Presentation Of The Portrait Of The Honorable Epaphroditus Ransom

FEBRUARY 7, 1888

 At the opening of Court on Tuesday, February 7, 1888, Captain Edward Cahill presented to the Court an oil painting of HON. EPAPHRODITUS RANSOM, in behalf of his family, accompanying such presentation with the following appropriate remarks:

If the Court please:
These walls are already adorned with the portraits of men who have become eminent, upon the Bench of this Court, and it is a satisfaction for us to remember that most of them are still with us, exemplifying in private life the virtues that endeared them to us in official station. But there hangs picture of a man [Judge Morell] who has come down to us from a former generation; and I am here this morning to ask permission of this Court to hang upon the walls beside it the picture of an honored associate, who occupied a position with him for many years upon this Bench.

The first Supreme Court Judges of the State were William A. Fletcher and George Morell. They were territorial judges, and on the admission of this State into the Union they were continued in that position. Judge Ransom was the first man appointed as their associate on this Bench. He was a young man at that time, being under forty, or, to be exact, he was thirty-nine years of age. He had been less than two years a resident of the State, having come to Michigan in 1834 from the state, of Vermont; yet in 1836 he was called to occupy a seat upon the bench of the court of last resort.

It was not, if your Honors please, because he was the petted child of fortune who was aided by political influence or wealth. He was a son of the people. His father was a soldier of the Revolution, and stood well in the quiet circle in which he moved; but he was never a man of wealth, or of great social influence, and he could give his son none of those aids which are sometimes so important in shaping the destiny of young men. Nor was he called to the Bench of the Supreme Court because there were no other capable men in Michigan. Among the men who were even then distinguished, and who afterwards became eminent, I can recall the names of Fraser, Goodwin, Stuart, Romeyn, Farnsworth, Bacon, and others that I will no weary your patience in naming, —men who would have been recognized anywhere as fitted to hold a seat upon the Bench of the Supreme Court of this State.

Under these circumstances there must have been something more than ordinary in the character of this young man that he should have been called to this honorable position.

It will be remembered that at that time the judges of the Supreme Court were judges also of the circuit courts of the State. Judge Ransom presided over the Third judicial circuit, mad up of all the settled counties in the western portion of the State, and it was in the circuit that he performed perhaps his most onerous duties.

There are those here whose age entitles them to speak of the official services of this man, –men who were associated with him in life, –and I shall leave to them the task of speaking of his illustrious services on the bench and as chief executive. I cannot refrain, however, from speaking of him as a man. I remember him as a boy would recall any great man into whose presence he came, if at all, with a certain awe, and yet no, however humble, could come into his presence without being impressed with his gentleness as with an atmosphere.

As I look upon his picture, I seem to see that kindly and gentle influence coming from his face, and to feel the same gentle hand laid upon me, as it rested many a time as a boy; and it never rested there without inspiring courage and making me stronger for the battles of life.

My recollections are of the later years of his life, when the reverses and disappointments of business had come upon him, without his fault, and all because of his confiding trust in those whom he believed to be his friends, –reverses such as would have bowed the head and embittered the spirit of most strong men. Yet I remember him especially for his genial temper and the quiet dignity of his manner. His lofty spirit raised him above the influence of what might be considered great misfortunes, and enabled him to maintain to the end a philosopher’s poise and serenity.

In December, 1856, he removed to Fort Scott, Kansas.

Although holding an appointment under the national administration, he did not sympathize with nor aid in the efforts to fasten slavery upon that territory, but early took a decided stand among the friends of a free state. He died in November, 1859, at Fort Scott, at the age of sixty-two, when he still had the frame and bearing of a strong man who had many years of active life before him. But for his untimely taking off he must inevitably have become an important actor in the stirring scenes of that border life, and a leader among those who by wisdom and sacrifice consecrated the soil of Kansas forever to freedom.

And now, if your Honors please, I ask permission to have hung upon these walls the portrait of this rugged, honest man, that it may be through all coming generations an inspiration to those, whether on the bench or at the bar, who shall seek in this presence to maintain justice and sound law, and a perpetual rebuke to those, if any such there be, who shall here attempt to make “the worse appear the better reason.”

I accept with great pleasure the permission granted me this morning to add a few words to what my friend has said in regard to Governor Ransom. I knew him quite well.

The first time I met him was while he was on the bench of the Eaton county circuit, in 1842. At that time the whole country around there was almost a wilderness, and I walked from Eaton Rapids to Charlotte, where court was being held in the old block house, kept by a Mr. Stoddard. This was about the only house in Charlotte at that time, and was at once both court-house, jail, and hotel. I had the great honor to be appointed prosecuting attorney for that term by Judge Ransom, though I must confess that there was nothing at all to prosecute.

Governor Ransom’s circuit embraced nearly one-half the State, and the labor of traveling was much more fatiguing than that of holding courts, as the terms were very short, so far as I knew. He was acknowledged by all who knew hurt to be equal to the station which he occupied. He was a large, fine-looking man, with a large, comprehensive brain and great force of character.

From that early time, for years after, he occupied many prominent positions. He was upon the Bench of this Court for many years, was afterwards Governor of the State, and had during all the years of his official life the full confidence of the people.

During the latter part of his life he moved from the State, and died, as you remember, outside the state he had served so long and faithfully. It seemed a great pity that he went from among us, for he belonged to Michigan, arid it would have been better for him to have remained with us, though I know nothing of his reasons or his purposes in going.

This portrait, however, brings him back to where his honors were mostly won, where the people know him best, where his reputation must look for security in the future; and it will hang in this hall of justice to honor what he did while with us.
It is a good place and a fitting occasion to bear my testimony that he was a great, good, and consistent man; and I like to emphasize the fact of his greatness and goodness; great in intellect, and in every idea, his mind large and generous. And in that strong, rugged character the people of this State continued to have confidence until he moved from amongst them.
I am exceedingly pleased to see his faithful services thus fittingly recognized, and that we bring him back to Michigan, arid claim him as ours, as well we may.

It is but simple justice to say that no notice had been given me until coming to the stand a few moments ago that I was expected to say a word upon this occasion. But the Chief Justice kindly insists that a word shall be spoken by the present executive of the State.

It is meet and proper for us to pause in the discharge of the active duties of life, to review the services and do honor to the lives and character of those who have gone before us; and more especially is this true when we are tendered the privilege of placing upon the walls the portrait of one who honored manhood in private life, and rendered such valuable services as judge of the circuit and the Supreme courts and in the executive chair.

It is seldom that men become eminent in all the walks of life’ but it was the rare good fortune of Judge RANSOM to stand high in the esteem of those who knew him well, to be strong in the practice of his profession, eminent as a jurist, and able and faithful as an executive officer. His firm but kindly face looks down from the walls of the parlor below as a companion to eighteen others of the living and dead who have filled the Governor’s chair; and as he was the only man in our history who has been a Judge in this Court and Governor of the State, it is eminently fit and proper that his portrait should be placed here with those of the other distinguished jurists who have served upon the Bench. And while he wandered away in the later years of his life, we rejoice that his life-like picture has come back to the state he did so much to elevate arid honor. And as the fathers are passing away, may the honor conferred upon his memory stimulate the sons to emulate his many virtues.

 Chief Justice SHERWOOD responded as follows:
It has been well said by Governor Luce that there are times when it is eminently proper that we should pause for a few moments while in the discharge of our professional and judicial duties, and render homage and respect to the memory of those who so wisely and well laid the foundations of State as to secure to us the measure of prosperity and happiness it is our privilege to enjoy.

The presentation of this likeness brings back to us somewhat vividly the history of men and measures during the infancy and formative period of the Commonwealth. Among the names of those who prominently participate in the important and trying scenes in the early days of the State (if we except that of General Cass), none perhaps stand out more conspicuously and favorably than that of Hon. Epaphroditus Ransom.

Much of what I shall have to say of Judge Ransom this morning has been derived from his old friends and intimate associates in the profession, as a large portion of his useful life was far gone before my time and acquaintance with him.

He was, however, my neighbor and friend many years before his death.

He was born in Massachusetts in 1797. He came of Revolutionary ancestry, his father being a major, and his mother a daughter of General Fletcher, and both father and grandfather participated actively in the war for independence. His parents removed to Windham county, Vermont, when he was but a child, and there engaged in farming, where he resided with them until he was eighteen years of age. It was here that he acquired his taste for farming, a pursuit in which he was more or less engaged all his life.

On leaving home he entered Chester academy, a somewhat noted institution of learning in those days, in Vermont, from which he graduated in 1821. He then entered the law office of Judge Taft, father of the late Attorney General of the United States, and after a clerkship of two years he took a course of study in the law school at Northampton, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1824.

After his admission to the bar he practiced several years in Windham county, and was a member of the Vermont legislature. He removed to Kalamazoo in 1834. Here he at once opened an office and commenced practice, associating with him a short time thereafter the late Hon. Charles E. Stuart.

The firm soon acquired favorable distinction as lawyers, and so long as it continued enjoyed an extensive arid lucrative practice.

When Michigan became a State he was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Justices were then required to perform circuit duties, and he was assigned to the then Third district.

It was in the discharge of these duties, it may be said, he acquired his greatest distinction. His practical common sense arid good judgment never appeared to better advantage than when conducting the trial of closely litigated causes. His rulings were usually correct, and made in such a spirit of fairness as to seldom suggest exception or provoke criticism.

Few appeals were taken from his decisions.

In 1843 he was appointed Chief Justice by Governor Barry, which position he held until elected Governor, in 1847.

He served but one term as Governor. In 1853 he was elected to the legislature, where he served a single terms and never again appeared in State politics.

He took great interest in farming and the development of the agricultural resources of the State. He was the first president of the State Agricultural Society, which was organized during his official term as Governor. His own farm (now the site of the best portion of the city of Kalamazoo) was a model in many respects, and his flocks and herds were for years among the finest in the State.

Governor Ransom possessed the advantages of fine personal appearance and a commanding presence. To his good natural ability he added an excellent education, and in whatever sphere he was called to act men instinctively turned to him as their leader, and the position thus assigned him he never failed to fill with honor and distinction.

In manner he was dignified and courteous. He was kind-hearted and generous to a fault, and he never allowed the claims of the poor to go unheeded.

As a citizen, Governor Ransom was active and enterprising, and did much to promote the material interests of the community in which he lived. In his efforts in this direction he exhausted a handsome fortune, which he was never after able to retrieve, and he died a poor man.

As a lawyer, he was able painstaking, and scrupulous. He was careful in preparation and logical in argument and few men at the bar ever enjoyed more perfectly the confidence of clients.

As Associate and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the record of its proceedings and the reports of the opinions he gave while upon the Bench are enduring memorials of the learning, ability, and industry he brought to bear in the discharge of his duty, and will speak for him in the generations to come.

As Governor, he discharged the executive duties in such manner as to command the respect if not the concurrence of all. His messages disclose a familiar knowledge of the affairs and duties of his office and of the needs and wants of the infant State, and a strong solicitude for the education, welfare, and prosperity of its people. His recommendations in the main were wise and judicious, and, so far as heeded by the Legislature and followed by the people, secured the benefits intended.

His term in the executive office occurred during an eventful era in the history of the country. It was the transition period, from sentiment to ideas, upon the great labor problem, –whether it should be slave or free. The crisis was near at hand, and all men began to take sides upon the question.

Governor Ransom was a Democrat of the Jefferson school, and took his stand among those of his party who occupied the most advanced position upon the subject, and being in the minority of his party; and although when elected he carried every county in the State, and was the most popular citizen in Michigan, he was at the close of his term retired to private life, from which he never sought to emerge. It was left for time, after his death, to determine that while living he was better than his party and wiser than its policy.

In 1857 he was appointed Receiver of the Osage Land Office, in Kansas, and died at Fort Scott in 1859.
It can be truly said of him, he acted well his part in his day and generation. His memory will long be cherished by those who knew him for his many virtues, and the archives of the State will ever bear testimony to the value of his public services.

We will say to Captain Cahill, it is with pleasure the Court accepts this present of the life-like portrait of Governor Ransom from his family, and thank them kindly for it, and an order will be entered in the journal of this Court directing the clerk and crier to assign to it a proper place upon the walls of the court-room, and that these proceedings be published in the next volume of our reports.

Justice Campbell also responded, but the copy of his remarks has been lost, and the stenographer’s notes were destroyed, hence they cannot be published.