Amanda Bartlett Haris.

Hamilton Harris. Born May 1, 1820. Died December 14, 1900 online

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Born May i, 1820.
Died Decembp:k 14, 1900.

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{From the Albany Evening Journal^ Friday, December 14, igoo.)


HARRIS— At midday, Friday, December 14, 1900,
Hamilton Harris.

Funeral services at his late residence, No. 722 Broad-
way, on Monday afternoon at 2 o'clock.

At midday on Friday, December 14, 1900, Hamilton
Harris died after an illness of but three days, in the Sist
year of his age.

He was born at Preble, Cortland county, New York,
May I, 1820. His parents were natives of the State of
New York, but his father, Frederick Waterman Harris,
was of English and his mother, whose maiden name was
Lucy Hamilton, of Scotch descent. At an early period
in the history of Cortland county they settled at Preble,
and they may therefore be regarded as pioneers of that
delightful part of the State. The first paternal ancestor
in this country came from Deal, England. The first
maternal ancestor came from Glasgow, Scotland. When
old enough, Hamilton Harris began his education in the
common school of his native town, and after mastering
all the branches taught there he entered Homer academy.
After successfully pursuing his studies under the private
tutorship of Michael Hyland and Dr. Peter Bullions of
the Albany academy, he completed a preparatory course
for college. He entered Union college in the class which
graduated in 1841. He entered this critical era of his
life well prepared for the contests in which he was about
to engage.

In 1 841 he was graduated with a high reputation as a
classical scholar. He distinguished himself at the com-



mencement exercises by a very able and admirably
delivered address. The magnitude of the subject was
equaled by the maturity of thought which he brought
to its consideration, and it was indeed as strong in rea-
soning as it was elegant in diction. The address has
been preserved in print, as has been also a Fourth of
July oration delivered by him in Albany in 1847, which
was quite out of the order of such productions in
thought and originality.

These early productions of Mr. Harris indicate his
conviction that language is not merely the dress but the
very body of the thought ; that it is to the intellect what
the muscles are to the principles of physical life ; that
the mind acts and strengthens itself through words;
that it is chaos till defined and organized by language.

Through all his college course it was evident the mind
of Mr. Harris was gravitating toward the legal pro-
fession. At this time Ira Harris, his brother, afterward
one of the most eminent of the judiciary of the state,
and United States senator, was and had been for a long
time in the midst of an extensive practice at the bar. In
his office Hamilton Harris prepared himself for his
chosen profession. His call to practice took place in
1845. Having decided to make Albany his future
residence, he opened an office in that city, and began
practice at a bar brilliant in colonial, state and national

Though surrounded by learned, experienced and
gifted rivals, the progress of his reputation was soon a
matter of common remark. He seemed to possess a
natural adaptation for legal polemics. He entered the

contests of the bar with an industry which no excess of
toil could weary, and with a self command and practical
ability which showed he possessed i>i cxtenso the qualities
and acquirements that would soon render him an
accomplished lawyer. He was very early surrounded
by a large practice, rising rapidly to distinction in his
profession. He soon became one of the most interesting
and prominent members of the Albany bar. Having an
easy and self-possessed manner, with great equanimity
of temper, he gained in a singular degree the confidence
of the court and jury. There was a magnetism about
his whole manner which it was difficult to resist; his
great knowledge of human nature, his keen perception
of character, his discrimination of motive, enabled him,
in dealing with juries, to address himself to the feelings,
interests, biases and prepossessions of the individual
juror. Although he made no effort for display, or to
attract by his oratory, yet few lawyers in delivering an
argument were ever listened to with more attention or
interest, for there was a charm in his reasoning, in his
simplicity of manner and style. There was beauty as
well as force in his logic; attraction in the peculiar man-
ner in which he brought his arguments to bear on the
questions to be decided, and, when the occasion required,
bursts of eloquence fell from his lips. Unfortunate it
is to some that there could be no preservation of those
words. He appreciated there is as much difference in
the impression made upon the hearers by a cold, dry
and confused speaker, and that made by one who pleads
the same cause with elegance, order, and strength, as
there is between our conception of an object when it is

presented to us in a dim light and when we behold it in
a full and clear one. His mind penetrated to the very
heart of every problem he attacked and was not deterred
by practical obstacles.

His power of concentration was such that when in
deep study he would come from his room to his library,
passing several persons, amongst whom perchance was
a particular friend, passing them all with no conscious-
ness of their presence, and when on his return to his
room with the desired book, he was spoken to, he would
appear as if called from a trance, and would greet
warmly this friend whom he for the first realized was
there; his eyes and thoughts had been closed to all
except the one subject under his consideration.

As has been said of one of the world's greatest rulers
and generals, so it might be said of Mr. Harris "his
mind was like a cupboard of pigeon-holes; to deal with
any subject he opened the pigeon-hole relating to it and
closed the others; when he wished to sleep he closed
them all."

A learned, experienced and distinguished jurist once
said, speaking of Mr. Harris, "Hamilton Harris has few
if any equals at the bar. His manner of trying a case is
peculiarly his own, unlike that of any other lawyer
whom I know. I say this with full knowledge of his
career at the bar, for he has tried many cases before me
at the circuit, argued many in the Appellate Division of
the Supreme Court of which I was a member, and very
many in the Court of Appeals since I was honored by a
seat on its bench. He enters on the trial or argument
of a case with an eye single to success. He has a practi-


cal, useful and singularly irresistible manner before a
jury and before appellate courts. He often assumes a
simplicity of manner that would lead a stranger to think
that he was indifferent to the trial, whereas it engages
his sharpest attention, and thus his policy is seldom
fathomed by his opponent. He often has a familiar way
of speaking to a jury, using the simplest language and
avoiding all professional pretensions. Much of his
strength lies in the perfect candor with which he con-
ducts his efforts at the bar, and this candor is enforced
by an animated expression he can assume, that gives
great effect to what he says. I have known him to suc-
ceed in the courts before a jury when it seemed evident
he was to be defeated. He does it by bringing up and
arraying facts which had been overlooked by his oppo-
nent, by his irresistible manner of eliciting and present-
ing the evidence of his own witnesses, and by most
ingenious, deeply conducted and searching cross-examin-
ation of the witnesses against him. In a word, I have
never seen in any other lawyer the subtlety and keen
discrimination he displays in conducting his cross-
examinations. I regard him as skillful and successful
at the bar to-day as at any other period of his life."

This description of Hamilton Harris, coming from the
eminent source it does, from one so fully capable, gives
a perfect knowledge of him at the bar.

In 1848 Mr. Harris became a partner with Hooper
C. Van Vorst, afterwards a judge of the Superior Court
of New York city. This relation was dissolved in
1853 by the removal of Mr. Van Vorst to the city of
New York. Soon after this Mr. Harris was associated

with Samuel G. Courtney, a son-in-law of Daniel S.
Dickinson and for several years United States district
attorney for the Southern District of New York. In
1857 ^6 formed a copartnership with those brilliant law-
yers, Clark B. Cochrane and John H. Reynolds. This
was one of the strongest legal firms that ever existed in
Albany. During this connection Mr. Cochrane and Mr.
Reynolds both became members of Congress. This
copartnership ended with Mr. Cochrane's death in 1867,
but Mr. Harris and Mr. Reynolds continued their asso-
ciation till the latter's death in 1875. Mr. Harris in 1877
associated with him in the practice of his profession his
son, Frederick Harris, and William P. Rudd.

In the autumn of 1853 Mr. Harris was nominated and
elected district attorney of Albany county, serving until
January i, 1857. During his administration of this office
he conducted several of the most important and stub-
bornly contested prosecutions for murder ever tried at
the Albany bar; indeed there were few more important
cases in legal history. The success that attended him
sufficiently attests his accomplishments as a prosecuting
officer. The comments of the press upon the manner in
which he conducted his arduous duties are gratifying

A history of the causes celebres in which Mr. Harris
has been engaged fills volumes, interesting to both prac-
titioner and student.

Though he was not what may be termed a criminal
lawyer, it was his fortune to be engaged in very many
important criminal trials.

By a well-sustained progress Mr. Harris attained a


reputation in the trial and argument of civil actions that
gives him a high rank in the profession.

As he advanced in his profession he devoted himself
exclusively to civil business to the entire exclusion of
the criminal, and the result was he enjoyed for a long
time an extensive and lucrative practice as well as a high
reputation in the courts. The reported cases in the
Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, argued by
him, show in some degree the extent of the business, the
magnitude of the cases in which he has been engaged,
and the important questions of the law which he has

During the legislative session of 1884, William Mc-
Donald was arraigned at the bar of the senate for refus-
ing to answer questions before a legislative committee.
He was committed by the senate to imprisonment in the
common jail for contempt. In proceedings taken in the
courts for his release, Mr. Harris appeared as one of his
counsel, and his arguments for McDonald, which required
and received at his hands as much research and learning
as has been displayed in any case brought before the
courts in late years, greatly extended his reputation as
a profound lawyer. The commitment was declared by
the General Term of the Supreme Court illegal, and
McDonald was discharged.

During the legislative session of 1882, charges were
preferred against Mr. Justice Westbrook, of the State
Supreme Court, for misfeasance and malfeasance in the
discharge of his judicial duties. The alleged facts were
ingeniously marshalled and strengthened by accumulated
allegations. They were sent to the Judiciary Committee


of the Assembly for investigation after a spirited

Mr. Harris was retained by Judge Westbrook to con-
duct his case before the committee. The investigation
before the committee began on April 21, 1882, and finally
closed on the 27th of the following May. Mr. Harris
making the closing argument. The argument of Mr.
Harris was very able, and exposed the wickedness and
absurdity of the charge against Judge Westbrook. The
Albany Evening Journal of that date said: "There can
be no answer to Mr. Harris' defense of Judge Westbrook,
the only counsel before the committee who can truly be
said to enjoy a large experience in his profession." The
New York World of May 29, in an able review of the
case, said: " Mr. Hamilton Harris' argument in vindi-
cation of Judge Westbrook fills a closely printed pam-
phlet of nearly fifty pages, but so close and clear is his
presentation of the case that no lawyer will object to its
length." The judge was honorably acquitted.

Mr. Harris' political career, though extended, has
been subordinate to his profession. He was always
interested in politics, but ranked among that class of
politicians whose tastes, abilities, extensive learning,
attractive eloquence and ready, powerful pen placed
them in the domain of statesmen. While he was ardent
in the support of the principles of his party, he never
sought political or official promotion ; but he enjoyed
both, and these sought him instead of his seeking them.

Quite early in life he became prominent in the Whig
party in Albany county, advocating its measures on the
platform and with his pen, with such fidelity and ability
that he soon took his place among the leaders of the


party in the county and state. In the autumn of 1850
he was elected member of assembly from the county of
Albany. It was at this session of the Legislature that
the building of the State Library and the improvement
of the State Capitol became a prominent subject of legis-
lation. Its success was largely due to the efforts of Mr.
Harris. He was also a member of the joint committee
of six to call state conventions and to construct a new
party platform, which was one of the first steps in the
formation of the Republican party. Mr. Harris aided
largely in founding the Republican party, and has
always been justly regarded as one of its strongest and
ablest champions. From 1862 to 1870 he was a member
of the Republican State Committee; from 1862 to 1864
he was chairman of the Executive Committee ; from
1864 to 1870 he was chairman of the Republican State
Committee, in which position he displayed great execu-
tive ability, and by his skillful political management
more than once led his party to victory in closely con-
tested state elections. A prominent writer once said:
"His keen intuitions and his rare skill as an organizer,
with a singular union of discretion with boldness, render
him a natural leader of men." As a delegate in many
state and national conventions Mr. Harris was active
and strongly influential in sustaining the measures of
his party. James G. Blaine, in his history of "Twenty
Years of Congress," after recounting the action of Mr.
Harris in the Republican National Convention of 1888,
speaks of him as "a man of marked sagacity in political

At the legislative session of 1865 the question of erect-


ing a new capitol at Albany, which had been agitated at
many previous sessions, culminated in more decisive
action. Mr. Harris was elected president of a new
Board of Capitol Commissioners, serving until 1875 with
ability and success so marked that he has been frequently
termed" the father " of the great measure. The Buffalo
Commercial Advertiser at the time commenting upon
the subject, said : " Let the people of Albany remember
that to Hamilton Harris more than any other man they
are indebted for the new capitol, from its inception in
1865 to its progress in 1879." To this the Albany Even-
ing Journal made answer : ' ' Never fear ; Albanians will
always remember it." The Albany Express, speaking
of Mr. Harris' labors in behalf of the new capitol, said:
"In other hands all the doubtful elements of the situa-
tion would have worked against it. Not so in the hands
of Mr. Harris. The leader of the senate, by force of
character, and with a strong cause committed to him,
and with uniform courtesy and persistent labor, he
carried the project through the crisis." The Troy Daily
Times, in speaking of the structure, says: "The father
of this structure which is to rank foremost among the
majestic buildings of the world, is Hamilton Harris.
Albany owes a debt of gratitude to Senator Harris for
his advocacy of the stupendous enterprise and for his
labors in carrying it on, which it never can repay."

In the autumn of 1875 Mr. Harris was elected to the
senate of New York from his district. On taking his
seat in that body he entered into its deliberations and its
proceedings with a facility that indicated natural legis-
lative abilities. As chairman of the Finance Committee.


of the Committee on Joint Library, and of the Select
Committee on Apportionment, his labors were useful
and exhaustive. On the floor of the Senate he always
took a prominent part in the discussion of leading public
questions. His arguments never failed to command
respect and attention.

At the expiration of his senatorial term he was, in
1877, re-elected by a large majority. Having served his
second term in a manner which brought to him high
senatorial honors, he decided to abandon public life and
devote himself exclusively to the extended duties of his
profession. From this resolution he deviated but in one
instance. In the fall of 1884 he ran as one of the
Republican electors on the state ticket. In October,
1879, his name was prominently brought forward for
re-election to the senate, and under circumstances so
flattering few could have resisted the nomination. But
Mr. Harris, adhering to his resolution, on October 3,
1879, in a brief note, published in the Evening Journal,
most respectfully but peremptorily declined to accept
the nomination under any circumstances.

Among his senatorial addresses which have passed into
history are those touching the new capitol ; on the Grand
Army bill; on the question of historical societies hold-
ing real estate for preservation and monumental pur-
poses; on higher education; on sectarian appropriations,
and on taxation.

He closed his senatorial career under the following
high tribute from the Albany Morning Express: "Mr.
Harris is a natural leader; he unites discretion with
boldness. His zeal is regulated by mature reflection.


His knowledge of men is intuitive, and his intuitions
have been sharpened by wide intercourse. He is a
close thinker, a cultured scholar, a thorough lawyer, a
skillful organizer and ready debater, and he has a wide
knowledge of and devotion to the interests of the state."

Mr. Harris believed that cultivation of literature, not
only by lawyers but legislators, aids largely their
strength and their interest. He well understood that
where a writer or speaker has no farther object than to
shine and to please, there is great danger of art being
strained into ostentation, and of the composition becom-
ing tiresome and languid, and that one should aim not
merely to please, but also to inform, to instruct, to con-
vince. He endeavored in his literary, legal and legisla-
tive efforts to inform, instruct, convince, and his success
in this endeavor is a marked and lasting feature of all
his oral and written productions. This extended to his
legislative reports, as chairman of the various committees
on which he served while a member of the legislature.

Mr. Harris believed that to complete a lawyer's educa-
tion, to enable him to take an elevated position in it,
much more is needed than mere knowledge of law ; that
he should honor and cultivate as unspeakably useful
that literature which corresponds to and calls forth the
highest faculties, which expresses and communicates
energy of thought, fruitfulness of invention, force of
moral purpose, a thirst for the true, and a delight in the

He exhibited his literary taste, culture and abilities
as a writer on the lecture platform, and as a speaker
in popular assembly. He had the rare faculty of putting


his readers or his audience in full possession of his
thoughts, and of keeping the communication between
himself and them always open; always avoiding those
affected grasps after originality, on the one hand, and
that sickly prettiness of style, on the other, so much
sought after by commonplace lecturers and writers.

Several of his addresses have been published, notably
his lecture on "Politics and Literature," delivered in
1880 by him before the Young Men's Association of
Albany, eliciting general commendation.

Mr. Harris denied in this lecture that public men and
politicians are absolved in any degree from the obliga-
tions of strict honor and morality. He insisted that
political power is not a prize which justifies mean acts
and compliances with usages that would be scorned in
private life; that platitudes, intrigues, hollow preten-
sions, and appeals to base passions, deserve signal
rebuke when employed to compass political ends.
Quoting his own words:

"The man who devotes himself to politics as a busi-
ness, for the purpose of securing position for support, is
worthy of little consideration, and gathers the least
satisfaction that can be derived from any of the employ-
ments of men. His existence is a miserable one of
servility and solicitation, delays and disappointments,
to end generally in poverty and obscurity. He who
would best serve the state and win a name and secure
public confidence should possess lofty principles; a keen
faculty of vision to discover the wants and interests of
society ; an accurate acquaintance with current events,
opinions and social tendencies; a deep penetration into


the motives of human action, and a clear determination
of the results of measures and movements."

The manner in which Mr. Harris illustrated the
advantage of combining literary attainments with politi-
cal acumen was very forcible and happy. He gave many
instances from history where the treasures of literature
increased the usefulness and strength of political labor.

' ' The low ambitions of life, " he said, "and the grosser
pleasures of sense are characteristic of the illiterate.
Literature is the source of refinement and enlighten-
ment; it imparts wisdom, elevates thought and adorns
character. ' '

The numerous favorable comments of the press upon
this address evince at once its ability and its effect upon
the public mind.

A published address delivered in 1878 by Mr. Harris
before the Young Men's Association of Albany on "The
Tower of London," was a production that created great
interest at the time of its delivery, and was eagerly read
after its appearance in the public journals. It is remark-
able for its historic research and for the pleasing diction
in which he so vividly described that grand old fortress
of the past, around which so many historical incidents
cluster. The structure has often been described by
tourists, but few, if any, have described it in the manner
and in the light of history, which Mr. Harris did in his

"Its story," he said, "is interwoven with the annals
of Great Britain. The historic memories of eight
centuries cluster around it. The history of many of the
bravest as well as the darkest deeds of the empire is


written in its walls. With it is associated the glory of
proud triumphs and gorgeous ceremonials, together with
the pathetic and tragic vicissitudes and mutations of
human fortune."

These deeds and the worthiest actors in them attracted
the pen of the lecturer. His portraiture showed a wide
range of reading and the appreciative and discriminating
hand of a close student.

Among the remarkable published addresses which Mr.
Harris has delivered before institutions of learning is that
on "Self-Effort," before the students of the State Normal
college, March i, 1892. This address is full of beauti-
ful diction and attractive illustration. It shows that
even in colleges and other institutions of learning self-
effort is exceedingly necessary in attaining an education ;
that without it, it is difficult to rise to the position of an
accomplished scholar. Many instances were given
where men have arisen to distinction as scholars by
silent study, without the aid of tutorship or classic sur-
roundings, very many of them never seeing the inside
of a college, and yet it was supposed they had gained
their attainments in this regard in the halls of the

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Online LibraryAmanda Bartlett HarisHamilton Harris. Born May 1, 1820. Died December 14, 1900 → online text (page 1 of 8)