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Addresses and proceedings of the bar of New-York, on the occasion of the death of William Kent online

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JANUARY 4th, 1861





When the melancholy intelligence of his death reached the city,
on the following day, it was announced in feeling terms in the
various Courts which were then in session, all of which adjourned,
in token of their respect for his memory, and of their sense of the
great loss sustained by the public.

A meeting of the Bar, called to express the feelings of the
profession on the death of their distinguished brother, was held in
the General Term room of the Supreme Court, on the 12th day of
January, 1861. The following record of its proceedings is publish-
ed by its order.

New-York, 1861.


The meeting was called to order by E. L. Fancher,
Esq., on wliose motion (pursuant to request of the Com-
mittee of Arrangements appointed at a previous informal
meeting of the Bar) the following gentlemen were unani-
mously apjDointed as officers :

^ r £ S i b C IT t .


of the Supreme Court.



of the U. S. District Court.


of the Superior Court.


ex-Judge of the Supreme Court.

Hon. lewis B. WOODRUFF,

of the Superior Court.


of the Court of Common Pleas.


of the Court of Common Pleas.


^ £ c r £ t a r i c s .

J, C. CARTER, Esq.
D. B. EATON, Esq.


Judge Ingkaham, the Chairman, said :

We are convened, on this occasion, for the pnr230se of
paying a tribute to the memory of one long known and
honored in the midst of us, the late Judge Kent ; and
probably there was no one at the Bar of New- York whose
loss will be more deeply felt, and whose death more sin-
cerely lamented, than his. A long acquaintance with
him, commencing more than a quarter of a century ago,
and continued with unabated kindness on his part, down
to the period of his death, taught me to love and respect
him, and I doubt not, the feelings which I entertain will
find a response in the heart of every one who had the privi-
lege of his friendship. Immediately after his admission to
the Bar, Judge Kent entered into the practice of the pro-
fession in this city, and early obtained a rank which older
praclitioners had failed to reach. In the year 1841, he
was appointed a Judge of the First Circuit Court, then a
branch of the Supreme Court, and so discharged the duties
of that station, that his resignation, in 1845, was received
with universal regret. Slight attacks of that disease which
has since prostrated him, induced by an ardent desire, on
his part, to break down a long calendar left to him by
his predecessor, caused his retirement from the bench. I
weU remember, when remonstrated with, in reference to the
excess of labor which he was, at that time, performing,
that he expressed the utmost confidence in his strong con-
stitution and uniform good health ; but a few months taught
him, as it has others of us who have succeeded him, the
error which he was committing, and his resignation soon
followed. To those who knew Judge Kent, it would be
needless for me to speak of his uniform courtesy and kind-
ness, of his great simphcity of character, of his high literary


attainments, of his legal learning, of his judicial ability,
and of his undoubted integrity. In all these respects he
was pre-eminent. As a judge, as a lawyer, he displayed
eminent ability, and I think I may say, without hesitation,
there never was on the bench of the Supreme Court, in this
State, a judge more courteous to the Bar, and more kind
to the young practitioner, or more acceptable to the pro-
fession, than Judge Kent. But I forbear to speak in detail
of his character and virtues. It is sufficient for me to say,
that in private life, Judge Kent was a Christian gentleman,
without reproach. As a lawyer, he was an ornament to the
profession. As a judge, he was able, learned, and upright.
No man could see him but to respect him. None could
know him but to love him. In all the relations of life he
was honored; in death he will be mourned. We do well,
then, to pay honor to his memory, and to record our esteem
of his character and of his works, that others may be in-
duced to imitate his example, and to emulate his virtues.

Hon. John Van Buren said :

Mr. President : The Bar of the City of New-York have
received, with emotions of unaffected grief, the sad and start-
ling intelligence of the death, in the meridian of his life
and usefulness, of one of their most interesting, accom-
plished, and distinguished members ; and an informal com-
mittee of their number have asked me to propose to this
meeting, called by them, resolutions expressive of our feel-
ings upon this occasion. Summoned to this melancholy
duty, I have supposed I should best consult the proprieties
of my position by presenting for their consideration an ex-
pression, in the most simple and unadorned phrase, of the
sense we entertain of the character of our lamented brother.


and of the loss we have experienced. Intimately associa-
ted with him in the latter years of his life, admiring his
brilliant intellect, thorough and general learning, rare ac-
quirements, and high personal qualities, it is to the native
diffidence of his character that I offer tribute in the sim-
plicity of the resolutions I propose ; and upon my assurance
of what his own modest nature would have preferred, that
I venture, when I confine the proposed general expression
by us within such limited terms. Those present, who will
speak in detail of the life and character of William Kent,
will be unable to restrain themselves within such narrow
bounds. Dwelling upon the incidents of his judicial and
professional career, and lingering over the recollections of
his charming personal life, enthusiasm becomes natural and
eulogy just. And if the veil should be drawn aside which
conceals from public observation his domestic life, and we
should stop to contemplate the happy relations of dependence
and love which this death has severed, it would almost
cause a murmur at the decree of Providence that occasions
an affliction so sad for a purpose so inscrutable.

Mine be the more humble office of presenting, for your
unreserved disposition, resolutions touching the more gene-
ral and striking features in the character of William Kent,
appropriate, as it seems to me, for adoption by this meeting,
dictated in sincerity and truth by those who respected and
loved him while living, and will ever honor his memory.

Re.^olred, That the members of the Bar of the city of New- York are
profoundly sensible of the loss sustained by them in the death of their
late associate, William Kent.

That, in contemplating the character of our deceased brother, we
naturally and fondly revert to those qualities of his mind and heart
which graced his personal demeanor and intercourse ; to his ever-
cheerful temper, his warm affections, and genial sympathies, his fresh


and playful spirit, and to the rare, varied, and extensive literary and
classical acquirements which he possessed in such richness, and held
in such ever-ready command.

That, while thus mindful of the personal attractions now lost to us
forevei', we should not omit to testify our high appreciation of the
professional learning, the clear and persuasive method of reasoning,
the nice power of discrimination, unvarying industry, strict sense of
justice, inflexible integrity, and great practical wisdom, which illus-
trated and adorned his career as a leading member of the Bar, and as
a distinguished Judge of this Circuit, reflecting additional honor upon
the great name he inherited, and placing his memory justly by the
side of that of his illustrious father.

That we tender the expression of our sincere condolence to the
afflicted family of the deceased, and that a copy of these resolutions,
signed by the officers of this meeting, be transmitted to them, and be
also published in the newspapers of this city.

Benjamin D. Silliman, Esq., sj^oke as follows :

Mr. President : I move the adoption of the resolutions
which have been presented by Mr. Van Buren. They ex-
press, I am sure, the feelings and the judgment of this
numerous meeting of the Bar, which is not convened in
mere accordance with the usage of rendering the tribute due
to the honored dead, but the spontaneous impulse of our
hearts has brought us together to give utterance to our
grief at the loss of one whom we have long loved as well
as honored.

It might, perhaps, be difficult to say whether Judge Kent
was more remarkable for his intellectual and professional, or
for his moral superiority ; but that which, in this hour of
bereavement, touches us most nearly, is the surrender which
we must make to the remorseless grave of one whose gen-
erous and gentle nature, whose genial sympathy, whose warm
affections, had so endeared him to us, that our admiration of
the lawyer, the jurist, and the scholar, was even exceeded


by our attachment, by our love for the man. He is cut off
from us in the very glory of his manhood, with his facul-
ties and his affections in the fullness of their strength and
action — ere age had dimmed their brilliancy, or impaired
their power, or chilled their ardor.

Judge Kent was born in Albany, in 1802. He had the
best advantages of education. After being graduated at
Union College, he pursued the studies and entered the
professsion in which his father, the great Chancellor, stood
pre-eminent. He commenced his career as a lawyer, in one
respect, under a disadvantage — that of the shadow of a
great name. The world is apt to measure the son of a great
man by an unfair standard. Instead of passing on his
merits and talents by comparison with those of other young
jnen — his cotemporaries and peers — it withholds its com-
mendation unless he displays ability which would add to
his father's fame. But Mr. Kent quickly showed himself
equal even to such a test. He was early engaged in very im-
portant causes, in which he manifested powers and learning
that placed him at once in the foremost rank of the profes-
sion ; and well did he sustain his place there, adding new
lustre to the illustrious name he bore.

His natural gifts were of the highest order, and his at-
tainments were such as would have rendered a man of
merely common mind distinguished. He possessed remark-
able power of analysis, and saw, with the quickness of intu-
ition, the right and morality of a case, and the principles of
law involved, and he was ever ready with the learning of
the law requisite for their illustration. The force of his
argument was aided by the singular felicity and purity of
the language in which it was always clothed. So beautiful
and attractive was his style, so happy his illustrations, so


abounding in wit, and grace, and learning, and thought,
that, whether he was arguing a case or trying a cause, not
only the court or jury which he was addressing, hut all who
were present, having no concern with the subject, including
alike the members of the bar and mere spectators, were
always eager and delighted listeners.

The time and occasion hardly warrant me in adverting
in detail to the leading cases in the arguments of which
Judge Kent was distinguished. There are present many
who were engaged with him, either as associates or oppo-
nents, in those cases, and none can be more earnest than
they in commendation of the power and learning manifested
by him in their discussion.

He continued in the active practice of the profession until
1841, when he was appointed to the office of Circuit Judge,
on the retirement of the Hon. Ogden Edwards, and " when
the ermine rested on his shoulders, it touched nothing less
spotless than itself" Never were the high duties of a judge
performed with more of purity or fidelity. Never were the
scales held by a more even hand. Never were the kindly
and charitable impulses of a gentle nature more entirely
restrained and subordinated to the duty of an inflexible and
impartial administration of the law, whether in criminal or
in civil cases. In 1844, his health having been impaired by
too close application to his judicial duties, he resigned his
station on the bench, to the great — it is not extravagant
to say the universal — regret of the profession and of tlie

He then visited Europe, and while there, in 1846, received
the invitation, which he accepted, from Harvard University,
to succeed Judge Story in the Law School at Cambridge.
The same industry, and success, and usefulness, which had


marked his previous career, attended his services in the Law
School, until the close of 1847, when he resigned his pro-
fessorship, that he might be with his venerable father, whose
twilight was then fast fading into night.

Judge Kent then resumed the practice of the law, and
from that time forward continued it in this city with emi-
nent success. Among the remarkable cases in which he bore
a distinguished part, was that of Clarke vs. Fisher (re-
ported in \st Paige B.), in which were considered the nature
and degree, and condition of mental power of the testator,
requisite to make a valid will. His argument was one of
singular ability and learning. It was one of the earliest
cases in which he was engaged, and one in which, in the
judgment of the bench and the bar, he achieved just, as well
as great, distinction.

I may also mention the case of the State of Illinois vs.
Delajield (8 Paige), as to the power of State officers to
bind the State in borrowing money for its use, and the
limitations of such j)ower ; the cases of Warner vs. Beers,
and Bolander vs. Stevens (23o? Wendell), involving the
momentous and vital question of the constitutionality of
the General Banking Law ; the great case, so universally
known in the profession, and out of it, of Curtis vs. Leavitt
{17th Barbour and 1 Smith), in which many most im-
portant principles were discussed, and an immense amount
of property was at stake ; and that of Beehman vs. The
People (27th Barbour), involving the law and recondite
learning of charitable uses. In these cases (not to speak of
very many others) Mr. Kent exhibited ability of the highest
order and the rarest learning, and earned a reputation which
(in the language of one of the resolutions before us) placed
his memory justly by the side of his illustrious father.


The great men of the bar were engaged in the learned
discussions of those eases. I may not name those of them
who are still among us, and most of whom are now present,
but of those who are gone were Jones and Jay, and Ogden
and Webster, and Griffin and Sandford, and Spencer and
Beardsley, and Hill and Butler. Such were the allies and
the adversaries of our departed brother — such were his
friends and compeers — such were the great intellects with
which his own found congenial intercourse.

He had latterly withdrawn somewhat from his practice in
the courts, but still continued in the active duties of the
profession. His opinion and advice were sought in im-
portant cases. Difficult and intricate cases were constantly
referred to him for decision, and weighty and resj)onsible
trusts, embracing vast interests and amounts of property,
were eagerly confided to his charge and guidance by indi-
viduals and by the courts.

_ Judge Kent possessed, as did his father, a most remarkable
memory. He forgot nothing. Every fact, every rule, every
principle, when once attained, remained with him always.
He combined what are, perhaps, rarely combined, large
general knowledge with great accuracy of knowledge. As a
ielhs lettres scholar he had few equals in this country. His
reading was not limited by the ordinarily wise rule, " non
multa sed multum," but it was both multa et multum.
Whatever he studied he studied thoroughly. He read
everything, and he remembered everything. What he read
did not remain with him a mere accumulation of knowledge
and ideas, but became part of his mental nature, storing
and strengthening his mind without impairing its origi-
«iality. A mind thus enriched, and with such resources,
could never have suffered from solitude. It would find


within itself abundant and choice companionship. Emi-
nently was this the case with our departed friend and with
his venerable father.

Chancellor Kent, during his last illness, passed many
silent watches of the night without sleep. When asked if
in those long, sleepless hours, he suffered from depression
and sad feelings, he replied that he did not — hut that, on
the contrary, he then derived great satisfaction in reviewing
in his mind sometimes some leading principle of the law —
going back to its origin — to the reasons from which it
sprang — and then recalling in their order the subsequent
cases, in England and in this country, in which it had been
considered, shaped, enlarged, or qualified down to the final
settled rule ; at other times he would select some period of
history — perhaps some English reign — and recall its politics,
its law, its eminent men, its military acts, and its literature,
in connection with the cotemporaneous history and con-
dition of other countries ; sometimes a campaign, perha;^s
of Alexander, or C«sar, or Marlborough, or Napoleon, with
its plan, its policy, its incidents, and its results.

Judge Kent's general reading was but little inferior to his
father's. I doubt whether the Chancellor, at the same
period of life, had been able to devote so much of his time
to other reading than of law, as his son had done.

One of the early symptoms of the disease which termi-
nated Judge Kent's life, was the loss (some months ago) of
vision of one of his eyes. He had reason to fear that he
should become entirely blind, but when he spoke of it he
added, that it would not make him sad or unhappy, for he
remembered all the books he had read, and when he could
no longer see he should mentally re-peruse them all.

It is a grateful reflection that, until his last illness, his


life had been one of almost unclouded happiness, save in the
loss of his parents. Honors sought him, prosperity at-
tended him, friends loved him, and now deeply lament his
loss. I have never known a man whose happy temper, and
warm heart, and kind and genial sympathies, so won and
attached to him all, of all classes, who came in contact with
him, or so conduced to the happiness of all about him. I
have never known a man whose wit, and humor, and know-
ledge, and wisdom, were so abounding and so blended, and
the instructiveness, and beauty, and grace, and simplicity of
whose conversation, so attracted and fascinated. I have
never known a man more fearless in asserting the right, and
in the performance of what he deemed his duty. I have
never known a man more inflexible in principle, or more
strictly upright. , Thougii to a stranger what I have said
might appear the strained language of eulogy, yet this
meeting is full of witnesses of its truth.

Mr. President, death has of late swayed his scythe'
fearfully through the ranks of our profession. How many
familiar faces have disappeared — how many voices of the
learned, the wise, the brilliant, the good, to which we have
listened within these walls, are stilled forever. Of your
honored companions who dispensed justice from the Bench,
3rones, and Morris, and Edwards, and Sandford, and Paine,
and Oakley, and Duer, and Mason, have gone in close pro-
cession ; and, among others from the Bar whose learning, and
talents, and virtues, adorned our calling, the grave now hides
forever from us the forms of Hoffman, and Ogden, and
Grifiin, and Sandford, and Spencer, and Hill, and Wood,
and Butler, and Miller, and him to whose memory we are
now assembled to pay this last tribute of aifection and



His death was one of peace, as his life had been one of
uprightness. He had so lived and so believed, that when he
came to walk through the dark valley he " feared no evil ;"
but, leaning on the rod and the staff which can alone sup-
port man in that dread hour, he was

" sustained and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, and approached his grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."

I will not trust myself to speak of the personal relations
and almost life-long intimacy that make his death to me
indeed a calamity, nor of the hopeless sorrow of that home
of which he was the light, the pride, and the joy ; but, with
the same beautiful invocation which he so lately uttered on
the death of Mr. Butler, let me say : '• Tread lightly on his
ashes, ye men of genius, for he was your kinsman ! Weed
clean his grave, ye men of goodness, for he was your

Ex-Judge Foot said :

Mr, Chairman : The duty of seconding the adoption of
the resolutions which have been presented to the meeting,
has been assigned to me. That duty is freely discharged,
as I fully concur in the sentiments expressed in the reso-
lutions, and it is moreover grateful to my feelings to have
so suitable an opportunity to manifest my regard for the
memory of our deceased brother, with whom I have stood
'in intimate relations of business and friendship for a life-
time. After graduating with credit at Union College, he
was placed by his distinguished father. Chancellor Kent, at
Kinderhook, under the instruction of Peter Van Schaick,
one of the most learned and accomplished lawyers of this


State, and wlio had then been compelled to retire from
active service by reason of his impaired sight. There he
passed, I think, two years, studying and acquiring a knowl-
edge of the 23rinciples of his profession. He then came to
Albany, where his father resided, and, in the year 1822,
entered my office to complete his clerkship, and more espe-
cially to acquire a knowledge of pleading and practice. He
remained with me until the autumn of 1823, when his
father removed to this city, and he came with him. While
in my office he was active, attentive, and studious. He
finished his clerkship in this city with the Hon. Josiah
Ogden Hoffman, and, on being admitted to the Bar, entered
into copartnership with him. I removed from Albany to
this city in May, 1828, and entered into copartnership with
our deceased brother. We continued in copartnership for
two years, and occupied offices in connection with his father.
In June, 1828, the Franklin Bank failed, and Chancellor
Walworth appointed Chancellor Kent receiver. The affairs
of that bank were greatly extended and complicated, which
gave our firm of Foot & Kent a large and lucrative busi-
ness. My nephew, Henry E. Davies, the present Judge of
the Court of Appeals, having removed from Buffalo to this
city, a new business arrangement was made in the spring of
1830. Mr. Davies entered into copartnership with me, and
Mr. Kent formed a connection with William S. Johnson.
The partnership of Foot & Davies continued till the spring
of 1847, when I removed to Geneva, and then our deceased
brother took my place, and formed a copartnership with
Mr. Davies. This connection continued for several years.
On my way home from this city to Greneva, near the end
of the month of September last, I stopped at Fishkill to
pass a Sabbath with my relative, Judge Davies, and visit


my friend, Judge Kent. At the close of tlie Sabbath,
Judge Davies and I called upon Judge Kent. We found
him walking in his lawn. As soon as he saw me he ap-
proached and met me. It was our first meeting since his
illness. Enfeebled by sickness, he could not command his
feelings, nor could I entirely command my own. After
walking with him some time over his beautiful grounds,
conversing sparingly, and on topics least calculated to excite
our sensibilities, we entered his house. A pleasant conver-
sation with him and his family ensued. Fearing to prolong
my visit, though urged by him to do so, I took leave of
him, apprehensive that it would be, as it was, our last meet-
ing. Thus closed an intimate business and social inter-

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Online LibraryAssociation of the bar of the city of New YorkfAddresses and proceedings of the bar of New-York, on the occasion of the death of William Kent → online text (page 1 of 4)