Battle Address (Page 9 of 10)

John Hall, of Warrenton, was by two years the senior of Taylor. Like him, he was trained at William and Mary College. Unlike him, however, he did not have the gifts for rapid success at the bar. He won his way by persevering industry and faithfulness to duty, by constant study, and strictest integrity. He was elevated to the Bench in 1800, and held his place continuously until called to the new Supreme Court. He was not brilliant, but he was eminently a safe lawyer. He had a clear vision for the true points of a case, and had a wide-spread reputation for good sense. His language was plain, but clear and forcible. He was forced by disease to resign a year before his death.

Leonard Henderson, of Granville County, son of Judge Richard Henderson, of Colonial times, was seven years older than Taylor. He was, sometime in early manhood, Clerk of the Court for the district of Hillsboro, an office of considerable dignity. His reputation as a sound and able lawyer, and his popular manners, led to his election as Judge in 1808. During his eight years' service, he gave eminent satisfaction. The public favor towards him and Hall was shown by his election to the new Court on the first ballot over Taylor, Seawell Murphy and Yancey, among the ablest lawyers of that period. He was Chief Justice from 1829 to his death in 1833.

Chief Justice Henderson had a vigorous, self-reliant mind, well stored with the principles of the law. He brought the questions before him to the test of sound reasoning. He was a conscientious seeker for the truth, and had great weight as an upright and wise Judge; but in culture and genius, and love of, and capacity for, labor, was decidedly inferior to his successor. His genial manners and kindly temper gained him great favor with the public.

When these great men one by one passed away, leaving legacies of sound opinions for the better understanding of the law, the Court had a good measure of popular favor. It was raised to still loftier fame by their immediate successors. Providence vouchsafed to us judges of equal integrity, of still greater ability, and a longer term for efficient work. For sixteen years-1882 to 1848-Ruffin and Daniel sat together on the bench; for eleven years of this time Gaston was their coadjutor. No State of the Union, perhaps, not even the United States, ever had a superior Bench; few ever had its equal. At home and abroad their decisions, as a rule, had the weight of established and unquestioned law.

Of the three the Chief Justice was, undoubtedly, the ablest lawyer. He was in his prime, forty-six years old, when he entered on his great judicial career. He was a graduate of Princeton. He had an exceedingly strong mind, untiring industry and uncommon powers of labor. When interested in great cases he would work all night, without dropping his pen, and be none the worse in health for it. When at the bar, traveling by night, he attended the courts of Person and Granville and the Circuit Court at Raleigh in the same week, a mule, instead of a locomotive engine, being his motive power. He read much and retained all he read. He had been a judge in 1816, and again of the Superior Court in 1825. He had, as president, extricated the old State Bank from its troubles. He had experiences in the General Assembly, and presided as Speaker of the House. In all these positions it was his habit to treat thoroughly and exhaustingly every subject which came before him. His opinions are elaborate and learned treatises on the questions involved. What Judge Pearson said of his opinion in Hoke v. Henderson, "that mine from which so much rich ore has been dug," may with equal truth be said of hundreds of others. Hard cases were not quicksands of the law to him. With inexorable logic he carried out the principles of the law, in criminal and civil cases, without being swerved by appeals for relaxation on grounds of hardship. Without hesitation he joined Gaston in sending Madison Johnson to the gallows, on the doctrine that preexisting malice is presumed to be continued down to the killing, notwithstanding intervening provocation, although many of the ablest members of the bar agreed with Daniel's dissenting opinion. He never doubted, in excluding evidence of the violent character of the deceased, in Barfield's trial for murder, although Battle's dissenting opinion has been since recognized as good law. I saw him in the Convention of 1861, fiercely indignant at the proposition to abolish corporal punishment. His reply to the argument that it was an outrage to whip a free man, was with bitter emphasis: "Whip a free man! No! Whip a rogue! WHIP A ROGUE!" I saw him sentence a young white fellow, of eighteen years old, in Alamance County Court, for stealing money out of a dwelling-house. "Young man, in consideration of your youth, the Court will deal leniently with you, in the hope that you will reform and lead a better life." I watched the boy's face. It brightened as he heard these words, but it was only for a moment, for the Chief Justice added: "Sheriff, take him to the whipping-post and give him thirty-nine lashes on the bare back." He was not a cruel man, but the doctrine, justitia fiat, ruat cælum, was a reality to him. For twenty-three years he was, as the presiding officer of the Court, the greatest factor in molding the law of the State. After resigning his post, at the age of sixty-five, he was, six years afterwards, induced by an almost unanimous vote of the General Assembly again to take a seat on the Bench, but in eighteen months he finally retired to the charge of his farm, complying, however, with occasional calls for his services on critical occasions.

Joseph John Daniel, of Halifax, was likewise in the prime of life, about the age of the Chief Justice. He had a large brain, but lacked ambition. To the business in hand he addressed himself with conscientious industry and rare ability. But he cared nothing for winning reputation by exhaustive discussions of collateral points not before the Court. He wrote not treatises on the general subject. He had a wonderful memory, probably a more extensive and accurate knowledge of history, especially of the law, than any man in the State, but he made no display and left no written record of it. His early training was at our State University. His opinions are short, but clear and strong and lucid, distinguished for lucidity and terseness. In private life he was singularly unostentatious and charitable and generous. He had only one fault, a habit contracted in early days. Uncle Toby's recording angel was often called on to blot out the careless words which the accusing spirit carried up to Heaven's chancery. I give one case in point to relieve the tedium of my narrative. He was once in church, at which he was a regular attendant, in company with Judge Ruffin, when the inexorable collector, with the inevitable plate, came to his seat. He felt in all his pockets but could only find a $5 gold piece. "Ruffin, lend me a quarter." The Chief Justice shook his head. "Lend me a half." A second shake intimated that this coin could not be had. "Lend me a dollar," and when his companion for the third time expressed his inability to supply his wants, he slammed the gold piece into the plate, saying in desperation" D-n you, go !"

Notwithstanding his failing, Daniel was conspicuous for his obedience to the "Golden Rule." He is said not to have had any eloquence as an advocate, but made his way by learning and diligence.

William Gaston, the third member of the Court, and the oldest of the three, although he had not the reputation of Ruffin for learning in the law, nor of Daniel for learning in history, yet, for a broad, statesmanlike view of legal principles and acquaintance with literature, was unexcelled. He was more of a statesman and had greater oratorical gifts than either. As a member of Congress he impressed Webster and Clay and others as one of the great men of the nation. His long service in our General Assembly and in{500} the Convention of 1835 was distinguished by the liberal and intelligent views he took of all public questions. He was in 1818 the author and able advocate of the Supreme Court bill. His name was given to a western county because, although he was an eastern man, he had the pluck to advocate a convention for doing justice to the west. It was given to a town on Roanoke river, which had visions of future greatness, because, though his constituents lived on navigable water, he advocated giving State aid to the improvement of the interior streams. It was his personal example which made our people lose their fear of Catholics, and his eloquent advocacy that removed the anti-catholic clause from the Constitution. Beginning the practice of the law at the age of twenty in 1798, the year of Taylor's election to the Bench, he had a successful career as a practitioner, for thirty-five years, before being called to the Bench. He brought to the aid of the Court his extraordinary popularity, and elegant literary style, large legislative experience, and extensive learning in the law.

All the three judges had great natural intellects-all had industry, all had unimpeachable rectitude of purpose, all of them had the unlimited confidence of the bar and laity, all of them were of a conservative temperament, all of them were filled with the desire to decide correctly the cases brought before them, and to give right reasons for their decisions. Their personal relations were harmonious. Orange was then a western county, so that Ruffin was a western man; Daniel a middle county, and Gaston an eastern man. They represented the two great parties of the day. These three great men had just the qualifications and habits to strengthen the Court.

On the resignation of Ruffin, Frederick Nash, under the rule of seniority in service, became Chief Justice, and held the office until his death in 1858. After sixteen years service as Superior Court Judge, he was elevated to the Supreme Court at the age of sixty-three. Succeeding Gaston, and sitting with Ruffin and Daniel, whose powers had been increased by years of study of great questions and practice in writing opinions, his reputation was subjected to a most trying ordeal. He proved himself a sound and able judge, and his lofty character, in which all the virtues were harmoniously blended, his great popularity, gained by his unfailing courtesy and kindly heart, continued and strengthened the public confidence in the Court. As Mr. F. H. Busbee well said in an address in presenting a portrait of the Chief Justice to the Court, "clear in his conception of the law, well-versed in its precedents, of singular felicity of language and chasteness of expression, with a simplicity and terseness. that would have honored Westminster Hall, he has left opinions which may well bear comparison with those of his great co-laborers."

Before coming to the Bench, Chief Justice Nash had large public experience. He had a full practice at one of the most cultured bars of the State, that of Newbern. He distinguished himself for his readiness, courtesy, firmness and strictest impartiality in the difficult post of Speaker of the House of Commons. In all respects, he was a wise and well-balanced man.

The successor of Nash, Chief Justice Pearson, acted a great part in the legal history of our State. He was a judge for forty-two years continuously, with the exception of the eight months' vacancy in 1865. Of these, thirty years were spent on the Supreme Court Bench; during twenty of them he was Chief Justice. He entered on his judicial career at the age of thirty-one, after a few years' service as a legislator and a large practice at the bar. His mind was singularly clear, strong, incisive, bold and independent. While he had no appearance of self-conceit, he had perfect confidence in his own conclusions. He had no ambition to excel in literature or politics. He despised verbiage, surplusage, shams. He was impatient of efforts to shine in oratory or accumulations of learning. I tried a flight of eloquence on him once. I saw his eyes begin to look deadly, and I fell to earth at once. I recall his disgust at the sight of a distinguished lawyer carrying into court a wheel-barrow full of books, with which to fortify his argument. He was kind in complimenting a clearly-cut, well-prepared argument, but a speech designed for the glory of the speaker was apt to meet with a sarcasm. His mind was steeped in law. He loved clearness and strength. He was fond of meeting legal difficulties by homely comparisons and phrases. The story of the Memphis lawyer weakening the force of one of his opinions by repeating to the jury a long array of his homely illustrations, may have been true. His wit consisted in unexpected application of legal language to non-legal subjects. Governor Caldwell said to him, when they were both young, "Pearson, why did you let the Bishop confirm you? You know you are not a fit member of the church." "Well," replied he, "when I was baptized, my sponsors stood security for me. I thought it dishonest to hold them bound for me, and I surrendered myself in discharge of my bail." I said to him once-he was always friendly and kind to me-Judge, please decide a question of law for me: I have two brothers paying me a visit. One is named William and the other Wesley. A lady in town has sent an invitation to 'Mr. W. Battle.' Whom shall I advise to accept it?" "Well, on the principle that every deed is construed most strongly against the grantor, I decide that both should go."

These stories bring out another phase of his character. He was wonderfully genial and kind, especially to young men. This trait made him idolized by his law students. It entered into his decisions. He was watchful for circumstances which could mitigate murder to manslaughter, which could make a case one of larceny rather than one of highway robbery. His leaning was towards mercy.
The Chief Justice became a power in the State. His learning and acuteness and industry made him famous as a lawyer. His students spread abroad his fame as a law-teacher.. When he was nearing his three-score and ten years, his popularity became suddenly eclipsed by his rulings in the cases against Kirk and Bergen. I will not, of course, enter on a discussion of these matters. He has placed on record in the 65th volume of the Reports an unequivocal denial of all charges that he was actuated by any motive but carrying out what he considered his duty under the law. His four associates united in declaring that his rulings had their concurrence, and after his death leading members of the bar bore admiring testimony to his character, and his old law-students, among the most eminent citizens of our State, reared in Oakwood Cemetery, near Raleigh, a monument to his memory.

Associated with Chief Justice Pearson for many years was William Horn Battle, of Orange. He was closely connected with the courts of the State for over a third of a century, beginning with his joint reportership in 1834, and ending in 1868, when, in common with all candidates not nominated by the then dominant party, he failed of re-election. His re-publications of annotated editions of the early Reports, his labors as Reporter and in preparation of the Revised Statutes of 1835 and his Revisal of 1873, and also of the four volumes of his Digest, gave him a thorough knowledge of the statute law of the State and decisions of the courts. He began his judicial labors in 1840, when 38 years old; was a Judge of the Superior Court for about twelve years; this period of service was broken into by a short term on the Supreme Court Bench in 1848, by appointment of Governor Graham. He had a continuous service on the Supreme Court Bench, from his election in 1852, excepting the short interval of 1865, when all the offices were vacated, for sixteen years. From 1845 to his removal to Raleigh in 1868, and for two years before his death, he was principal of a law school and nominally Professor of Law in the University, but received no salary from the institution, and was not responsible for the discipline. After his retirement from the Bench in 1868, he practiced law in Raleigh, and was for a short time President of the Raleigh National Bank. During the last twenty years of his life, he took great interest in the legislation of his church, being a delegate to its Diocesan and General Conventions. In lieu of any observation of my own, I give an estimate of his judicial character in the words of Mr. Justice Merrimon, extracted from his address at the meeting of the Supreme Court Bar after his death in 1879: