W. V. N. (William Van Ness) Bay.

Reminiscences of the bench and bar of Missouri [electronic resource] : with an appendix containing biographical sketches of ... the judges and lawyers who have passed away : together with many interesting and valuable letters never before published of Washington, Jefferson, Burr, Granger, Clinton, a online

. (page 1 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook





University of California.



^^, &

4il^i/ ^i> 7 1

sTunis i;,\\K NfiTi: roMr.ix^'





Containing Biographical Skktches of nearly all of the Judges and Law-
yers WHO HAVE Passed Away, together with many Interesting and
VaL'Uable Letters never before Published of Washington,
Jefferson, Burr, Granger, Clinton, and Others,


UPON THE Famous Burr Conspiracy.


W. V. N. BAY,

LaU Judge of the Supreme Court of Missouri.





Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1878, by

W. V. N. BAY,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

« 1 1 t t C V

t I t ' '" « <

< C K C < C C

, cc e tc,cccte e » ^

6'/'. Louis: Press of G. I. Jones and Company.


H O x\ . W I L L A R D P. HALL,

Late Provisional Governor of Missouri,










The fact that the territory of Louisiana, out of which the
state of Missouri was carved, was once under the dominion
of Spain, and subsequently under that of France, rendered
it indispensable to professional success that the early law-
yers should become familiar w ith the Spanish and Civil law,
and a want of knowledge of either unfitted the claimant to
legal honors to cope with those who had devoted years of
laborious study to their acquirement; hence most of the
lawyers who became permanent residents were not only
well versed in both, but, b}' persistent effort to become so,
formed habits of study and application which gave them
well-deserved eminence in their profession.

It is not the purpose of the author to furnish a complete
biography of the members of the profession who contributed
so much to frame and establish our local jurisprudence, but
to give the reader a partial idea of the difficulties and priva-
tions the}' encountered, and to preserve some recollection of
their professional career, and some of the incidents and
anecdotes connected with their professional lives, which
ought not to be suffered to pass into oblivion.

That law\'ers as a class have exerted a most salutary in-
fluence upon the morals and liberties of mankind, from the
beginning of the world, no one can question who is convers-
ant whh ancient and UKjdcrn history.

Take, for example, our own country. What could we
have accomplished in our Revolution without the aid of such


patriots as Adams, Otis, Ames, Hamilton, King, Marshall,
Henry, Lee, Jefferson, Livingston, Rutledge, Pinckney,
Clinton, Granger, Gallatin, and hundreds of others who be-
longed to the legal profession? Not only did they kindle
the fires of the Revolution by their fervid eloquence, but
they tendered to their country their property and their lives.
The Declaration of Independence alone — one of the ablest
state papers that ever emanated from human thought, and
which was from the pen of a lawyer — did more than every-
thing else to satisfy the civilized world of the justice of our
cause, and to secure our recognition as an independent
government. The fact is, the legal mind ever has been, and
ever will be, arrayed on the side of order, good morals, and
good government. A lawyer's experience in dealing with
the affairs of men, his habits of thought, reading, and re-
flection, all tend in that direction ; hence it is that he be-
comes the recipient of the most responsible fiduciary trusts,
and his influence for good is wide-spread and unlimited.
Notwithstanding, he is allotted but a small space in bio-
graphical literature.

The territory of Upper Louisiana was noted for its able
and profound lawyers, whose love of adventure, romance,
and novelty directed their steps to the distant West, where
they encountered all the hardships and privations usually
attending border life. These pupils of Blackstone, Coke,
and Littleton were not only lawyers, but soldiers and pa-
triots, for upon every Indian outbreak they shouldered their
muskets and offered their lives in defense of the women and
children over whose heads the bloody tomahawk and scalp-
ing-knife were raised. And yet the lives and good deeds of
these noble men have almost passed out of memory ; it s
even questionable if human hand can trace a dozen of the
graves in which their bones now lie mouldering.


When \vc coninicaccd these Reminiscences we had wo
idea of sketching the Hves of an\' but the earl\' judges and
lawA'ers, but have since been persuaded l)\' iJioniinenl mem-
bers of the profession, to whom we submitted a few pages of
our manuscript, to embrace in the undertaking all of any
note down to the i)resent time, including, however, only
those who have passed away — our object being to deal
with the dead, and not the living.

The names of Benton, Easton, Hempstead, Pettibone,
McGirk, Tompkins, Lucas, Darb\', Si)alding, Geyer, Gamble,
Bates, Lawless, .\llen, Mullanph\-, Leslie, Wright, Blanner-
hassett, Williams, Bowlin, Field, Hudson, Polk, Lackland,
Sharp, Primm. and others, of the St. Louis bar ; Wells,
Shannon, Campbell, and Coalter, of St. Charles ; Cook,
Ranne\', Watkins, and Davis, of Cape Girardeau ; Cole,
Bricke}', and Fri/.ell, of Washington ; Gardenhire, Vories,
and Leonard, of Buchanan ; Barton, Ha)den, and Winston,
of Cooper ; French and Ryland, of Lafayette ; Leonard,
Davis, and the Wilsons, of Howard; Todd, Gordon, and
Kirtley, of Boone; Hendricks and Yancey, of Greene;
Lisle, Scott, Morrow, Minor, Ba\-, and Ewing, of Cole ;
Scott, of St. Genevieve; Wells, of Lincoln; Hunt, of Pike;
Richmond and Pratte, of Marion ; Jameison, Russell, and
Ansell, of Callaway ; King and FLdwards, of Ra)' ; Mc-
Bride, of Monroe; Ballou, Hunton, and ^Lijors, of Benton,
are as familiar to the Missouri lawyer as household words ;
and it is truly sad to reflect that the only survivor of that
legal gala.xy is the Hon. John F. Darb}', who, though far
advanced in years, retains in a remarkable degree his men-
tal vigor, and can be daily seen ascending the steps of the
St. Louis Court-House to renew his early combats in the
legal forum.

We b}' no means intend to take them up in the order of


their time, or professional or judicial standing, but shall ad-
here to our original design of furnishing mere scattering
recollections and reminiscences. The names of some have
been omitted, from the fact that it has been impossible to
obtain any reliable information respecting their lives. Some
died bachelors, leaving no one to inherit their name and no
relative to furnish any of the events of their lives. Their
omission is, therefore, a matter of necessity. In a few in-
stances the omission has resulted from the apathy and indif-
ference of those who promised, but failed, to impart the
desired information. We spared no effort to obtain the nec-
essary information respecting the lives of John Wilson, of
Howard; Judge Leonard, of Buchanan; and Sinclair Kirt-
ley, of Boone, all of whom stood high in the profession, but
failed to elicit the knowledge necessary for a biographical
sketch. Wilson and Kirtley moved to California and died

We take pleasure in acknowledging our obligations to
many persons, both in and out of the profession, not only in
Missouri, but in several other states, for valuable informa-
tion contributed, without which our undertaking would have
been very incomplete. We cannot mention them by name
without being invidious, but one in particular cannot be
passed over in silence. We allude to Levi Pettibone, of
Louisiana, Pike County, a brother of Rufus Pettibone, who
from 1823 to 1825, inclusive, was one of the judges of our
Supreme Court. This venerable gentleman is now in the
ninety-eighth year of his age, in fine health, and in full pos-
session of his mental faculties. He settled in Pike County,
Missouri, in 1 818, and for many years was clerk of the Cir-
cuit Court, both under the territorial and state governments.
We had the pleasure of meeting him in St. Louis in May
last. He exhibited none of the infirmities of extreme age,


except deafness in one ear and a sliijht inij)ainnenl of liis
visit)!!. W'e h.ul previously received from him a most inter-
esting letter, containing eight or ten pages of foolscap, all
in his own handwriting, detailing many incidents in the
lives of the early lawyers which could be obtained from no
other source. He is a most remarkable instance of unim-
paired longevity. Ma\' his life be spared to us many
years to come.

We do not expect that this work will escape the usual
criticism ; but when it is understood that it has been written
within the last eight months, and while the author was daily
engaged in the discharge of his professional duties, and that
it is the first undertaking of the kind in Missouri, we have
a right to hope that it will be received by a generous public
with that forbearance and indulgence which so difficult a
task entitles it to.

In the sketch of Colonel Easton, page 78, will be found
in fac-simile a letter from Colonel Aaron Burr to Colonel
Easton, written while Burr was engaged in the conspiracy
for which he was tried in Richmond ; also a letter from
President Jefferson, defining his policy respecting appoint-
ments to office, and one from Gideon Granger, postmaster-
general under Jefferson, having reference to the conspiracy.
In the Appendix will be found some interesting and valu-
able letters from General Washington, General Putnam,
Granger, and others, none of which letters have ever be-
fore been published. Those of Burr and Granger are very
important, as throwing additional light upon the famous

It seems strange that no one has heretofore made an
effort to keep alive the memory of those early judges and
lawyers who did so much for the welfare of our state, and


who gave their time, talents, and l^bor to the formation of
a constitution and code of laws which have so largely con-
tributed to the preservation of our lives, our property, and
our liberty.

If the present undertaking shall accomplish anything in
that direction, it will amply repay the author for the time
and labor bestowed upon it.

W. V. N. B.
September, 1878.


OK 11 IK



When we commenced noting our recollections of the early-
members of the Missouri bar, a difficulty suggested itself
which seemed almost insurmountable ; and that was how, in
a work of so small a compass as this, we could hope to give
even a meager outline of the professional life and public
services of so distinguished a man as Thomas Hart Benton —
an undertaking which would fill a good-sized volume. The
reader must, therefore, accept as an apology for the brevity
of this sketch the fact that we have in no instance attempted
to furnish a minute biography of any one, but simply scat-
tering and disconnected reminiscences.

The time for writing the life of Colonel Benton has not
yet arrived, and will not for some years to come ; and it
is to be hoped that it will tlicn l)e undertaken by one com-
petent to do justice to the memory of one of the greatest of
American statesmen.

It seems as if every civilized nation has had an era of
great men, which never rolls around oftener than once in a
century or two. It is certain that since F'ox, Chatham, Pitt,
Burke, Sheridan, and men of that stamp sat together in the
British Parliament, there has been no period in English his-
tory when the mother countr\' could boast of any superiority

r'frr" t c < r' t r , ,


over the statesmen of any other first-class power. And who
will pretend that since Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Benton,
Hayne, Crittenden, Berrien, Douglas, and Seward were
seated side by side in the American Senate, we have been
able to furnish a body of men who could bear the least com-
parison to them; and, if we are permitted to judge of the
future by the past, it will require at least another century to
brine about another such era of mind and intellect. It was
the classic age of American eloquence. The fact that
Colonel Benton practiced law in Tennessee before his advent
into Missouri, and also practiced under our territorial gov-
ernment, would make a work, even of as little pretensions as
this, imperfect with his name omitted. He was born near
Hillsborough, North Carolina, March 14, 1782. Under
whose tuition he was first placed we are unable to state, but
he entered a grammar school when very young, and com-
pleted his education at Chapel Hill University. Various
reasons have been assigned why he did not graduate, but the
only plausible one is that the removal of his mother, who
was a widow, to Tennessee while he was in college placed it
out of her power to meet the expense of keeping him there.
Nevertheless, he succeeded in obtaining a very liberal

After the family moved into Tennessee he studied law, at
the same time teaching school on Duck River, near the town
of Franklin, and after his admission to the bar, in 1808,
opened an office in Franklin. It is said by Foote, in his
" Bench and Bar of the South and South-west," that he had
his office in a small, one-story brick tenement, which is yet
standing, and is pointed out to the passing traveler by the
residents of Franklin. After practicing a short time in
Franklin he moved to Nashville, and opened a law-office in
that city. In 181 1 he was elected to the State Legislature,
but, upon the breaking-out of the War of 1812, joined the
army and became aid-de-camp to General Jackson, and
continued with him until the unfortunate rencounter between
them, in which his brother, Jesse, participated, aad which
resulted in General Jackson receiving a pistol-shot wound.


Colonel Benton then joined a Tennessee regiment, and was
made its colonel, and afterwards served as lieutenant-colonel
in the Thirty-ninth Infantrw

In 1 813 he moved to Missouri and opened a law-office in
St. Louis, at the same time writing for the press, and a part
of the time conducting a Democratic journal called the Sf.
Louis En(jiiirfr. At this time he was retainctl in several im-
portant land suits, but he paid more attention to politics than
the law. As carl}- as 1817 the people of Missouri began to
think seriously of applying for admission into the Union, and
Colonel Benton took a very active part in furtherance of that
object. He wrote several vigorous articles in behalf of it, and
also addressed the people in its favor. In 1820 a convention
met and a constitution was framed, and under it a legislature
convened and elected David Barton and Colonel Benton
United States senators. Colonel Benton was too prominent
a man to escape strong opposition, and he was elected by
only one vote; Judge John B. C. Lucas, Judge John D. Cook,
and others were opposing candidates. One of the members,
who was sick at the time, was carried into the House on a
cot to vote for Colonel Benton, and died a few da3's after-
wards. David Barton met with no opposition. The state
was not finally admitted until 1 821, but no question was
raised as to the validity of the senatorial election. In another
part of this work will be found the reasons for the delay.
Colonel Benton, by successive elections, continued in the
Senate thirty years, being the longest period that any senator
ever served.

To form an\' adequate conception of the great mental
power of Colonel Benton, the reader must be familiar with
his senatorial career; for the history of tiiat portion of his
public service is the history of our country for the same time,
and no one can fully understand either without comprehend-
ing both. That he was inferior to Mr. Webster as a close,
logical reasoner; that he was not the equal of Mr. Cla\' as an
orator; and that Mr. Calhoun surpassed him in the power and
condensation of language, all must admit. But in depth of
mind, originality of thought, and the power to conceive and


execute any great measure of public welfare, he was the
equal of either, and, in some respects, the superior of all ; for
the dominant characteristics of all were, to a great extent,
combined in him. He had Webster's great depth of brain,
Clay's nerve and power of will, and Calhoun's great moral
integrit}'. Mr. Webster was, to some extent, a timid poli-
tician, and rarely disclosed his views upon any great question
until he ascertained the drift of public opinion, and what the
merchants of Boston thought of it. Both Clay and Webster
were deficient in that great moral power exhibited in Calhoun
and Benton, and Mr. Calhoun's sectional views impaired his
usefulness as a statesman. Yet none of these defects could
be attributed to Colonel Benton. He loved Missouri, but he
loved his country more ; and, in determining the course to
take with reference to any public measure, he endeavored to
ascertain its probable effect upon the whole country. He
was the senator of a nation, and not of a state. He never
permitted any personal motive to interfere with his convic-
tions of duty, and this trait in his character was well illus-
trated in his refusal to support his son-in-law, General Fre-
mont, for the presidency, though he had no particular admi-
ration for Mr. Buchanan. We heard him on two occasions
assign as a reason that Fremont was too sectional in his
views, and he thought Buchanan better qualified for the
place by reason of his long experience in public life.

Colonel Benton was not a man of policy, for, if he had
been, he would have succeeded General Jackson in the presi-

When he declared war upon what was known as the Nulli-
fication Resolutions of the Missouri Legislature, he might
have readily crushed his enemies if he had been the least dis-
posed to conciliate those who were halting between two
opinions. Though it was well known that he was opposed to
the " Wilmot Proviso," yet, when Colonel Ferdinand Ken-
nett, an influential member of the Democratic party, and
friendly to his reelection, sent a slip of paper to the stand,
from which Colonel Benton was speaking in the rotunda,
of the court-house at St. Louis, requesting him to give pub-


licity to his views on the proviso, he indifjnantly cast the
paper from him, regarding tlie request as an act of hostiht)' ;
and thus made an eneni)' of one who had always been his
friend. Many such instances occurred all over the state, and
it resulted in building up an opposition to him in his own
party which he was powerless to resist.

Colonel Benton was one of the purest statesmen that our
country has produced. As the right-bower of General Jack-
son's adniiiiistration, he could control most any appointment
within the gift of the president; )'et he would never permit
an\' person connected with him b)- blood or marriage to ac-
cept an\' moneyed appointment under the government, nor
would he {axox an\' applicant for a government contract,
though a political friend. Such purity in a public man is
almost without a parallel.

What a contrast to the course of President Grant, who
fastened upon the treasury every relation, by marriage or
otherwise, to the four hundred and forty-fourth cousin.

Colonel Benton's official position placed it in his power to
amass any amount of wealth ; )'et he died poor. His success
in public life was the result of brain-power, combined with an
indomitable will and untiring energy. Whatever he under-
took he would accomplish, if it took a life-time.

When the resolution denouncing General Jackson for
usurpation of power passed the Senate, he rose from his seat
and gave notice that at an early day he would introduce a
proposition to expunge it from the journal, and accordingly
did so ; but at the time he was almost alone in its support,
which gave rise to those memorable words :

"Solitary and alone I set tliis liall in motion."

Even the friends of General Jackson at first opposed it,
upon the ground that it involved a desecration of the Senate
record, and would furnish a bad precedent ; but Benton re-
newed his resolution at every session, each time sending to
the country an able speech in its behalf, and at each session
it acquired additional strength, until finally it passed, and the


obnoxious resolution was expunged by the secretary drawing
black lines around it, and by writing across it in the presence
of the Senate the words, " Expunged by order of the Sen-
ate." The reader of American history will notice with what
violence General Jackson was assailed for his veto of the bill
to revive the charter of the old United States Bank. Colonel
Benton had long been satisfied that the bank was exerting a
deleterious influence upon the politics of the country ; that
by flooding the states with its paper, thereby encouraging
wild and extravagant speculation, and then suddenly cur-
tailing its circulation, it could produce at will a money panic
or crisis, which would enable it to control the elections ; that
by loaning money to members of Congress, and others in
authority, it would be able to direct legislation — in fine, that
it was an institution dangerous to the liberties of the people,
and not authorized by the Federal Constitution. He there-
fore determined to oppose the renewal of the charter, and,
as General Jackson concurred with him in opinion, a deter-
mined opposition was then and there inaugurated, and Col-
onel Benton brought the whole force of his intellect to defeat
the bill ; but it passed Congress, and was vetoed by the
president. This was followed by the inflammatory speeches
of Clay, Webster, ct al., and the country was soon brought
to the verge of bankruptcy; but Benton had his grip upon
the throat of the monster, and never relaxed it until he
heard its last dying groan. Nearly a half-century has since
passed, and time has proved the wisdom of the Democratic
party in its opposition to that great political and financial

Colonel Benton was a hard-money man, and hence obtained
the sobriquet of " Old Bullion." He reposed no confidence
in banks, except those of mere deposit and exchange, and
regarded paper money as of no intrinsic value, and thought
gold and silver should be the basis of all values. He never
changed his views upon this subject, and, if we mistake not,
the judgment of mankind now is that it would be a public
and national blessing if every bank in the country was buried
deep beneath the catacombs of Egypt.


W'c have (^ftcn been interrogated as to the secret of Col-
onel l^enton's popularit\- with the people of Missouri; for it
was well know n that near the exj)iration of his senatorial term
\\'.'< 1 )emocratic candidate for the Legislature could he elected
without a [)ledge to vote for his reelection. This pledge was
exacted upon all occasions, ami a refusal to give it was death
to the aspirant for legislative honors. There was no personal
magnetism in Colonel Benton, for he was austere, reserved,
and distant, and seldom mixed with the people ; and was only
known b\' his public acts and his devotion to the interests of
his constituents. His popularity proceeded from his zeal
and activity in originating and carrying measures calculated
to promote the welfare and interests of the immigrant and
settler. He at an early period took the ground that the gov-
ernment slundd ne\er depend upon the sale of the public
domain as a source of revenue, but that the true policy was
to aid and encourage immigration, by reducing the price of
the public lands ; and, as most of the immigrants were poor,
to give them ample time to pay for their homes. With this
motive, he introduced a bill to reduce the price to Si. 25 per
acre, and upon certain conditions to give them preemption
and settlement rights; so that they could pay for their farms
out of the proceeds of their labor. The eastern states opposed
this policy, as tending to deprive them of a part of their pro-
ductive population; but he succeeded in his efforts, and the
people of the West felt grateful to him for his services in
their behalf.