Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

has at any time left that venerated and most valuable seminary of learning, more deeply imbued with the sciences and ornamented with the literature which have been so long, ably, and skilfully taught there.

After the usual clerkship he was admitted to the bar of his native state. In entering upon his profession he preferred to make the city of Philadelphia the theatre of his exertions. But the persuasions of his friends induced him to yield his society to them, and make his native state the scene of his usefulness.* He received his license in 1802, was admitted a counsellor in 1805; and in the short

space of seven years was called by the court to the honorary degree of sergeant; an evidence of the high estimation in which his character and acquirements were held. Residing at the seat of government, he confined his practice to the adjoining counties, and the higher courts of the state, seeking with his characteristic prudence rather to give himself time for full and accurate preparation in all his causes, than to extend the circle of his active employment. His properties as a lawyer were extensive knowledge, and a just estimate of fundamental principles; close acquaintance with cases and decisions; accuracy in the forms and rules applicable both to practice and the rights of the parties; indefatigable industry in his investigations; clear discrimination and sound judgment. He took his points, and stated them with uncommon singleness and perspicuity; sustained them by fair and cogent argument; and never failed to exhibit in their support all the learning of the cases and the best reasonings of the judges. As a speaker he had a full share of advantages. His person was manly; his features large and open, but not harsh ; his eye prominent and mild ; his voice strong and clear; his enunciation distinct; and these united bespoke attention and trust, and reached at once the understanding and hearts of his auditors. Cool and cautious, he did not permit his feelings to transport him beyond the line of discretion and decorum. His language was classically pure and correct. A chaste and polished scholar, and enjoying his learning with high delight, he was not fond of displaying it, and was always reluctant to cover his honest English with foreign ornaments. With a playful imagination and fine fancy and keen wit, he did not often indulge them, especially when engaged in legal discussions, for he felt too deeply the weight of his responsibility in representing his client's rights, to venture where the argument did not force him. The fairness of his conduct as an advocate, and his integrity and learning as a counsellor, gave him an unusual share of the confidence both of courts and juries; to such an extent indeed, that unsuccessful parties sometimes ventured the complaint, that it was the influence of the counsel, not the justice of the cause, which had triumphed. But that confidence was deserved; for no where could they find a safer judgment, better knowledge, or fairer dealing in an advocate. During twenty-two years he led an active professional life, and did not permit himself to be turned aside by the allurements of pleasure, speculation, or office.

* At this time, and shortly after his admission to the bar, Mr. Ewing married Eleanor Graham, eldest daughter of the Rev. James F. Armstrong, of Trenton.

In October, 1824, the esteem and affection of his fellow citizens led to that result which is always to be desired, always grateful to correct feeling, always profitable to the public interests, always safe under popular institutions. His real merits, sound integrity, comprehensive learning, great capacity for business, and fitness for public service, found their appropriate location in the office of chief justice of the state in which he lived. The station was unsought, unsolicited, and reluctantly accepted; but the selection did honor to the discernment and wisdom of the appointing power, and was made in a manner which called on his high sense of duty, to yield his personal interests and convenience to the public wishes.

As a judge he was learned both in principles and cases, and prompt in their application ; a strict common law lawyer, he had drawn deeply from the original sources of legal principles, and always delighted to find in the old authorities, both the establishment and the reason of the doctrine on which he was to decide. But he did not rely on them alone. He read diligently, and derived the aid which they afford from the volumes of civil and ecclesiastical law; and examined carefully and improved by all the legal publications of the present day. He understood thoroughly and respected the relations which the tribunals, of which he was a member, bore in the comparatively complicated system of our union; and while on the one hand, he avoided trespassing upon powers granted by the people to other jurisdictions; on the other hand, he could not be led to surrender the least part of that which they had conferred on his own. In Bruen vs. Ogden, and other cases, his views on this point are beautifully illustrated, and exhibit not only the correct opinions and feelings of the judge, but of the citizen and patriot; and the language which he used in relation to the courts of the United States did honor both to his head and his heart. He always took upon himself all the responsibilities of the judge, and discharged his obligations to juries fully, by guiding them in matters of law, and when it was proper, aiding them in their estimate of facts and evidence. He held it a duty of the court, to instruct them both in civil and criminal cases, and would not permit them, in the exercise of their right to judge of the law in criminal matters, to disregard its provisionsbut promptly and efficiently interfered to arrest their errors. And this out of no disregard of their rights. For the system of jury trial he had a fond admiration, and watched over it with parental care. His exposition of it, in a lecture before the Literary and Philosophical Society of New Jersey, is the most finished and beautiful exhibition of its merits, which is to be found in the same compass in our language. He saw it as it is, an establishment of freedom; the privilege and shield of freemen; valuable for the support and perpetuation of our institutions; not only by guarding against oppression in every form, but by frequently calling on the citizen to partake in the administration of justice; thereby interesting his feelings in its support, and instructing him in his own rights and duties.

To his labor as a judge, there was but one limit— the perfect examination of every question he had to decide. Short of this point he never rested. He was not satisfied while one fact or authority remained unexamined, or one avenue to light unexplored. Amusements of a becoming and moral character he did not spurn; social pleasures he enjoyed ; literary and scientific acquisitions were his delight; on domestic enjoyments his heart rested with fondness : yet none of these were ever found in the way of his complete investigations, and his entire performance of every official duty. During the sittings of the court over which he presided, it was his practice to examine and arrange all the papers in the causes, to note the points of difficulty, and the means for their elucidation, in readiness for consulting with his brethren. At the close of the terms he investigated all the cases which were reserved for consideration; and prepared opinions upon them. In all cases in which it was proper for him to express an opinion, and important that it should be recorded, his views were expressed in writing; and these were usually the judgments of the court. After his death, his written opinions were found in all the cases which had been argued and submitted to him at the preceding term of the court; and this notwithstanding the immense labor he had undergone, in that great and interesting controversy in the society of Friends, which he had been called into chancery to hear and determine. His opinions were clearly and forcibly expressed;

in pure judicial diction, omitting nothing, and leaving nothing in doubt. They may justly be compared with any with which the profession has been favored, by the state tribunals. His integrity and impartiality were without a stain; nay, they were never approached even by suspicion. Strong as were his attachments of all kinds, and ardent as were his feelings, on the bench he knew no man. The innocent and the guilty, the rich and the poor, the strong and the feeble, the powerful controller of popular opinion, and the humble slave of others' wills, had an equal measure of justice before him. With his eye fixed on law and justice, no influence could solicit, no power could drive him from the path which he believed led to their attainment; and he had the moral courage to dare to do whatever his judgment and concience told him was his duty. If the time had come when trespasses were threatened, and the constitution and the laws in danger, he would have disregarded alike the tumults of popular excitement, and the frowns of power. Should such a moment ever come, there can be no better wish for the people of New Jersey, than that his spirit may be found in that seat which he held. As was his learning, so was that spirit fitted not alone for the station which he occupied; but for any other, even the highest judicial tribunal, and there, those who knew him best, ardently desired to see him. We have said that he was worthy of imitation as an advocate and counsellor; we will add, that the judge can go no where for a purer and better model. He stands more than acquitted in the great account between him and his country- -of confidence bestowed and answered-of responsibility imposed and discharged-of duty assigned and performed, of office conferred and dignified, of the administration of law and justice confided, and faithfully and impartially sustained and vindicated.

In youth and early manhood he was an active and ardent politician, and entertaining at all times clear and decided convictions on public measures and political subjects, he acted upon them through life in the exercise of his right of suffrage, and frankly avowed them whenever the occasion demanded. His political views and opinions were those of Washington and Marshall. He admired the institutions of the country; believed they were adapted to its present condition ; fitted to secure its happiness and prosperity, and to protect the enjoyment of liberty; and resting upon safe grounds, that it was not wise to change them. Always decided and firm as a politician, he was at no time intemperate or intolerant; nor was he of any party in his friendships or in his office. His unanimous re-appointment in 1831, when he differed from the prevailing party in opinion, testifies to the correctness of this observation. And that which was done then, would have been found true in any state of political feeling. No party would have ventured to break his hold on the station which he occupied ; which was not less that of office, than of control in the affections of his fellow-citizens.

He always contemned the fallacy that public and official merit may safely be sought, and public interests be safely confided to those who disregard the duties and obligations of morality and justice. He had an elevated standard both for public and private virtue; and this standard was erected by the religious, moral, and philosophical creed which he had adopted. It rested on the revelation of a law, as the source and test of virtue. In that revelation he had unwavering faith, for he had applied to it every principle of legal and philosophical investigation, and found it sustained by the highest and strongest evidence, amounting to demonstration. “Desiring to be himself nothing better nor nobler than man, he was content to be nothing less;" but it was not man in ruin, but in his best estate, as redeemed by the blood, and purified by the grace of the Redeemer: and he acted and lived, and labored, to make his fellow men see and feel their own interests in aspiring to the same elevation.

Hence he was the zealous advocate of all efforts for the improvement of the moral condition of society; of every plan that was calculated to advance and render dear and valuable the relations of home and of country, and which tends to the melioration of the condition of mortality.

He was especially the advocate of education, in all its valuable forms. Himself a ripe scholar, and conferring honor on the highest literary degree, which his known merits had received from a respectable literary institution, he devoted much of his time to advance not only the literature and science of his country, but to extend the means of cultivating the mind, to every class, even the humblest of his fellow-citizens. He was for twelve years a trustee of the college of New Jersey; and scarcely ever absent from the meetings of the board ; and none of the venerated members of that body carried into the government of that seminary a purer spirit, a more active zeal, a wiser judgment, more useful talent, and higher ardor in the cause of education.

His studies as a scholar were never neglected. He retained and extended his knowledge of the writings of ancient authors, particu

« AnteriorContinuar »