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OF THE CHARACTER OF THE HON. ROBERT TRIMBLE, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE
OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES.
[First published in the Boston Columbian Centinel, September 17, 1828.)
The melancholy rumor of the death of Mr. Justice Trimble, of the Supreme Court of the United States, has at length been confirmed. That excellent man is no more, The nation has sustained a loss of no ordinary magnitude; and Kentucky may now mourn over the departure of another of her brightest ornaments, in the vigor of life and usefulness. It is but a few years since, that Hardin, who deservedly held the foremost rank at her bar, fell an early victim to disease. The death of that worthy and discriminating judge, Mr. Justice Todd, soon followed ; and now Trimble is added, to complete the sad Triumvirate. It is but two years since the latter took his seat on the bench of the Supreme Court, having been elevated to that station, from the District Court, solely by his uncommon merits. It is not saying too much to assert, that he brought with him to his new office the reputation of being at the head of the profession in his native state. differ with respect to the rank of other lawyers ; but all admitted, that no one was superior to Trimble, in talents, in learning, in acuteness, in sagacity. All admired him for his integrity, firmness, public spirit, and unconquerable industry.
All saw in him a patience of investigation, which never failed, a loftiness of principle, which knew no compromise, a glorious love of justice and the law, which overcame all obstacles. His judgments were remarkable for clearness, strength, vigor of reasoning, and exactness of conclusion. Without being eloquent in manner, they had the full effect of the best eloquence. They were persuasive, and often overwhelming, in their influence.
Such was the reputation, which accompanied him to the Supreme Court. Before such a bar, as adorns that court, where some of the ablest men in the Union are constantly found engaged in arguments, it is difficult for any man long to sustain a professional character of distinction, unless he has solid acquirements and talents to sustain it. There is little chance there for superficial learning, or false pretensions, to escape undetected. Neither office, nor influence, nor manners, can there sustain the judicial functions, unless there is a real power to comprehend and illustrate juridical arguments, a deep sense of the value of authority, an untiring zeal, and an ability to expound, with living reasons, the judgments, which the court is called upon to express. A new judge, coming there for the first time, may, under such circumstances, well feel some painful anxiety, and some distrustful doubts, lest the bar should search out and weigh his attainments, with too nice an inquisition. Mr. Justice Trimble not only sustained his former reputation, but rose rapidly in public favor. Perhaps no man ever on the bench gained so much, in so short a period of his judicial career.
He was already looked up to, as among the first judges in the nation, in all the qualifications of office. Unless we are greatly misinformed, he possessed in an eminent degree the confidence of his brethren, and was listened to with a constantly increasing respect. And well did he deserve it; for no man could bestow more thought, more caution, more candor, or more research upon any legal investigations, than he did. The judgments, pronounced by him in the Supreme Court, cannot be read without impressing every professional reader with the strength of his mind, and his various resources to illustrate and unravel intricate subjects. Yet we are persuaded, that, if he had lived ten years longer, in the discharge of the same high duties, from the expansibility of his talents, and his steady devotion to jurisprudence, he would have gained a still higher rank; perhaps as high, as any of his most ardent friends could have desired. One might say of him, as Cicero said of Lysias, —“Nihil acute inveniri potuit in eis causis, quas scripsit, nihil (ut ita dicam) subdole, nihil versute, quod ille non viderit ; nihil subtiliter dici, nihil presse, nihil enucleate, quo fieri possit aliquid limatius.”
In private life he was amiable, courteous, frank, and hospitable; warm in his friendships, and a model in bis domestic relations.
In politics, he was a firm and undeviating republican; but respectful and conciliatory to those, who differed from him. In constitutional law he belonged to that school, of which Mr. Chief
Justice Marshall (himself a host) is the acknowledged head and expositor. He loved the Union with an unfaltering love, and was ready to make any sacrifice to ensure its perpetuity. He was a patriot in the purest sense. He was ; — but how vain is it to say what he was ! — He has gone from us for ever. We have nothing left, but to lament his loss, and to cherish his fame.
“ Salve æternum mihi, maxime Palla, Æternunique vale."
OF THE CHARACTER OF THE HON. BUSHROD WASHINGTON, ASSOCIATE
JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES.
(First published in the Boston Daily Advertiser, 1829.)
The death of Mr. Justice Washington is an event, which cannot but cast a gloom upon all the real friends of our country. He was born on the 5th of June, 1762, and was, of course, now in the sixty-eighth year of his age. It is well known, that he was the nephew, and, we have a right to say, the favorite nephew of President Washington. The latter bequeathed to him, by bis will, his celebrated estate on the Potomac, Mount Vernon, which was the residence of this great patriot during the most brilliant periods of his lise, the delightful retreat of his old age, the scene of his dying hours, and the spot, where, by his own order, his ashes now repose in the saine tomb with his ancestors. To him, also, President Washington gave all his valuable public and private papers, as a proof of his entire confidence and attachment, and made him the active executor of bis will. Such marks of respect from such a man,
the wonder of his own age, and the model for all future ages, - would alone stamp a character of high merit, and solid distinction, upon any person. They would constitute a passport to public savor, and confer an enviable rank, far beyond the records of the herald's office, or the fugitive honors of a title.
It is bigh praise to say, that Mr. Justice Washington well deserved such confidence and distinction. Nay, more. His merits went far beyond them. He was as worthy an heir, as ever claimed kindred with a worthy ancestor. He was bred to the law in his native state of Virginia, and arrived at such early eminence in his profession, that, as long ago as 1798, he was selected by Pres
ident Adams, as a Justice of the Supreme Court, upon the decease of the late Judge Wilson, of Pennsylvania. For thirty-one years he held that important station, with a constantly increasing reputation and usefulness. Few men, indeed, have possessed higher qualifications for the office, either natural or acquired. Few men have left deeper traces, in their judicial career, of every thing, which a conscientious judge ought to propose for his ambition, or his virtue, or his glory. His mind was solid, rather than brilliant; sagacious and searching, rather than quick or eager ; slow, but not torpid ; steady, but not unyielding; comprehensive, and at the same time cautious ; patient in inquiry, forcible in conception, clear in reasoning. He was, by original temperament, mild, conciliating, and candid ; and yet he was remarkable for an uncompromising firmness. Of him it may be truly said, that the fear of man never fell upon him; it never entered into his thoughts, much less was it seen in his actions. In him the love of justice was the ruling passion ; it was the master-spring of all his conduct. He made it a matter of conscience to discharge every duty with scrupulous fidelity and scrupulous zeal. It mattered not, whether the duty were small or great, witnessed by the world, or performed in private, every where the same diligence, watchfulness, and pervading sense of justice were seen. There was about him a tenderness of giving offence, and yet a fearlessness of consequences, in his official character, which I scarcely know how to portray. It was a rare combination, which added much to the dignity of the bench, and made justice itself, even when most severe, soften into the moderation of mercy. It gained confidence, when it seemed least to seek it. It repressed arrogance, by overawing or confounding it.
To say, that, as a judge, he was wise, impartial, and honest, is but to attribute to him those qualifications, without which the honors of the bench are but the means of public disgrace, or contempt. His honesty was a deep, vital principle, not measured out by worldly rules. His impartiality was a virtue of his nature, disciplined and instructed by constant reflection upon the infirmity and accountability of man. His wisdom was the wisdom of the law, chastened, and refined, and invigorated by study, guided by experience, dwelling little on theory, but constantly enlarging itself by a close survey of principles.
He was a learned judge. I do not mean by this that everyday learning, which may be gathered up by a hasty reading of