NOVEMBER 14, 1984
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Good afternoon. It’s the pleasure of the Michigan Supreme Court to welcome our former colleague Justice SWAINSON, and his many friends to this occasion today and to have the opportunity to receive a portrait of our colleague to join those of some of the others who have gone before him.
These occasions are always very pleasant, happy opportunities for old friends to get together, while we get to the main business of paying tribute to the person that we’re honoring.
To begin, we have with us Dennis Archer, President of the State Bar of Michigan, for some remarks.
MR. ARCHER: Mister Chief Justice, members of the Court. Before I begin, and with the permission of the Court and the person that we honor, I ask indulgence for a matter of personal privilege.
Mister Justice KAVANAGH, on behalf of the State Bar of Michigan, I join with your colleagues who have many kind things to say about you to indicate that we really respect the work that you’ve done on behalf of this state, and your working relationship with the State Bar of Michigan.
Now, as to our honoree, we in the legal profession are privileged to have among us a person like JOHN SWAINSON. He has sacrificed for his country. He has done us proud as a member of the Supreme Court. And he served well as our Governor. We are very pleased with the contributions that he has made. He has done an outstanding job in terms of showing those who have had the misfortune to be handicapped that “yes I can.” He’s strong. He’s a proven leader, and for that we respect him.
When I began to think about what I would say, I thought in terms of the time that I was about to cross what is called the “burning sand”—joining a fraternity. Part of my responsibility at that time was to learn a poem which was to carry me through trials and tribulations related to being hazed (and it was done in a very fine manner, I still have bruises to prove it). It was a poem that has carried me throughout life; it says a lot about a person, and it’s helped me a great deal. So that I didn’t make a faux pas or forget, I thought that I would bring it with me, and share it with you:
IF YOU can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream— and not make dreams your master;
If you can think— and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings— nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”1
There’s no question in my mind of the integrity of person of the man whom we honor today. I am just so pleased to have had this opportunity to make remarks on behalf of former Justice JOHN B. SWAINSON, and his very fine family.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very kindly. Next we’d like to hear from attorney David Sparrow.
MR. DAVID SPARROW: Mister Chief Justice, members of the Supreme Court. It is an honor to be here this afternoon and to be a part of an occasion such as this, where once again JOHN SWAINSON is recognized for his contributions to the people of Michigan.
I first met JOHN SWAINSON in 1952. It was when my partner and I were moving out of our first law office in the Cadillac Tower, and JOHN SWAINSON was moving in. As I looked around the room just a few moments ago, I was reminded that the office we were leaving, and the office he was moving into, was shared with the Honorable NATHAN KAUFMAN, who was then a practicing attorney. Right down the hall, around the corner, was the Honorable Ted Bohn. That was a portent of things to come, what happened on the thirty-sixth floor of the Cadillac Tower, I believe.
Shortly after that, JOHN SWAINSON was elected to the Michigan State Senate.
Being a member of the same political party, I was able to follow his career, and, on occasion, to play an active part in it. But more important, out of this professional and political association grew a lasting friendship between my family and the Swainson family. I’ve had the opportunity to witness the great love, admiration and friendship the people of Michigan feel for John and Alice Swainson, and how they in turn have returned that love and friendship to all. So I feel that I’m really here today as a representative, not only to the Swainson family, but of all the people of Michigan who are the friends of JOHN SWAINSON. The Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches of government in Michigan can be proud that
JOHN SWAINSON has been a contributing member of each body and an honorable part of their histories.
It is appropriate that Justice JOHN B. SWAINSON be honored in this manner as a lasting tribute to his distinguished service on the Michigan Supreme Court.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very kindly. I think that perhaps before we have the actual presentation of the portrait, we might allow time for any reminiscents sua sponte by any of his colleagues past or present.
MR. BILL SAXTON: I’ll volunteer. I have a story that nobody knows about JOHN SWAINSON, except JOHN SWAINSON and me.
Many years ago, John, and John will remember this, when he first went to that Cadillac Square office and could not pay the rent, I was fortunate enough to be associated with a larger office, and at that time was involved in a project called the Lake Head Pipeline, which was a multimillion dollar thing going through Michigan. I used to go to Saginaw three days a week to examine the sufficiency of the easements the pipeline company had taken. I prevailed upon a good friend of yours Mister Chief Justice, the late Philip Van Zile, and Thomas Long to let me hire a young friend of mine, JOHN SWAINSON, as an assistant.
The two gentlemen from the pipeline construction company noticed that John walked with a slight limp, but hadn’t given it much thought. One night we went to an outdoor boxing match, and Chuck Davey, a great fighter from Michigan State, was fighting a young fellow by the name of Al Andrews. It was in October of the year, outside at the State Fair grounds, and it had turned very cold. John was really enjoying the fight, and two fellows from California seated next to us, turned to me and said, “would you like to leave, is your friend cold?” I turned to John, talked it over, and then I turned back to the two contractor/vice presidents and said, “John says when his feet get cold we’re going to leave.”
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you Bill Saxton. I’d like to recognize a couple of former Chief Justices. Justice Tom BRENNAN, do you want to stand and be recognized and speak?
HONORABLE JUSTICE BRENNAN: Thank you Mister Chief Justice. I did not come prepared to speak, but I am pleased to extend my good wishes to my good friends John and Alice on this occasion.
HONORABLE JUSTICE FITZGERALD: Thank you Mister Chief Justice. I always had the pleasure of sitting next to John, because we were the only two smokers that were on the bench, and we were always placed together, an extra benefit of smoking at the time.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you. Also Justice PAUL ADAMS.
HONORABLE JUSTICE ADAMS: Mister Chief Justice, I would be happy to add just one reminiscence of an occasion in 1962, because I think it’s appropriate to present day conditions in the political field.
John was a candidate for Governor of the State of Michigan, and I was a candidate for the Supreme Court, and we were both defeated. So we come now to happier times, and it’s just this one little thought: even though you some times lose, if you’ re somebody like John, in the end you win.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: John, we received a letter from one of your former colleagues, LARRY LINDEMER, and he expressed his great regret that he wouldn’t be able to be here. I would also like to recognize, from the Court of Appeals, Judge KAUFMAN, and Judge MYRON WAHLS, and from the circuit court, Ted Bond. I saw the Chief Judge of the Wayne bench, Jim Cannon, who, as usual, modestly sits in the back. And I would have missed, as I was looking over the group, Jimmy Montagne, but he dodged to one side.
I’d like to recognize Senator Pollack who came in.
SENATOR POLLACK: I’d just like to say that Justice SWAINSON is one of my most distinguished constituents, among the constituency that has many distinguished people. We know how much he contributes to the community and the county.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much Senator. And another of your constituents, I believe, Jerry Dunn, Regent of the University is here. And the Executive Director of the State Bar, Mike Franck. I have trusted my own eyesight, with the help of my outgoing colleague, and we may not be as bright as we should be. So if we’ve forgotten anybody, oh, Representative Perry Bullard.
REPRESENTATIVE BULLARD: I certainly, your Honor, want to add to Senator Pollack’s remarks. Although I’m not privileged to have JOHN SWAINSON in my constituency, I was privileged to learn from him when I was working on the Supreme Court, although of course I primarily learned from Justice ADAMS. In particular, I appreciate his role, and the Court’s historic role, in ending the outrage that went on with the two-and-a-half-year imprisonment of John St. Clair. I think that was a significant time in the history of this Court, one which the Court can be very proud of, and one that Justice JOHN SWAINSON can be very proud of for his part in it.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much Representative Bullard.
I read a letter to the editor some time ago which expressed the hope that some time in the near future, now that we had some ladies on the Court, that some Governor, or the People of Michigan would recognize that it was high time that we had a black member of the Court. And that showed a singular lack of knowledge of the history of Michigan, because twenty years before the letter was written, the man that we honor today appointed one of the most popular and able justices of this Court, OTIS SMITH, whose portrait you see over there. Our friend John has many credits to his name. And I must say that while I enjoyed having John as my Lieutenant Governor, I wasn’t quite as appreciative of what he did for me when we both ran for office on this Court. We were both running on an open ticket at that time, and he managed to get ahead of me. I became the junior member of the Court, after having been Governor to his Lieutenant Governor.
There are many other stories that could be told, but I think it’s time to hear the eloquent Attorney General Frank J. Kelley make a presentation of the portrait. Frank?
ATTORNEY GENERAL KELLEY: Mister Chief Justice, members of this Honorable Court. I have the special privilege at this moment to speak on behalf of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people, whose lives have been touched by JOHN B. SWAINSON. Friends who knew him intimately, other citizens who appreciate the courageous things that JOHN SWAINSON did for them and their fellow citizens. I speak also for those whose lives were affected for the better by JOHN SWAINSON, but did not know the source. The display of valor always sets one apart and above one’s contemporaries. And JOHN SWAINSON also showed valor early, as a high school football hero, whose lack of size and weight was made up for by the will to preserve and to win, and as an eighteen-year-old soldier in World War II, barely entering manhood. JOHN SWAINSON, with patriotic fervor and personal courage, volunteered for patrol to identify and clear land mines on the battlefields of France, in order to preserve the safety of thousands of his fellow soldiers, under the command of General George Patton. He was literally blown up on this mission. Lesser men would have died of their wounds, but JOHN SWAINSON’ S spirit never gave up. This eighteen-year-old recovered from the loss of both of his legs. He received France’s Croix de Guerre, the Presidential citation with two battle stars, and the purple heart before his nineteenth birthday. Many would have retired to a wheelchair a hero, and devoted themselves to war veteran activities for the rest of their lives, with great respect, and nothing further expected of them.
But JOHN SWAINSON’S courage, quiet dignity, and determination would not leave him then, and, indeed, it never would leave him. He worked for months with therapists and learned to walk upright and unassisted, which was clearly an accomplishment of great courage and determination. After the war JOHN SWAINSON plunged ahead. He attended Olivet College and received his B.A. degree. While at Olivet, he met and married the beautiful Alice Nielson of Detroit. John and Alice then went to the campus of the University of North Carolina, where John received his Bachelor of Law Degree in 1951. While there he showed his leadership by being elected student president of the University of North Carolina Law School and served as the elected delegate from the university to the United Nations. He returned to Michigan and established a law practice. In 1956, among many other honors, he was chosen Mister Success by the American Federation of the Physically Handicapped. During his years as a young lawyer, John and Alice were blessed with three children, Steven, Peter and Christina.
JOHN SWAINSON was elected to the State Senate in 1954, where he was noted literally as the Man of the People. He was a democrat with a small “d.” He then went on to serve with distinction as Lieutenant Governor, to the then Governor and now our Chief Justice G. MENNEN WILLIAMS.
In 1960 he was the youngest man to be elected Governor of our State, at the age of thirty-three. His term was characterized as one of courage. Indeed, the theme of his administration was the courage to do what was right. And he was vindicated, in the sense that most of the things that he advocated were subsequently adopted by his successors.
Governor JOHN SWAINSON then became Circuit Court Judge JOHN SWAINSON by election of the people once again. He earned an outstanding reputation as a judge who could mediate the most difficult of social issues that came before his court.
He was later elected state-wide by the people to the Supreme Court of Michigan, where he again served with dignity, and either wrote, or contributed to, many landmark decisions upholding the best within our state and federal constitutions. In the Supreme Court, the members felt a special esteem and affection for him, and still do. And I think also that everyone here today holds JOHN SWAINSON in esteem and affection as their friend, as well as a public personage. I’m sure that the history of Michigan will always mark his presence and contributions with distinction.
Now these remarks by me today are probably longer than any speech that JOHN SWAINSON ever made. But then, he didn’t have to. Because his bravery and his courage spoke far better than mere words.
Members of the Court, friends of John, it’s my privilege at this time to present to you the artist who painted this portrait of Governor SWAINSON, noted artist Miss Dorthea Stockbridge.
I believe Mister Chief Justice we’re ready for the acceptance of the portrait.
[At which time the portrait of the Honorable JOHN B. SWAINSON was unveiled.]
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: We now, if he wishes, would like to hear from Justice JOHN B. SWAINSON.
HONORABLE JOHN SWAINSON: Mister Chief Justice, members of the Supreme Court. First, let me say that I very greatly appreciate the convening of a special session of the Court, to receive this portrait. I’m somewhat humbled by the words that have been said here. Dennis Archer, I want you to know that my daughter some ten years ago, when things were seemingly caving in, as we say, had that very poem framed for me. The words and the thoughts expressed by the Attorney General are greatly appreciated. And David Sparrow, a friend, the most constant friend a person could have. I’m sort of overwhelmed by the number of my friends and supporters who took the time from their daily lives to travel to Lansing and to be with me on occasion. I want to thank everyone who contributed to this effort.
The presentation of portraits to the Court is important, because they portray specific persons of particular times in the history of the State of Michigan.
Dorthea Stockbridge, I think, has captured the essence of the person of myself, and for that I am very thankful. But I don’t think anyone can ever know a person from a portrait. A portrait of EPAPHRODITUS RANSOM was placed in my office while I served as a member of this Court. And I understand now it’s in the office of Justice BRICKLEY. But quite often I would sit and contemplate his very stern visage as I wrestled with a particular matter before the Court, but I really didn’t know much about him, except that he had served in the Legislature of Vermont before coming to Michigan, and served as one of the first justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, before he was elected Governor in 1847.
After my service as a Supreme Court justice, I had the time to become better acquainted with EPAPHRODITUS RANSOM through the study of Michigan history and learned much more about this redoubtable gentleman.
Hardly two years a resident of Michigan, in 1836, he was appointed by Governor Stephens T. Mason (who, by the way Mr. Kelley, was the youngest Governor of the state at twenty-six, I being the second youngest Governor of the state) as judge of the Second Judicial Circuit, and associate justice of the Supreme Court, thus, being one of the first to receive the judicial commission under the constitution of the new state.
In 1843, Governor John S. Barry appointed him Chief Justice, a position he continued to hold until he was elected Governor in 1847. Mr. RANSOM was also the first Governor to be inaugurated in the new capital, now the City of Lansing, where the thirteenth Legislature of Michigan met on January 3, 1848.
He was described at that time as tall and straight, with a strong physique, approachable and simple in his habits. He soon became a man of more than ordinary popular regard. Although he was elected as Governor by a majority of the vote in every county of the state, he held the position but one term. His support of the Wilmont Proviso raised an issue that defeated him for renomination. Now I know I need not instruct this Court on the Wilmont Proviso. However, it was and amendment offered by Representative David Wilmont of Pennsylvania in 1846 to a bill appropriating money to buy territory from Mexico. The amendment would have prohibited slavery in the region acquired from Mexico. The amendment was frequently debated, but never passed. Senator Lewis Cass felt that the inhabitants of a territory had the right to decide whether they wanted slavery or not. Governor RANSOM’S experience was unique in that after having served the state as its chief executive, he served in the State Legislature as a Representative of Kalamazoo in 1853 and 1854.
His last years were made rather difficult by his financial reverses, which were so critical that he lost his beautiful homestead in Kalamazoo. You see, he had invested in something called plank roads at the time, and they didn’t really sell.
At the time of the then great real estate depression in Michigan, he had to sell his home. He sought, and was granted an appointment as a receiver for the United States Land Office in Kansas. He died at Fort Scott, Kansas, at the age of 63, on November 9, 1859. His grave can be found in Kalamazoo.
As so often happens in the reading of history, your curiosity is challenged by other events occurring at the same time you are researching. So it was that I learned about Michigan’s first Chief Justice WILLIAM ASA FLETCHER.
By virtue of its broad grant of power in the Constitution of 1835 over the organization and jurisdiction over the Judiciary, the Legislature earlier in 1836 provided that the Supreme Court should be composed of one Chief Justice, and two Associate Justices, who, acting collectively as the highest court of review in the state, were to hold sessions once annually in each of three large judicial circuits, meeting specifically in Wayne, Washtenaw, and Kalamazoo Counties. Individually, each justice was required to preside over circuit courts held twice a year in every county within the judicial circuit over which he was given jurisdiction. The only personal qualifications, or limitations listed by the statute dealt with residence and professional activities while on the bench. The justices were required to be residents of the state at the time of their appointments, to live within the judicial circuits to which they were assigned by their commissions, and to refrain from practicing as attorneys in the various state courts. An annual salary of $1,500 was to be paid quarterly to each member of the Court, except the Chief Justice who was to receive $100 extra a year.
Three clerks of the Supreme Court were to be appointed by the justices, one for each Supreme Court circuit. Now little is known about the early life of Chief Justice WILLIAM A. FLETCHER. He was born in New Hampshire in 1788, and it is believed that he had a fairly good education. Arriving in Michigan in 1820, or 1821, he was admitted to the bar in 1822, and soon began the practice of law in Detroit.
Governor Lewis Cass appointed him Chief Justice of the Wayne County Court as early as 1823, a position he occupied for three years. As other evidence of the prestige he quickly acquired in his newly adopted state, he was chosen to deliver the oration when the cornerstone of the territorial capitol building was laid in 1823.
FLETCHER was elected a member of the territorial legislative council in 1830, a predecessor of our present Legislature. When the new circuit court for all counties east of Lake Michigan, except Wayne, was instituted in 1833, he was designated to be its first, and I might say its only, presiding judge. Forced by law to reside within his judicial circuit, he moved to Ann Arbor, where he continued to live until his death in 1853. A few months before his selection as Chief Justice, the State Legislature commissioned him to prepare, digest, and arrange a code of laws, a task which he performed concurrently with his judicial duties. The result of his labor was the Revised Statutes of 1838. Despite his numerous official positions, FLETCHER had carried on an active private legal practice, as witnessed by the fact that between 1825 and 1836 he appeared as counsel before this Supreme Court of the Michigan Territory in more than ninety cases.
While Michigan’s first Chief Justice served less than six years of his seven-year term, in 1841 an attack on FLETCHER by the “whig” newspaper at Ann Arbor, where FLETCHER resided, probably hastened his retirement from the bench. The basis for this attack was FLETCHER’S conduct in two assault and battery cases in the Circuit Court of Washtenaw County. In both, Edward Mundy, the former democratic Lieutenant Governor, and also later a Justice of the Supreme Court, was one of the contestants. It seems that one Edward Brooks had horsewhipped Mundy, as the latter had come from the Senate Chamber in Detroit while he was still the Lieutenant Governor. FLETCHER was accused by the newspaper of having charged the jury, at the trial, that cognizance should be taken of Mundy’s official position. As a result of which, verdicts were returned for damages amounting to $500 for assault, and $600 for slander. A comparison was made to a fine of only $5 which had been imposed upon Mundy by FLETCHER in Washtenaw Circuit Court for an assault which Mundy had committed upon a private citizen in 1836. The Chief Justice believed that it was his duty to reply to what he termed, abusive and libelous attack upon the proceedings of the Court, and did so by means of a public letter to the editor of the journal which had assailed him. He denied having charged the jury to consider that the people had suffered injury and indignity through the abuse of one of its public servants, and said that he had instructed the members to reach a verdict on the grounds of private damages only. With regard to the small fine which had been exacted from Mundy in the earlier assault case, FLETCHER contended that the evidence had been equally divided for and against the defendant, and that the fracas had resulted from an argument over the question of statehood, as a matter of fact, during which Mundy had been called a “Benedict Arnold” by his opponent.
Doubtless, much of this is political propaganda on the part of the whig press, and had but little substantiation in fact, and yet, it must have contributed to FLETCHER’S decision to resign along with certain private family reasons. Whatever the causes, Chief Justice FLETCHER handed in his resignation to the Governor in February, 1842, to become effective on April 1. But he remained active in the legal profession during the rest of his life and served as a justice of the peace in Ann Arbor from 1850 until his death in August, 1853.
I relate these few events in the lives of these men who served on this Court to emphasize that all of the portraits collected here bring with them much human experience that lies behind the robes. My life, too, goes on, and I’m happy to say that nine years after my resignation from the Supreme Court, Alice and I are enjoying our farm homestead in beautiful Washtenaw County. And further, and much more important, we are enjoying our middle years together, and have finally found the time to do those things that we put aside earlier. I will let history, of which I have become quite fond, be the judge of my public career, and I’m honored to have my portrait placed with the Michigan Supreme Court. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: With that we are ready to stand adjourned, but I just want to give my friend, Frank Kelley, some consolation: John remains the youngest elected.
[At which time the special session of the Michigan Supreme Court was adjourned.]