Presentation Of The Portrait Of The Honorable John W. Champlin

OCTOBER 4, 1892

 Upon the opening of the term, October 4, 1892, Hon. EDWARD CAHILL, on behalf of the Bar of the State, presented to the Court an oil portrait of Hon. JOHN W. CHAMPLIN, recently Chief Justice of the Court, accompanying the same with the following appropriate remarks:

May it please the Court:

The very pleasant duty has been assigned to me by the Bar of the State of presenting to this Court this admirable portrait of Judge CHAMPLIN, the last Chief Justice. We desire that it may find a place upon these walls, among those of the other illustrious jurists who have adorned this Bench.

Judge CHAMPLIN is still with us, and I trust is to be with us for many years. It would not be in accordance with his own wishes or ideas of the fitness of things for me to indulge on this occasion in the language of fulsome eulogy. He does not need it. He has made his own record. He has left the impress of his mental and moral life upon the jurisprudence of his own State so indelibly that the profession could not, if it would, forget him. And it is in the records of this Court that we shall find the most eloquent tributes to his industry, his learning, and his high sense of honor.

Judge CHAMPLIN was born in Ulster county, New York, in 1831. He began life on a farm in a rural community, and continued to make his home with his parents, working on the farm summers and attending school winters, until he was twenty-one years old. The family had removed from Ulster to Delaware county, and the future Chief Justice had been able to do a little better in the way of education than to attend the district schools. He found his way to the grammar school and the academy, and in these seats of elementary learning acquired those habits of study and painstaking mental research which were to be so useful to him in his subsequent honorable career as a lawyer and judge. In 1854, at the age of twenty-three, he came to Michigan, and settled in Grand Rapids, which place has ever since been his home. He entered the office of his brother, Gen. Stephen G. Champlin, and began the study of the law. In 1855 he was admitted to the Bar. In 1861 he was elected judge of the recorder’s court, and held the office for two years. In 1863 he was nominated by his party for judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, then including the counties of Kent, Ionia, Montcalm, Clinton, and Barry. He was defeated, but it is said that he demonstrated his qualities as a candidate by reducing the former majority of his opponent one-half. He was elected mayor of Grand Rapids in 1867, but, aside from these occasional forays into the dangerous domain of practical politics, Judge CHAMPLIN devoted himself, as every lawyer must who expects to succeed, to the diligent practice of his profession, and long before he took his seat upon this Bench his name was familiar to every lawyer in western Michigan, as one learned in the law, patient, industrious, and trustworthy in every walk of the profession. In 1883 he was elected Associate Justice of this Court; defeating a most distinguished opponent in the person of Governor BLAIR.

Of his work while a member of this Court I do not need to speak at length; as I have already said, his enduring monument is erected in its reported decisions. I think I voice the unanimous judgment of the Bar when I say that no man who ever sat upon this Bench has shown greater industry or a more sincere and devoted purpose to be right.

It has been common in these later years to compare the judges of this Court with those of earlier days, not always to the advantage of the former. In doing so allowance has rarely been made for the difference in the amount of labor required of a judge at the present time and twenty years ago. It is scarcely exaggerating to say that each of the present judges of this Court is called upon to perform as much labor as was performed twenty years ago by the entire Court. Through eight years of such growing labor Judge CHAMPLIN passed, without impairing the almost youthful vigor of his health or dulling the keen edge of his mental powers.

I had the honor to sit upon this Bench during a part of the time that he presided as Chief Justice. One of the things that made a deep impress upon my mind in connection with his work was the almost superhuman patience exhibited by him in listening to arguments. No matter how dull and prosy, no matter how long and labored, his ears were open, his mind attentive, and his interest unflagging. It required no effort for him to be fair. It was the habit of his mind. Prejudice, personal feeling or interest, never obtruded themselves upon his mental vision.

In his intercourse with his brethren of the Bench and Bar he has always been a model of generous, open-hearted frankness and courtesy. It is due to his uniform good humor and kindliness of heart that he has passed his three-score years of hard labor without chilling the red blood in his veins or dulling the youthful sparkle of his eye. May he be long with us. But when, in the course of nature, he shall have passed from among us, then will remain this pleasant memorial of our friend as a remembrance and an inspiration. 91 Mich.-D.

 Chief Justice MORSE, on behalf of the Court, responded as follows:

I had the honor of presenting the name of Judge CHAMPLIN in the political convention that nominated him for Justice of the Supreme Court. I then said, in substance, that he had given his life to the law rather than to politics, and that he had consequently fitted himself for the high position for which he was named; that he was possessed of all the elements for the place, to wit, great learning in the law, a varied and ample experience in practice, a judicial mind, an untiring industry, an honest and fearless nature, and a sound and unbiased judgment. His services upon the Bench demonstrated the correctness of my views at that time.

Judge CHAMPLIN was, to my mind, an ideal judge. I never knew a man more free from prejudice than he was. He never exhibited any bias against persons or things. If he had any, I am satisfied it never influenced him in the decision of a cause. He was not a lawyer who came upon the Bench with prejudices growing out of his practice. He always seemed to look upon both sides of a case, and to study all its phases well before making up his mind. I believe that my associates will bear me witness that he was the anchor of the Court, and that we always listened to him with the conviction that his views were unbiased, and the result of careful and thoughtful research.

As a man, in his intercourse with us in the consultation-room and elsewhere, he could have no superior. We all loved him, and can never forget the pleasant hours passed in his society. So lifelike is this portrait that it brings him before us; and speaking words of commendation in its presence seems like praising him to his face.
The proceedings will be recorded in the day’s journal, and printed in the reports.

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