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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES,
AS MADE APRIL 1, 1874, UNDER THE ACTS OF CONGRESS OF JULY 23, 1866, AND MARCH 2, 1867.
NAME OF THE JUSTICE, AND
STATE FROM WHENCE AP- NUMBER AND TERRITORY OF DATE OF COMMISSION, and
THE Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States met in the court-room, in the Capitol, Washington, on Friday morning, Feb. 18, 1876, at 10 o'clock, to pay respect to the memory of the late REVERDY JOHNSON.
On motion, Mr. M. H. CARPENTER was appointed chairman, and Mr. D. W. MIDDLETON, secretary.
Mr. CARPENTER, on taking the chair, addressed the meeting as follows:
GENTLEMEN: We have met to express our sorrow at the death of Reverdy Johnson, who long ago was Attorney-General of the United States, and who, amid the cares and responsibilities of many high political stations, at home and abroad, never abandoned the practice of his profession. For more than fifty years he steadily advanced in professional reputation, and came at length to be regarded as one of the leaders of this Bar.
Beginning his practice here in early life, he became the worthy successor of Harper, Martin, Pinkney, and Wirt, men who added so much to the glory of the Old Maryland. And considering the extent and variety of his practice; his natural resources and professional attainments; his thorough self-possession and steadiness of nerve, when the skill of an opponent unexpectedly brought on the crisis of a great trial, an opportunity for feeble men to lose first themselves and then their cause; his fidelity to the oath which was anciently administered to all the lawyers of England, to present nothing false, but to make war for their clients; the audacity of his valor when the fate of his client was trembling in the balance, — he believing his client to be right, while every one else believed him to be wrong; - remembering all these traits, we must rank him with the greatest lawyers and advocates of this or any other country.
He retained full possession of his faculties to the moment of his death, and not long since appeared to argue some important causes at this bar; and although his eye was dim, all who heard him felt that his natural force was not abated. As with Milton, from his natural eye, the beauties of the earth and the heavens were excluded; to him, as to Milton, there returned not
"Day, or the sweet approach of ev'n or morn,
but upon his intellectual comprehension, upon his mind and heart, the light of heaven never ceased to shine.
Nature sets indelible marks upon the productions of which she is proudest. His outward form proclaimed the man. His compact, firm-knit frame, his heavy shoulders, his round head, his striking face, bearing the furrows of many sharp professional and political conflicts, but from which there still shone his gentle, kindly nature, all indicated a man of genial nature, yet resolute of purpose, -a man easy to court, but dangerous in conflict.
We are taught to pray for deliverance from "sudden death." But the life of our eminent brother had been long extended, -even to nine years beyond "threescore and ten;" and without pain, without death-bed parting from those he loved (more painful than death itself), possessing all his faculties in full vigor, rich in honors and glorious with praise, he passed in an instant from the known to the unknown, from earth to the hereafter of hope and faith. And if it was ordered that the scene of his mortal life must end that moment, who can say that the manner of its close was not also ordered, in mercy, by that God who doeth ALL things well!
I should do violence to my feelings if I did not say one thing more. I loved that old man. When I came first here, with the trembling inspired by the glorious memories of this court, over which John Marshall so long presided, Mr. Johnson took me by the hand, gave me fatherly recognition, became my adviser, and ever after remained my friend. For all his kindness, professional and social, I would be less than a man did I not cherish the profoundest gratitude.
Mr. GEORGE F. EDMUNDS. - Mr. Chairman: Certainly what have said, sir, is so complete a generalization of the character and of the life of Mr. Johnson, that little else need be said in that respect; and so at this moment, in coinciding in every thing that the chairman has stated to us, I venture to move that a committee be appointed by the chair to prepare and report presently such resolutions as it may be thought fit to adopt.
The motion of Mr. Edmunds was agreed to, and the following gentlemen were appointed by the chair to constitute the committee:
The Committee thereupon retired; and, on returning, reported, through Mr. Edmunds, the following resolutions for adoption :
Resolved, That the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States has received with deep sorrow the intelligence of the death of Reverdy Johnson, for more than half a century an eminent and honored practitioner in this court.
Resolved, That the memory of Mr. Johnson deserves to be cherished by the bar, as most honorable to the profession of which he was a distinguished member, as dear to the court that has benefited by his great contributions to the science of jurisprudence, and as valuable to the Republic, in whose service, as citizen, attorney-general, senator, and diplomatist, he was wise and faithful.
Resolved, That the Attorney-General be requested to communicate these resolutions to the court, and to move that they be entered of record; and
Resolved, That they be communicated to the family of Mr. Johnson, with the expression of the earnest condolence of the bar.
The CHAIRMAN: The resolutions, having been reported from the Committee, are now before the meeting, subject to amendment and subject to debate.
REMARKS OF MR. G. F. EDMUNDS.
Mr. CHAIRMAN: In presenting these resolutions on behalf of the Committee of the Bar, I only feel competent myself to say a single word.
When I was a mere lad and visited this city, I used often to come into the then Supreme Court room, which is below us now, where great causes of public and national concern were being almost daily heard; and one of the chief and most interesting figures that, to my young eye, appeared as lawyer, and, I may say, sometimes as orator, in that court was Mr. Johnson. Although I had not then the pleasure of knowing him personally, when afterwards I came here and made his acquaintance, I soon learned enough of him to be able to second with all my heart what the chairman has said in the opening of this meeting; for to every young lawyer who came to this bar I am sure Mr. Johnson gave that wise and kindly intercourse which is so encouraging to those who deserve it, and is so justly, I may say, conservative, in toning down the sometimes exuberant fancies of young lawyers, quite as necessary to them sometimes as the encouragement to those who have less force and more modesty.
Mr. Johnson has been so long known to the bar of the United States, that it is quite a work of supererogation to name the extensive and varied contributions that he has made to jurisprudence and to its application to the affairs of men. In looking through the reports of this court alone, to
say nothing of those of the various States, in which, from time to time, he has been called upon to practise, you find that his great mind has been brought to the consideration of every variety of question that can arise in the affairs of men, from the lowest and simplest to the highest and most complex; and, I think, it is perhaps a somewhat significant commentary upon his recognized force and greatness, that the first cause he ever argued in this court was with Mr. Taney, afterwards Chief Justice of the United States, against Mr. Wirt and Mr. Meredith, of Baltimore, the case of Brown v. The State of Maryland, that great leading cause, in which the lines of political power and of political jurisprudence, if I may use such a phrase, were so stoutly contested between the States and the United States. And although in that particular case Mr. Johnson failed to convince the court that he was right, I think that, as we look back upon the events that have since taken place, it is not altogether certain that if the question were now new, it might not have been decided the other way.
But time does not allow me to go into these recollections of his great services to the nation and to civilization everywhere, which performing the high duties and the true duties of a barrister have given him the opportunity to do; for I think I need not say to the bar, or to you, sir, what perhaps is so much felt and yet so little understood in this country and every other, that the civilization and the progress of a people are almost exactly measured by the degree of vigor, prudence, and purity that characterizes the administration of its laws in courts of justice; and, as we all know, the laws cannot be administered without the arguments of impartial and learned advocates upon both sides.
But as we say these things, sir, there comes back to us the recollection that Mr. Johnson has gone, and that he cannot profit, if he should have needed ever to profit, by the admiration, or the solicitudes, or the grateful memories of his fellow-men.
Id cinerem aut manes, credis currare sepultos? was said of a great man who many centuries ago departed suddenly from life.
But for our own consolation, and for that high duty that we owe everywhere to society, to make prominent and to give honor to those names that have done great service to the cause of civilization and of society, it is every thing; and as such, with the contribution that my admiration for Mr. Johnson enables me most sincerely to offer, I join gladly in these memorial services.
REMARKS OF MR. P. PHILLIPS.
Mr. CHAIRMAN: A little over a year ago the members of the Bar assembled to do honor to the memory of the distinguished jurist, Judge Curtis. On that occasion Reverdy Johnson, on my motion, was selected as the proper representative of the profession to express their profound respect for the deceased, and fittingly did he discharge the duty. Now we are called on to mourn the death of Mr. Johnson himself. Thus, one after another, we pass from the sunlight of day into the shadows of night.