Presentation Of The Portrait Of The Honorable Nathaniel Bacon

June 4, 1901

Upon the convening of court for the June term of 1901, on Tuesday, June 4th, Mr. FREDRICK H. BACON, of St. Louis, Mo., presented to the court an oil portrait of his father, the Honorable NATHANIEL BACON, at one time a member of the court. The portrait was accepted, on behalf of the court, by Chief Justice MONTGOMERY, who directed that it be hung upon the walls of the court-room, and that the remarks of Mr. BACON be printed in the next volume of the Michigan Reports. Mr. BACON spoke as follows:

May it Please the Court:

It was the cherished purpose of my brother, the late Col. EDWARD BACON, who for nearly 50 years was a member of this bar, to present to the court, in accordance with its request, a portrait of our father, NATHANIEL BACON, who was one of the first judges of this court. He procured the desired portrait, which now hangs in this chamber, and it was his intention to make a formal presentation thereof at this time. The grim messenger, who comes to us all, came to him before that intention was accomplished, and it therefore devolves upon me, as the oldest surviving son of Judge BACON, to perform this duty.

Nathaniel Bacon was only for a comparatively brief period a member of this court. He was elected circuit judge to fill a vacancy caused by the death of the Hon. CHARLES W. WHIPPLE, and first took his seat at the January term, 1856. At that time the various circuit judges constituted the Supreme Court, and upon its reorganization, in 1858, Judge BACON resumed his duties as judge of the second judicial circuit, which office he filled, with but about a year’s interruption, until his death, September 9, 1869. His father was a farmer of English descent, who settled shortly after the Revolutionary war near Ballston Spa, New York, where Nathaniel was born, July 14, 1802. He received his education first under a private tutor and at Ballston academy. He entered Union college, at Schenectady, New York, in 1822, from which he graduated in the class of 1824, of which the late Senator HARRIS, of New York, was also a member. After his graduation he studied law, and was admitted to the bar in October, 1827. At that time western New York was considered on the frontier, and, wishing to settle in a new country, he went west, and opened an office in Rochester, in April, 1828, where he practiced with a considerable degree of success until 1833. Hearing glowing accounts of the rich resources of the Territory of Michigan, he visited its southwestern portion in June of that year, journeying on horseback through the then almost unbroken forest. He was charmed with the aspect of the country. The land was fertile, the massive oaks and other trees interspersed with small lakes and prairies. The underbrush was kept down by annual burnings by the Indians, and the view was unobstructed. I have often heard him speak of the beauty at that time of the forest, the swift-flowing streams, and the carpet of turf and flowers. He decided to locate at the village of Niles, on the banks of the St. Joseph river, in the midst of the Pottawattamie Indians, where a few families had settled. Thither he brought his wife and two little children. He arrived September 3, 1833, and by the following November had entered land and built a log house. On this farm he resided for the remainder of his life. He witnessed the rapid growth and settlement of the country, and saw the forest give way to fertile farms, the solitude to busy cities and towns. At that time Michigan attracted many brilliant and well-educated young men from the East; some of them lawyers of great ability, who made a strong bar, and the society of the little town unusually attractive. Among them NATHANIEL BACON was their peer, if not their superior. He was an able and successful lawyer, and soon commanded a large practice. He was successively prosecuting attorney and judge of probate, and finally, in November, 1855, became circuit judge.

He was a man of sterling qualities, and a wise counselor. He was a leader in the church and in society, as well as at the bar. Through the troublesome privations, and often hardships, of this early time, he was courageous, patient, and discharged all his duties with ability and fidelity. He came from Puritan stock, and he was true to their teachings. Though somewhat austere, he was kind, charitable, and of spotless integrity, a worthy descendant of those who gave to New England its enduring reputation for strong, earnest, industrious, and upright men. He loved country life, and always retained his farm. His tastes were simple, his pleasures few. Before him he always saw the star of duty, leading him in the straight and narrow path. He was mindful of his obligations to the State, and ever endeavored to be, and was, a good Citizen. In politics he was at first a Whig, and afterwards assisted in organizing the Republican party, under the historic oaks at Jackson. He was a friend of HOWARD and CHANDLER. His counsels were always sought by his party associates, and his influence was at all times felt in the community where he lived and worked. During the troublesome times of the civil war, his sympathies were strongly with the Union cause. He rejoiced over the victories of the Northern armies, and grieved deeply when defeats came upon them. He was not ambitious, and never sought high political honors. He was modest, and contented with the comparatively humble station of a nisi prius judge. As a judge he was dignified and impartial, inflexible in adhering to the principles of justice, and he conscientiously and ably discharged the responsible duties of his office. It is said that, during the 12 years he served as judge, but one of his decisions was reversed.

He did not live to attain the age which his simple habits and active life promised, but he died in the prime of life, before his faculties had become impaired. At this time, so many years after the early judges who labored amid the privations of the frontier have passed away, and whose fame is somewhat dimmed by the glory of their immediate successors, CAMPBELL, COOLEY, and CHRISTIANCY, it is difficult to even remember or record their virtues. Still, neither their names nor their faces should be forgotten, and I therefore present to the court this portrait of a pioneer judge, that it may serve as a reminder of the labors of one who was a devoted servant, as well as lover, of justice, and who endeavored, to the utmost of his ability, to administer it without fear, favor, or hope of reward.