge Martin left the bench of the county court he opened an office for the practice of his profession, and kindly offered me a seat in it. Between that time and the time of his appointment to the circuit court we read together Story’s Equity Jurisprudence, Story’s Equity Pleading, Chitty’s Pleading, and Greenleaf on Evidence.
To these studies Judge MARTIN brought a mind thoroughly imbued with the principles of, and the distinction between, equitable and common-law jurisdiction as understood practiced at that time,—a mind richly stored with the fruits of early study.
Judge MARTIN had a mind naturally logical and well adapted to the study and practice of the law. He was not a plodding or voracious reader, but he was ready and quick of comprehension and analysis, and had a most retentive memory. He had been in his early days a close student of his profession. He was indeed a scholar in his profession. He was thoroughly well acquainted with the principles of equity jurisprudence, and the pleadings and practices of the equity side of the court; he was equally well versed in the English common law, and had a close and technical knowledge of that most completely logical system of pleading.
He loved the law, he loved it because of the grandeur and loftiness of the principles eternal, as are Truth and Justice, principles eternal as God.
He loved to discuss the equitable principles that underlie the whole grand structure of the English common law; the logic of its forms and modes of procedure, and their fitness and adaptation to the ends and purposes of justice. He loved to read and discuss the opinions of Chief Justice Marshall, to point out their logic, the terseness and simplicity and purity of their style, and, above all, the sterling integrity of the man.
He loved to read the speeches of Webster, and comment upon the solidity and force of his logic, and the loftiness and grandeur of his oratory. He was a great admirer of Chief Justice Parsons, and used to say that the first twelve volumes of Massachusetts reports were all good law.
He greatly admired the writings of Mr. Greenleaf, and had studied well his work on Evidence, and his familiarity with it came vastly to his assistance in the discharge of his duties as a nisi prius judge, and made him ready and quick in the decision of the legal questions that came before him.
He was genial and light-hearted, almost to boyishness, in social intercourse. On the bench he was dignified, but kind, gentle, courteous, helpful, especially to the inexperienced members of the Bar.
What he was as a member of this Court some of your Honors know better than I can describe. His written opinions proclaim more loudly his fitness and qualifications for the high office he held than can any language that I can utter. Models of simplicity, tersely logical, at the same time, broad and comprehensive, his opinions have built for him a monument more enduring than sculptured marble or storied halls.
Judge MARTIN achieved a position of eminence as a jurist, and his work has done honor to the place he occupied. To worthily occupy a position upon the bench of this Court is a proud eminence. And I may here say, without impropriety, that no other judicial tribunal in all these broad lands, in the same length of time, has won a prouder distinction, or has done more than has this to establish correct principles of judicial decisions, to establish order and regularity in all commercial and traffic relations. It has done vastly much to form and fashion the character of this people; to mold and fix the destiny of this, to-day, grand commonwealth.
This Court came into existence just when a new era was dawning; just as the tide of emigration from the East to Westward was beginning to set in; just as the vast resources of the great West began to be developed, and new and more rapid means of transportation were required, new modes of commercial traffic and exchange sprang into existence. It came into existence just as invention and development had made practical the application of steam-power to the transfer of freights and passengers upon the great lakes, and across the vast regions that lie between the great rivers and the Atlantic sea-board; just as the telegraph had made neighbors of distant cities; just at a time when huge aggregations of capital, and private corporations to wield them, became necessities; when new cities, clothed with important municipal powers and concessions, were springing up all over the land, and new questions of great importance grew out of them.
New questions were being constantly brought for consideration and settlement by this Court. For the settlement of these questions broad and comprehensive minds were required, minds capable of patient research and profound thought, minds keen in analysis and rapid in combination. It is sufficient to say that the work has been well and ably done, making its opinions recognized standards of reference, not only at home, but through all the states, and in the highest tribunal of the land.
In the settlement of these questions Judge MARTIN took an important part, and rendered most efficient aid.
A wise, untrammeled, and impartial judiciary has in all ages of the world been the matrix of the people’s morals and the protector of their liberties. The Areopagus of Athens reached the general morals of society, and the political affairs of state. Rome owed much of her greatness to the tribuni plebis, and to the influence which they exerted in checking the usurpation of the aristocratical element. They possessed the power of intercession against the decrees of the senate, and protected the rights of oppressed individuals.
The judicial tribunals of our own and the fatherland have spread far and wide through all civilized lands the grand principles of the English common law, until the people no longer look to the Pandects of Justinian for the equitable principles that should control in the administration of justice. And it is the proud boast of the Anglo-Saxon that its judiciary affords an invulnerable shield against all usurpations by executive power, and a faithful expounder of constitutional law, and a sure protector of all constitutional rights.
When I look back upon the history of this Court and remember that George Martin was one of its organizers, and its first Chief Justice, that his learning and his ability contributed largely to establish its character and achieve its renown, when I remember the unsullied purity of its ermine, the wisdom and solidity of its judgments, I can only repeat what I have already said: To have worthily occupied the position of Chief Justice of this Court is a proud eminence. When I look around me and see the names of the great likenesses adorn these walls, I can but feel that it is a proud thing to have an honored niche in this temple of justice.
It is fame enough for any man, to say of him that he has sat upon the bench of this Court, a worthy associate of such men as COOLEY and CHRISTIANCY and GRAVES; and more than all, as I know my brothers who hear me to-day will heartily say, with the eminently learned, venerated, and loved Nestor of the Bar and Judiciary of this State. I cannot feel that I am wanting in delicacy in the utterances that I have made; it is the feeling of my heart; it is the glad tribute of the people of this State to the venerable man who has occupied a seat upon this Bench, honored and loved by the members of the Bar for more than thirty years. I have wanted to pay this feeble tribute to the worth of these noble men, with whom in my humble capacity I have been permitted to associate for so many years.
I look back upon the history of the Supreme Court of Michigan, and find that it is not tonal in years with my own; that it has been made within my own recollection; and when I look again, and not a face looks down upon me from these walls but I have been more or less familiar with, I can but have a feeling of self-gratulation that I am permitted to stand here to-day and make this offering.
I ask, then, if your Honors please, that this portrait of the late Chief Justice Martin may be permitted to hang upon the walls of this room, among those of the men whose names have not only graced the history of this august tribunal, but have also added honor and luster to the name and fame of our loved State.
I rise, wholly upon the impulse of the moment, to express to the representative of the Bar from the Western part of the State, who has offered this portrait of Judge Martin, and to your Honors, the gratification which the Bar in the Eastern part of the State will feel, that something has been done to place this portrait among those that grace these walls, and which will carry down to those who succeed us a knowledge of those who have made up the just fame and distinction of this tribunal.
When I came to the Bar, just before this Court was organized, Judge MARTIN was then, as has been said, by reason of his being one of the circuit judges, a member of the Supreme Court of the State,—and the youngest, as it appeared to me; and when this tribunal was organized, the estimation in which he was held by the people of the State was manifested in that he was elected Chief Justice, entering upon his duties in 1838. It was my good fortune, as a young lawyer, to know him, and to see him in the discharge of his official duties, and I wish to express my own personal sense of the courtesy which he extended to me and to all the younger members of the Bar.
A just tribute has been paid to his character as a lawyer, and to the character of his mind. I was not aware of the nature of his studies, as has been detailed by his friend, but it always seemed to me that his opinions disclosed this fact, that he must at some time have studied deeply and diligently the great masters of the law. He had, it seemed to me, what we are accustomed to call “a legal mind,”—a mind adapted to investigate legal questions; and his opinions show great felicity and precision of diction in the expression of his views upon legal questions. Certainly, those who remember him will join in saying that he contributed, in his time, his share in the work which this tribunal has done, and by which it has established its position and its credit with the profession, and with the public.
He had his vicissitudes (as who has not), and the closing days of his life were darkened by ill-health; but if it is given to those who have passed beyond the veil to look back upon scenes of this life, it will certainly be a source of gratification to him to know that, after this lapse of time, he is thus remembered.
It certainly gives me a great deal of pleasure to see the picture of my old associate and chief placed where it ought to be,—on the walls of this Court-room. I am forcibly reminded of the lapse of time, when I see that there are so few persons at the Bar to-day that could have been familiar with Judge MARTIN, as judge or lawyer. My own acquaintance with him goes back a great way; for while he was a member of the firm of Ball & Martin, and Ball, Martin & Withey, I was brought into some connections with him, in the western part of the State, and formed a familiar acquaintance at that time.
He was a member, for a short time, of the old Supreme Bench, that existed before the election of Judges under the Constitution of 1850. The election was a little earlier than stated by Mr. Eggleston. My recollection is that the election of circuit judges took place in 1851, and that, when Judge MARTIN was appointed by Governor Barry to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Mundy, he had already been elected circuit judge. I may be in error about this, but that is my recollection. I had occasion to appear before the Supreme Court more or less at the time Judge MARTIN took Judge Mundy’s place, and I was familiar with the Court at that time. I never tried many cases before Judge MARTIN as circuit judge, although I did some. I found him an exceedingly courteous judge, and l found that he was very popular among the people where he held his court.
When the Supreme Court which is now in existence was organized, Judge MARTIN was elected Chief Justice. At that time that once was a fixed office, and it was not changed until ten years thereafter so that it became an office held by rotation. Before that time it was a separate office, and Judge MARTIN held it.
In his personal relations he was exceedingly courteous at all times, and it was always a pleasure to associate with him. He was a man of thorough education; his mind had been very thoroughly trained, so that he was a scholar, in every sense of the term, when he came to the Bench. He had a natural legal mind. I think I never knew a man more naturally a lawyer than Judge MARTIN. He seemed peculiarly adapted to appreciate legal principles of all sorts, and he had a mind that applied legal distinction very readily. His opinions will show a sagacity and aptitude in drawing such distinctions which is not often found.
So far as his reputation as judge is concerned, it is fortunate that every judge builds his own monument by his opinions which have been left in writing, and is himself measured by them. His opinions show his knowledge of legal principles, and his aptitude in dealing with those principles. They also show great elegance of diction. I think opinions can seldom be found written more elegantly, and at the same time more clearly, than those of Judge MARTIN, and they will compare in this respect with those that you find written by the most distinguished judges. I know, from my own personal intercourse with him, that he had made a very thorough study in all the elements of the law, both in England and America. His mind was exceedingly receptive, and he was familiar with the authorities and rules applied to questions that came up. As Chief Justice he had a great deal to do in following up the common rules of practice which the Court had to decide, and in this he was peculiarly apt in Ending and appreciating these rules. He certainly will be remembered, in this State, as one of its foremost Judges.
The picture, on the whole, is a very good one, and well represents all that anyone can remember of Judge MARTIN’s features. It is certainly gratifying to me, as to all the Court, that it is to be placed where those who now and hereafter practice at this Bar can look upon the face of this representative of our Court.
We have listened with pleasure to the remarks of Mr. Eggleston on the presentation of this likeness of Judge MARTIN, and the donors will accept the thanks of the Court for it. My only acquaintance with the Judge was that of a practitioner in this Court during the last years of his official life. But he is remembered as pleasant, agreeable, and dignified in manner, and a good listener lo all that was said and done in the Court-room. His legal ability was never questioned, and his work in this Court fully attests his eminent fitness for the judicial position he so long and honorably held.
The request of Mr. Eggleston will be granted, and the likeness assigned a place upon the walls of this room.