The Territorial And State Judges

By an act of congress, passed on the 11th of January, A.D. 1805, the territory of Indiana was divided, and Michigan was organized as a separate territorial government.

On the 2d of March in that year, Augustus Brevoort Woodward was appointed by the president of the United States judge for the territory of Michigan, and on the 3d of March, Frederick Bates was also appointed judge. These two judges, with the governor (General Hull), set the territorial government in motion. On the 29th of March, 1806, John Griffin was appointed by the president the third judge. These three constituted the Supreme Court of the territory. “The governor and judges, or a majority of them,” possessed the legislative power of the territory. They were also a board of commissioners on the part of the United States, to lay out a new town of Detroit; and, after giving a lot to each of the inhabitants of the old town (under certain restrictions), they were to sell the surplus lots and ten thousand acres adjacent, and from the proceeds build a court-house and jail (the old town of Detroit having been wholly destroyed by fire on the 11th of June, 1805, not a dwelling being left standing). The duty was found to be, very onerous upon the judges, and now after the lapse of more than a half century, it is not yet fully completed, but the duty is transferred to the common council of the city of Detroit. The tenure of office of the judges was “during good behavior,” and by that tenure they held till the year 1824.

JAMES WITHERELL was appointed a judge of the territory by President Jefferson, on the 23d of April, 1808, in the place of Judge Bates, who had resigned on being appointed a United States judge for the territory of Louisiana.
The government of Michigan, like most of our early territorial governments, was anomalous; the legislative and judicial powers were placed in the same hands. “The governor and judges, or a majority of them,” were the words of the ordinance of 1787, conferring legislative power. The power to legislate was nominally restrained to “adopting” laws from the “original states”—the words “original states” were construed to mean such states as had been admitted into the union when Michigan was organized as a territory, and the word “adopt” was construed to mean not the letter, but the principle of the law adopted, and such laws and parts of laws were adopted as were found to be “necessary and suitable to the circumstances of the territory of Michigan.” This construction of the ordinance enabled the “governor and judges” to legislate generally; in fact, to make the laws. The laws were comparatively few in number, easily understood, and gave general satisfaction. If any law was found to work badly, the governor, or one of the judges, notified the others, the “legislature” assembled, and the law was repealed or amended. On one occasion, I recollect, two Indians were arrested on a charge of murder, in Wisconsin (Wisconsin was then a part of Michigan), and brought to Detroit for trial. When the Supreme Court assembled, it was found that the law relative to grand jurors was defective. The court adjourned, the “legislature assembled,” the law was amended, and the prisoners were tried, convicted, and executed. In addition to the ordinary judicial duties as a territorial court, an act of congress was passed, imposing upon the judges the jurisdiction of a circuit and district court of the United States. When sitting as such, their proceedings were entirely separate and distinct from the territorial court. All such civil cases as are now tried in the United States circuit and district court, and all prosecutions for crimes committed in the Indiana country were tried in the “circuit and district court.” All processes, in all our courts, ran: “In the name of the United States of America,” as the sovereign power, and all indictments concluded: “against their peace and dignity.” All capital trials were had at the bar of the Supreme Court. All appointments of territorial, county, and township officers were made by the governor alone–the people literally had no voice whatever in the government. This was not very satisfactory to the emigrants from the eastern states, who began to arrive about the year 1820. The matter was agitated, with other causes of dissatisfaction, and congress was induced to sever the judicial and legislative power, and to limit the tenure of the office of United States judge to four years, and to provide for an election, by the people, of a legislative council. Under this act the first council met in 1824. Judge Woodward failed to be re-appointed, and Judge Griffin declined a re-appointment, and on the 21st of January, in that year, the president appointed Judge Witherell presiding judge of the Supreme Court for four years and on the 21st of April following, Solomon Sibley and John Hunt were appointed judges. Judge Hunt died in 1827, and Henry Chipman was appointed in his place. In 1828 their term of office expired, when William Woodbridge was appointed presiding judge in the place of Judge Witherell, with whom, by the consent of President Adams, an exchange of office took place, Judge Witherell being appointed secretary of the territory. Judge Sibley and Judge Chipman were re-appointed for four years. In 1832, Judge Sibley was re-appointed, and George Morell and Ross Wilkins were appointed to succeed Judges Woodbridge and Chipman. In 1836, on the 1st February, the three were re-appointed by the president judges of the territory; but the territory being admitted into the union as a state, early in 1837, the appointment became vacant.

The salaries of the judges were small, considering the large amount of labor they were required to perform. They were but $1,200 per annum till the year 1834, when they were increased to $1,500. The tenure of office “during good behavior,” probably induced the early judges of the territory to accept appointments in this, then distant, isolated, and sparsely settled peninsula, containing at that time some three thousand civilized inhabitants. These were all of the judges appointed by the United States, for Michigan, during its existence as a territory for thirty-one years.

Judge WOODWARD was a native of the state of Virginia. In early life he was fond of literary pursuits; he wrote and published several works; one of them, I think, was entitled “Electron, or the Substance of the Sun.” It, however, cast but little “light on the subject,” and has long been out of print. The judge was also the author of that singular production, the charter of the “Catholepistomiad, or University of Michigania.” It was passed into a law in 1817. It provided for thirteen didaxii or professorships–one of “Anthropoglosica,” one of “Polemitactica,” and eleven others of the like character. The judge was a well-read lawyer, and had practiced law in the District of Columbia, where he resided at the time of his appointment as judge. He was a man of considerable talent, but his excessive eccentricities, on the bench and elsewhere, detracted very much from his practical usefulness. It was one of the principal causes of the change in the tenure of the office of the judges. Judge Woodward was president of the “Bank of Detroit,” which was chartered about 1806, and existed some three or four years. He was also a colonel in the militia of the territory. After the surrender of the country to the British forces in 1812, Judge Woodward remained at Detroit, and rendered essential service to our people by interfering, in their behalf, with Governor Proctor who declared and enforced martial law.

After his failure to be re-appointed a judge for Michigan, in 1824, he was, on the 26th of the following August, appointed a United States judge for the territory of Florida, and died about two years thereafter. He lived and died a bachelor.

Judge BATES resigned his office about 1807, on his appointment as territorial judge in Louisiana, and as he was, as before mentioned, on the bench of the Supreme Court but some two or three years, little is recollected of him. He is, however, well spoken of by those who knew him. Not many years since he was living, at an advanced age, at St. Louis.

Judge GRIFFIN was a native of Virginia. He was said to have read law in early life, but seemed to pay little attention to it in after years. Previous to his appointment as judge he had traveled to foreign countries. He was in Paris during one of its early revolutions. Judge GRIFFIN was constitutionally inert, wanted firmness and decision of character, and disliked responsibility; but was considered an upright judge, and an honest man. On the expiration of his term of office, in 1824, he returned to Philadelphia, and married in that city. He died some twelve or fifteen years since. At the time of his decease he was next in descent to a Scotch peerage.

Judge WITHERELL was a native of Mansfield, in Massachusetts. His ancestors emigrated from England soon after the first arrival in the Mayflower. In 1775, at the age of 16 years, he volunteered, with his townsmen, to aid in the siege of Boston, and never left the army till it was disbanded in 1783, at which time he held a commission in the Massachusetts line. He carried with him, through a long life, the military habits of his youthful training–promptness, decision, and firmness of character. At the end of the revolutionary war he studied the profession of medicine, and removed to Rutland county, Vermont , about the year 1787, where, for several years, he practiced his profession; but afterwards turned his attention to the law, and was, for several years, on the bench, and in the legislature of that state. He was appointed a United States judge of Michigan by Mr. Jefferson, while in congress from Vermont, in 1808. Though not originally a lawyer by profession, by diligent application he acquired a knowledge of legal principles, and administered justice, but little trammeled with legal technicalities. It was said of him, by one of the most eminent statesmen of the age, that he possessed “as pure a heart, and as sound an intellect, as is ordinarily given to human nature.” His sterling integrity, moral worth and prompt attention to his official duties, made him an acceptable judge. When the war of 1812 broke out being the only revolutionary officer in the territory, at the request of the executive, he took command of the “Legion,” as its colonel. The corps did good service and several of the men fell in battle during the war. On the signing of the capitulation by General Hull, he refused to surrender his corps to the enemy, but ordered them to disband and go home. He was however, himself made a prisoner of war, and carried away with the army, and afterwards paroled, and on being exchanged, in 1814, immediately returned to his judicial duties.There were no terms of the court held while the enemy were in possession of the country. Judge Witherell died on the 9th of January, A. D. 1838, in the seventy-ninth year of his age. Both houses of the legislature, being then in session, passed resolutions of respect for his memory, as did also the bar of the Supreme Court.

Judge SIBLEY was a native of Massachusetts. He studied law in Rhode Island, and removed to Marietta in Ohio, about the year 1795, and entered on the practice of his profession. He occasionally came to Detroit, with the late Judge Burnett, of Cincinnati, to attend our courts, then held by Judge B. They came through the woods, several hundred miles, on horseback. Judge Sibley removed to Detroit about 1798, and continued in practice till his appointment as judge. He represented this part of the Northwest territory in its legislature, and afterwards, the territory of Michigan as its delegate in congress. He was a sound lawyer, a man of firmness and integrity, and of strong common sense. He died in 1845.
Judge HUNT was also a native of Massachusetts. He studied and practiced law in that state for some years, and removed to Detroit about the year 1819. He devoted himself, with untiring industry, to the duties of his profession. There were then, comparatively, few lawyers in the territory, but there were several men of ability at the bar, and Judge Hunt was among the most prominent. He, acquired an extensive and lucrative practice. He was kind and courteous on the bench, and attentive to his duties. He died before the expiration of his term, in 1827.

Judge MORELL was a native of Lenox, in Berkshire county, Massachusetts, and was born March 22d, 1786. He graduated at Williams College in 1807, and studied law in the office of John Russell, Esq., at Troy, New York.
Among his fellow students were the Hon. R. H. Walworth, late chancellor of that state, and the Hon. Wm. L. Marcy, late secretary of state. He was admitted to the bar in 1810.

After being admitted to practice, Judge Morell settled at Cooperstown, Otsego county, New York, where he soon became distinguished in the profession. He was twice appointed the first judge of the county of Otsego. The last appointment he resigned, on being appointed a United States judge for the territory of Michigan.

He was re-appointed by the president on the 1st of July, 1836, a judge of the territory, and was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of the state of Michigan, and judge of the circuit court, July 18, 1836, and held both offices till the state was admitted into the Union in 1837. He was appointed chief justice of the state on the 1st of April, 1842, and died at Detroit, March 9th, 1845.

Both branches of the legislature, then in session, passed resolutions of respect for his memory, and resolved to attend his funeral in a body; the bar also passed similar resolutions.

The learning and attainments of Judge Morell were of a very high order. On the bench he was conspicuous for his profound legal knowledge and untiring industry. He comprehended at a glance all questions presented him, and rapidly applied the rule of law to them. In questions of practice he had no superior; no judge ever occupied the bench with more dignity of manner, or a more anxious desire to discharge his duty, than did Judge Morell. The suavity of his manners, and the kindness of his heart, rendered him a general favorite of the bar, who best knew his worth. In social life he graced the circle in which he moved, and was always a welcome guest. He was of Huguenot descent, his ancestors having fled from France on the revocation of the edict of Nantes.

Three of the judges of the old territorial Supreme Court are yet living.

The Hon. WILLIAM WOODBRIDGE is a native of Connecticut, where he studied law, and went to Ohio in early life, where he practiced for several years, and was appointed secretary of the territory in 1814, when he removed to Detroit, and practiced in the courts of the territory for many years. He served in the legislature of Ohio before his removal to Michigan. In 1819 he represented Michigan as her first delegate in congress; in 1828 he was appointed presiding judge of the territorial Supreme Court, as before mentioned; in 1838 he was elected to the senate of the state; and in 1839 was elected governor of the state of Michigan, and in 1840 one of our senators in congress.

The Hon. HENRY CHIPMAM is a native of Vermont, where he studied his profession, and subsequently practiced law for many years in South Carolina. He removed to Michigan in 1824, and was, as before mentioned, twice appointed a judge of the territory, and held, at different times, several other offices in the territory, and was the presiding judge of the late district court.

The Hon. ROSS WILKINS is a native of Pennsylvania. He came to Michigan on his appointment as judge of the territorial Supreme Court, in 1832. After the admission of the state into the Union, he was appointed United States district judge for the district of Michigan, which he yet holds.

Of these three it is unnecessary to speak. They carried with them to the bench a high order of talent and learning, and on the bench gave general satisfaction to the country.

Since the organization of the Supreme Court of Michigan, five of its judges have died. The decease of Judge Morell has been noticed in the preceding article.

WILLIAM A. FLETCHER was the first chief justice. He was a native of New Hampshire, and in his younger days was engaged in mercantile business in Salem, Massachusetts. This was about the year 1813. Afterwards he removed to the county of Schoharie, in the state of New York, where he studied law, and in 1821 removed to Detroit, and entered upon the practice of his profession. In 1813 he accepted the appointment of chief justice of the county court of Wayne county, which he held for some three years, and then returned to the bar. On the 17th of April, 1833, the legislative council of Michigan established a judicial circuit, embracing all the organized counties of the state, except Wayne. The court thus organized was to consist of a circuit judge, who was to reside within the limits of the circuit, after his appointment, and two associates for each county. The circuit judge was to hold his office for the term of three years. The
court possessed both chancery and common law jurisdiction, had original jurisdiction of all civil actions at common law, and of all offenses and crimes not cognizable by justices of the peace, and possessed appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal actions from the judgment or sentence of justices of the peace. The counties included in [20] this circuit were all those of the southern tier, *all in the central tier (except Van Buren, not then organized, and Wayne, excluded by the act), and the counties of Oakland, St. Clair and Macomb. In each county, terms were to be held twice a year. Judge Fletcher was appointed circuit judge of the court thus created, and in compliance with the provision in the act, requiring the judge after his appointment to reside within the circuit, removed to Ann Arbor and continued to reside there until his death. His judicial labors, while in this position, covered a very extensive territory, and must have severely taxed his energies. Upon the organization of the state government, he was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, which position he retained until his resignation in 1842. Judge Fletcher possessed a clear, discriminating mind, and dispatched the business of his circuit, and the duties devolving upon him as judge of the Supreme Court, with great fidelity, and to the satisfaction of the public.

In 1837 he was appointed to revise the laws of the state, which duty he performed in the course of the year. It was a task of great labor, and should not have been undertaken by one person alone, especially one who had already assumed other official duties. The work, though envincing much industry and ability on the part of the revisor, was little satisfactory to himself or the public. His death took place at Ann Arbor, in the month of August, 1853.

Hon. GEORGE MILES was a native of Amsterdam, Montgomery county, New York where he was born April 5th, 1789. He was a descendant of one of the old Puritan families of New England. In early life he had to rely on his own resources and to fight the battle of life unaided, which he did manfully, and this early training gave to his character an energy and self-reliance which it sustained throughout. He was admitted to practice in 1822, in his native state. Before his removal to this state he held the office of district attorney for Alleghany county. He performed *its [21] duties with great diligence and ability. In May, 1837, he removed to Ann Arbor, where he continued in the practice of his profession until his appointment to the bench upon the resignation of Hon. Daniel Goodwin, in 1846.

The reported opinions of Judge Miles, to be found in preceding volumes of these reports, are noticeable for their ability, conciseness and close adherence to the points involved, bearing, in these particulars, a great resemblance to the decisions in the earlier New York reports. He was a man of commanding personal appearance. He presided on the bench with great dignity. He possessed an exalted character for integrity, and was respected and esteemed by all who knew him. His death occurred while he was in the prime of manhood. By it a career of useful service to the state–one which would have finally earned for him a high position among the eminent judges of the country–was suddenly arrested.
Hon. EDWARD MUNDY was born in Middlesex county, New Jersey, April 14, 1794. In 1809 he entered Queen’s college (now Rutger’s), and graduated in 1812. He finished his professional studies, and settled down to the practice of law in his native county. Having previously visited some portions of what is now called central New York, then comparatively a new country, he imbibed a strong desire for western life. In 1819, leaving kindred and friends, he emigrated with his family to Illinois, then in the almost unknown and unexplored west. After passing through many trials and hardships, he finally gained a successful and renumerative practice. In the midst of this success, his dwelling was accidentally burned to the ground. Other misfortunes soon followed, which induced him to return to his native state. Here he embarked in mercantile business, and continued until 1831. But who ever mingled for a while in the stirring scenes of western life, and was content to return and keep pace with the slow march of progress in the older state? Accordingly, we find that in the year last [22] named he *determined to try his fortune again in the west. He removed to Ann Arbor, and up to 1835 held the offices of justice of the peace and associate judge, for Washtenaw county. He was then elected to the convention that framed the first constitution of Michigan, and was an active influential member of that body. He was elected lieutenant governor of the state, at the first and second state elections.

At the close of his second term of office, he now, the age of 47, after an interval of thirteen years, devoted to other pursuits and to political life, resumed the long neglected practice of his profession. He attended to his duties with such energy and assiduity, that he soon acquired an extensive practice. He was not long in attaining a high position at the bar. He was appointed successively, prosecuting attorney of his county, regent of the University, and afterwards attorney-general of the state. In 1848 he was appointed by the governor and senate judge of the Supreme Court and presiding judge of the sixth judicial circuit; upon which he removed to Grand Rapids, within his circuit. He held the office of judge until his death, which occurred at his place of residence on the 13th day of March, 1851. Judge Mundy was a man of fine personal appearance. He presided over the senate with great dignity. He was gentlemanly and courteous in his intercourse with his fellow men. Whatever station, public or private, he occupied, he was never content with anything short of the complete discharge of its appropriate duties. He had a thorough knowledge of the rules governing deliberative bodies. This, with a quick perception a ready tact, and dignified manner, made him the model of a presiding officer. His performance of his judicial duties was in the highest degree satisfactory to the profession. His published opinions give evidence of much learning and investigation. In the relations of private life, he possessed many excellencies of character. As a neighbor he was kind and charitable; constant in his friendships. Under an exterior apparently cold, he concealed a warm heart. Those who *knew him best were his most devoted [23] friends. This is not mere eulogy. The writer saw much of him in public life; knew him intimately, and retains a pleasant memory of his many acts of friendship.

Judge Mundy’s life, it will be seen, was a somewhat checkered one. Though marked in the main by success, it was not without severe trials. Though marked in the main by success, it was not without severe trials. He was not elated by success, or dismayed by calamities. Above all, he was not unmindful that the great end and purpose of this life is the attainment of a better. For years before his death he was an exemplary member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in whose communion he died, having the confidence of a certain faith, and in perfect charity with the world.

Hon. CHARLES W. WHIPPLE was first appointed judge of the Supreme Court in 1838, and continued to hold the office by re-appointment and election until the time of his death, which occurred on the 29th of October, 1855, at Detroit. He was for two years chief justice of the court. He was born at Fort Wayne in Ohio, whence, in early childhood, he came to Michigan. He received a military education at West Point, but never entered the army. After leaving the military academy he returned to Detroit, and commenced the study of law in the office of A. D. Frazer, Esq., and entered upon the practice of his profession in 1829. He continued in practice (a part of the time associated with the late James A. Van Dyke, Esq.), until his appointment to the bench. At the terms of United States circuit court for this district and the Supreme Court of the state, next succeeding his death, resolutions were presented and entered upon the records of the two courts, complimentary to his merits and abilities. He died in the possession of an unclouded intellect, and with an unfaltering trust. It is unnecessary to speak of his intellectual character. These volumes contain the best evidence of his learning and ability as a jurist. [24] For clearness *and force, his opinions, herein contained, have scarcely ever been surpassed. The decision in St. Amour v. Rivaud, vol. 2, may be referred to as a sample of clearness, comprehensiveness and precision. The opinion in Wight v. Maxwell and others, usually called the “Globe case,” the third reported in this volume, was the last written and pronounced by him. In fact, it was scarcely finished at the time of his death, having been retained by him after its delivery for the purpose of making some verbal amendments. Yet, in its incomplete state, it will be regarded, as it was when pronounced, the model of a judicial opinion. It is believed no better monument to his learning and abilities can be desired.

Of those who have occupied places on the bench since the existence of the court, Judges Ransom, Goodwin, Green, Felch, Wing, Pratt, Johnson, Douglass, Copeland and Martin are still living. Judge Ransom is now a resident of the territory of Kansas. Judge Goodwin is judge of the judicial district of the upper peninsula of Michigan. Judge Green is one of the circuit judges, and until the first of January next, one of the judges of the Supreme Court. Judge Felch, who left the bench upon his election as governor, was subsequently elected a senator in congress from Michigan. In 1853 he was appointed by the president one of the commissioners to settle private land claims in the state of California, and during his incumbency resided in that state. Upon the expiration of the office by law, he returned to this state where he still resides. Judge Pratt now holds the post of American consul at Honolulu, and has been succeeded by the Hon. Benj. F. Graves. Judge Martin still retains his place on the bench, and is chief justice elect of the new Supreme Court. Judge Wing resigned in July, 1856, and was succeeded by Hon. E.H.C. Willson; since which time Judge Copeland has resigned, and been succeeded by Hon. Sanford M. Green. Judge Douglass, having also resigned, has been succeeded by Hon. B.F.H. Witherell, and Judge Johnson by the Hon. E. *Lawrence. These [25] several retiring judges are now in the practice of their profession. It is felt that a more extended notice of them would not be proper at this time. It may, however, be said of them that as judges they all served the state well; that, whether in public or private life, they are held by the profession and the public in undiminished respect. May they long live in the enjoyment of it.

At the judicial election in April, 1851, Hon. John S. Goodrich, of Genesee county, was elected judge of his judicial circuit, and of the Supreme Court. He did not live, however, to perform any of the duties of judge. He died at Detroit on the 15th day of October, 1851, having been arrested there, on his return from a journey east, by his fatal illness.
He was a native of Erie county, New York, removed to this state in 1837, and was admitted to practice in 1841. He died at the age of 36. It is but justice to his memory to say that he possessed attainments of the highest order, a pure and manly character, and those kind and generous qualities of the heart which endeared him to a wide circle of friends. Had he been spared to assume the duties of the position to which he was chosen, it is certain he would have shared its highest honors.