Henry Fothergill Chorley.

The Choate story book; with a biographical sketch of J. H. Choate online

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A. F. Morrison








Copyright, 1903,


In the United States, Great Britain and the Colonies.

All Rights Reserved.


This little compendium needs no words 01
introduction. The wit and eloquence of
Joseph H. Choate speak for themselves. In
the law, in politics and literature, he is a
shining light among Americans. An account
of his life and his work, and specimens of his
wit and wisdom, are well worthy of a col-
lected and permanent form-






Yale and Harvard 28

Hash . . 28

Female Beauty 28

On His Ambassadorship 29

Embarrassed 29

On Judicial Learning 29

Plain Living 30

On General Grant 30

Boys Who Go Wrong 31

Money and Insurance 31

On Rufus Choate 32

Seats for the Mighty 32

After-Dinner Oratory 32

A Mountain of Debt 33

The Pilgrim Mothers 33

Mrs. Choate's Second Husband 34

Legal Wit 34

On the Future of America 35

Russell Sage 35

Rebuking a Chief Justice 36

Choate and Depew 37

On Dr. Depew 37

Millionaires 38

A Home Beyond the Grave 38

On Penuriousness 39



Winning a Verdict 40

The House that Jack Built 40

Retort of a Witness 41

On Lord Aberdeen 42

Natural Gas 42

On Clarence Cook 43

Family Prayers 44

.Letter of Introduction 45

A Debt of Gratitude 46

On Roscoe Conkling 46

New England Patriotism 47

The Saloon 48

On William M. Evarts 49

In the Supreme Court 50

On Vampires 51

The Legal Profession 52

On Porter and Depew 54

The Alibi 55

On the Pilgrims 57

Richard Croker 58

Old Ireland 60


The Landing of the Pilgrims 65

The Day We Celebrate 76

The Modern Puritans 86

Diplomacy and Reform 92

Plymouth Rock 103

The Cradle of Liberty 107

Forefathers' Day 114





lem, Massachusetts, January 24, 1832. He was
the youngest of four brothers. His father was
Dr. George Choate, and his mother Margaret
Manning Hodges.

The Choates have an interesting lineage
traceable centuries back from France, through
Holland to England, and thence to Ipswich,
Massachusetts. The family was one of the old-
est in New England. The earliest ancestor,
John Choate, became a citizen of Massachusetts
in 1667. The grandson of this first ancestor,
also named John, was a member of the Massa-
chusetts Legislature from 1741 till 1761, and
for the five years following a member of the


Governor's Council. The family was noted
throughout for its strength of character and
mental vigor.

None bearing the honored name has achieved
the celebrity, however, of Kufus Choate, that
great legal light of New England, and none
hold him in greater reverence than his equally
distinguished nephew, Joseph H. Choate, who,
at the unveiling of the statue of his uncle in the
Suffolk County Courthouse of Boston, showed
loving admiration and just pride in his eloquent
tribute. In speaking of the lineage and train-
ing of the elder Choate, he said :

"He came of a long line of pious and devout
ancestors, whose living was as plain as their
thinking was high. It was from father and
mother that he derived the flame of intellect,
the glow of spirit, and the beauty of tempera-
ment that was so unique. And his nurture to
manhood was worthy of the child. It was the
'nurture and admonition of the Lord.' From
that rough, pine cradle, which is still preserved
in the room where he was born, to his prema-
ture grave, at the age of fifty-nine, it was one


long course of training and discipline of mind
and character, without pause or rest. It began
with that well-thumbed and dog's-eared Bible
from Hog Island, its leaves actually worn
away by the pious hands that had turned them ;
read daily in the family from January to De-
cember, in at Genesis and out at Revelation
every two years ; and when a child was born
in the household the only celebration, the only
festivity, was to turn back to the first chapter
and read once more how 'in the beginning God
created the heaven and the earth, and all that
in them is. '

" And upon this solid rock of the Scriptures he
built a magnificent structure of knowledge and
acquirement, to which few men in America
have attained. . . . His splendid and
blazing intellect, fed and enriched by constant
study of the best thoughts of the great minds
of the race, his all-persuasive eloquence, his
teeming and radiant imagination, whirling his
hearers along with it and sometimes overpower-
ing himself, his brilliant and sportive fancy
lighting up the most arid subjects with the


glow of sunrise, his prodigious and never-fail-
ing memory, and his playful wit always burst-
ing forth with irresistible impulse, have been
the subject of scores of essays and criticisms,
all struggling with the vain effort to describe
and crystallize the fascinating and magical
charm of his speech and his influence."

It may be well to briefly state that Rufus
Choate was born in Essex, Massachusetts, Oc-
tober 1, 1799. He entered Dartmouth College
in 1815, becoming a tutor there on graduation.
He studied in the Cambridge Law School, and
commenced practicing in Danvers in 1824. He
was elected to the legislature in 1825, to the
State Senate in 1827, and to Congress in 1832.
He was elected to the United States Senate in
1841 on Webster's retirement, and resigned in
1845. He practiced in Boston from that time
until he died, July 13, 1859.

It has been said of Rufus Choate that the wit
of all other American advocates could not ex-
ceed his. In reply to counsel who said that his
client did not come by his patent naturally, he
exclaimed : * ' Naturally ! Why, we don't do any-


thing naturally. Why, naturally a man would
walk down Washington street with his panta-
loons off." Thus he described the indefinite
boundary line between Rhode Island and Mas-
sachusetts : "It is like starting at a bush, thence
to a blue jay, thence to a hive of bees in swarm-
ing time, thence to three hundred foxes with
firebrands on their tails." Of a party in a
suit: "Why doesn't he pay back the money he
has so ill got? He is so much of a villain that
he wouldn't if he could, and so much of a bank-
rupt that he couldn't if he would." Of a
crooked flight of stairs : "How drunk a man
must be to climb those stairs." Of a woman:
"She is a sinner no, not a sinner, for she is
our client ; but she is a very disagreeable saint. "
Of an improbable narrative he said: "The
story is as unlike truth as a pebble is like a star
a witch's broomstick unlike a banner staff."
Of a cunning witness: "He is quick, keen,
knows when to hold his tongue with the cun-
ning of a bushy-tailed fox all's right. " Of an
unsea worthy vessel: "The vessel, after leaving
the smooth water of Boston harbor, encoun-


tered the eternal motion of the ocean which has
been there from creation, and will be there until
land and sea shall be no more. She went down
the harbor a painted and perfidious thing, soul-
freighted, but a coffin for the living, a coffin
for the dead. "

This story of Ruf us Choate is recalled : By
overwork he had shattered his health. Edward
Everett expostulated with him on one occasion,
saying :

"My dear friend, if you are not more self-
considerate, you will ruin your constitution."

"Oh," replied the legal wag, "the constitu-
tion was destroyed long ago. I'm living on
the by-laws."

Like the great Daniel Webster, and many
other men of genius, he had the reputation of
being careless in his own money matters. A
Middlesex lawyer, calling upon him on business,
expressed his astonishment at the extent of
Choate' s library. "Yes," he said, "more books
than I can pay for that's the bookseller's mat-
ter, not mine." There is a story that Webster
once met him in front of the Merchants' Bank


and called to him: "Come here, I want $500;
I want you to endorse my note." "Make it
$1,000," said Choate; "I want $500, too."

One can readily see to what extent ancestry
has bestowed upon Joseph H. CLoate. In
mind he is a counterpart of his illustrious un-
cle, but in personal appearance he differs
greatly from Rufus Choate. "Rufus was tall,
skinny, dark, cavernous, hairy, explosive and
eccentric," says Joe Howard; "Joseph is tall,
well-proportioned, with a medium head of hair,
courteous, affable, jocular, sarcastic and tem-

Little is recorded of Joseph Choate' s boy-
hood. That he was precocious is amply attested
by the fact that he entered Harvard at the age
of sixteen, and while a student at Harvard he
was a participant in no less than twenty- four
public debates, and he won them all. Mr.
Choate was the most brilliant student at the
university. He was graduated at the head of
his class in 1852, and two years later gradu-
ated from the Harvard Law School.

While in college he became a member of the


Alpha Delta Phi society, and in his later life
was president of the Alpha Delta Phi club in
New York City. His brother, William Gardner
Choate, who became United States judge for
the southern district of New York State, went
through college and the law school with

After studying in a Boston lawyer's office
for a few months, he was admitted to the Mas-
sachusetts bar in 1855. In the fall of that year
he visited various Western States, and then re-
turned to New York. His first year in the me-
tropolis was passed in the office of the firm of
which James C. Carter was a member. When
he had mastered the New York code he formed
a partnership with W. H. L. Barnes, Esq. This
connection continued for four years until, June
1, 1859, he found his permanent professional
home with the great firm of Evarts, Southmayd
& Choate, which succeeded Butler, Evarts &
Southmayd, and afterward became Evarts,
Cboate & Beaman. Mr. Evarts was then in
the prime of his powers. It was a great advan-
tage and a great trial for a young lawyer to be


associated with men of this stamp, and Mr.
Choate reaped the full advantage.

The period in which Mr. Choate began his
career in New York is commonly referred to as
the golden age of the metropolitan bar. James
T. Brady was a conspicuous figure in the popu-
lar eye; Charles O'Connor had already made a
deep and lasting impression; William M.
Evarts was in the front rank of politics, as well
as of law.

It was not very long ago that Joseph H.
Choate, chatting in a club with some lawyers
about his career, said :

"I came to New York absolutely unknown,
with no money. In fact, I had nothing but my
diploma, and a letter from my uncle to W. M.

Whereat there was great laughter, for each
of those who heard knew that a letter from
Rufus Choate was worth more than many thou-
sands of dollars. For Rufus Choate was prob-
ably the greatest legal genius the country has

In 1861 Mr. Choate married Miss Caroline


W. Sterling, who was a native of Cleveland,
Ohio. There is a bit of romance connected with
her girlhood. In 1850 Fred A. Sterling, Sr.,
and wife, moved to Cleveland, taking up their
home in a small frame house on Euclid Avenue.
Their children were Fred A. Sterling, Pro-
fessor Theo. Sterling, of Kenyon College, and
Caroline VV. Sterling. Caroline was a popular
young woman. Miss Sterling became a devo-
tee of art. She studied painting. She went to
New York to study with Thomas Rossi ter.
Her study began, but she met the young law-
yer, Mr. Choate. Their friendship ripened.
Then came the announcement that they would be
married. The ceremony took place in New
York. Mrs. Choate gave up her art, but not
her love of it. Mr. and Mrs. Choate have three
children, George, Joseph and Mabel. The son,
Joseph H. Choate, Jr., was class-day poet at
Harvard in June, 1898. Forty -five years be-
fore that month his father was salutatorian of
his class at the same university.

During his long career as a lawyer, Mr.
Choate has been engaged in a large number of


important cases memorable in the legal an-
nals and even in the history of the United
States. His solidity, his learning, and his
power in cross-examination have given him his
pre-eminence, but he has oratorical gifts as well
often more feared than admired, it is said;
stinging sarcasm being one of them. "The fees
paid to him," it is added by an acquaintance,
"have established a record, and there is hardly
a famous case but he has had some hand in
it." Among lawyers there is a saying that Mr.
Choate's contemporaries divide among them one-
half of the leading business of the courts, and
Mr. Choate has the other half to himself.

In all the important will cases of twenty-five
years, including the litigation over the Van-
derbilt, Tilden, Stewart, Hoyt, Cruger, Drake
and Hopkins wills, Mr. Choate appeared. He
was counsel in the great Huntington case, in
which a series of actions were brought against
Collis P. Huntington on account of transac-
tions in Central Pacific Railroad stock. Roscoe
Conkling made his first appearance in the State
courts as Mr. Huntington 's counsel. In the


case of Richard M. Hunt vs. Mrs. Paran Ste-
vens Mr. Cboate was counsel for the plaintiff.
In the Maynard election returns cases, involv-
ing charges of fraud against Judge Maynard;
in the court martial trials of the Fitz-John
Porter and Captain McCalla cases; in the in-
vestigation of the Vigilant- Valkyrie yacht
contest before the New York Yacht Club; in
the suit of Hutchinson vs. New York Stock Ex-
change for reinstatement as a member of the
Exchange; in the suit of Loubat against the
Union Club for reinstatement as a member, and
in many others, Mr. Choate gave notable exhi-
bitions of his power.

In the United States Supreme Court the list
of his notable appearances is a long one. It
includes the case of Gebhard vs. the Canada
Southern Railway; the Kansas Prohibition
case; the case of Neagle, the United States
marshal who shot Judge Terry in defense of
Mr. Justice Field, and whom Mr. Choate suc-
cessfully clef ended ; the Chinese exclusion cases ;
the California irrigation cases; the Stan-
ford will case, involving the fate of the


Stanford University; the Bell Telephone cases ;
the Behring Sea cases; the income tax cases;
the Texas trust law case; the New, York Indian
case; the Berdan Arms case, and the Southern
Pacific land grant cases, involving the title to
large areas of Western territory.

Mr. Choate is famous as a cross-examiner.
His manner is invariably quiet. He rises and
advances to the railing as near the witnesses as
possible. Then he puts his head forward as
near the witnesses he can get it, and begins the
battle. He never loses his temper and never
raises his voice. He always lets the witness
take his own course first, and it is several min-
utes before he asks a question in which he is
really interested. If the answer is unsatisfac-
tory he immediately drops the subject, lets the
witness wander away for a little while, and
finally brings him gently back to the same
question. Again and again he will do this,
and the circles continually narrow until the
witness cannot stir, and must either answer the
question or flatly refuse it. The truth usually
comes out either way.


Mr. Choate' s devotion to great corporations
and to trusts has been purely professional. In
the freedom of public speaking outside the
courts he has not hesitated to make them, and
the financiers who control them, the butts of his
caustic humor.

When Mr. Choate left the law schools and
entered real life he laid out for himself certain
standards of conduct, which he has maintained
till the present day. It was even said of him
that he had a finer moral fiber and a keener
conscience than his celebrated uncle, Rufus
Choate, was thought to possess. He had lofty
conceptions of public duty, and the responsi-
bilities of governments, from which he has not
swerved. A Republican he entered life, and a
Republican he has remained through all the
momentous struggles and tremendous polit-
ical issues of the last fifty years, and there are
probably few men who possess a better concep-
tion of real Republican principles than this New
Englander of Salem.

Mr. Choate's Republicanism has been of that
robust character which would never be satisfied


with anything but the highest and best in pur-
poses and methods. He would never indorse
themaxim that "the end justifies the means,"
however ignoble the means. He often found
himself in antagonism with those who set
themselves up as the " bosses" of his party.
This antagonism has not had the effect, how-
ever, of weakening his influence, but has made
him cordially hated by "machine men" of all
parties. He might have had public offices over
and over again if he had really wished for them
and worked for them, but somehow he never
seemed to care about entering the political
field. When approached en the matter and
urged to go in and win, he used to say: "The
law is a jealous mistress, and will tolerate no
rival; I love my profession, and, besides, I live
by it, and I am going to be faithful to it."

One of his admirers says of him that he has
been content with the honors of his professional
successes, and of his appearance in exciting po-
litical campaigns and in critical stages of the
municipal affairs of New York City. "When
the need of his aid is apparent, when a public


task worthy of his powers demands atten-
tion, he is quick to respond."

He took a prominent part in the municipal
canvass of 1871, which resulted in the overthrow
of the Tweed ring the ring that had systemat-
ically plundered the civic treasury. In polit-
ical life he never hesitated in denouncing
abuses, and he has been especially eloquent in
attacking the municipal misgovernment of New
York. In 1897 he strongly supported Seth
Low, and in short belongs to the very highest
class of public men in America. If he has
made any political enemies it has been by the
ruthless severity with which he condemned the
wire-puller and the boss.

He never held office, unless his election as
president of the convention that met in 1894 to
revise the Constitution of New York State be
regarded as an exception. He was president of
the New England Society from 1867 to 1871,
president of the Harvard Club from 1874 to
1878, and president of the Union League Club
from 1873 to 1877. His addresses before these
various bodies are regarded as uniformly bril-


liant efforts, models of eloquence, and abound-
ing, like his addresses in court, in wit and

In the social world Mr. Choate has exercised
a leadership comparable with his professional
supremacy. He maintains active membership
in many clubs, including the Union League,
City, University, Metropolitan, Riding, New
Y ork Athletic and Grolier. He belongs also
to the Bar Association, the American Society
of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, the Century Association, the Dunlop
Society, and the Down-Town Association.

Mr. Choate made his first appearance as a
political orator in New York in the Fremont
campaign in 1856. His debut as an after-
dinner speaker was made at a St. George society
dinner not long thereafter. On both platforms
he scored an immediate success, and he has
spoken in every political canvass since, and al-
most at every public dinner. Mr. Depew has
said of him: "He is one of the few lawyers
who has demonstrated his ability to speak with
equal eloquence from the platform and in the


forum. He has a dignified, gracious and com-
manding presence, added to superior ability,
great acquirements and oratorical power."

Mr. Choate's ideal of "success," as drawn
forth in an interview, is the attainment of a
large capacity for work for accomplishment.
Wealth, leisure, sumptuous surroundings, "the
contest of idleness, knowing that enough has
been done" these, to common minds the mark-
ings of success, have for him no such signifi-
cance. There are nobler things to be sought.
The others are but "trappings, which neither
add to nor detract from character. ' ' He has
always been an eloquent advocate of social,
charitable and educational movements. His
executive abilities are conceded to be great.
His power of sustained and systematic labor is
unusual. His cultivation of mind and ur-
banity of spirit, his geniality and his gift of
repartee, have given him remarkable popularity.

During his long residence in New York Mr.
Choate passed his summers in a beautiful house
that was erected for him in 1885, by Sandford
White, in the village of Stockbridge, in the fa-


mous Berkshire Hills, in the western part of
Massachusetts. Stockbridge is five miles south
of Lenox. There are fewer people and less ex-
citement there than in Lenox, and for that rea-
son he selected that place in preference to the
latter, so as to get away from people and not
continue the winter life all through the sum-
mer. Besides, he considered Stockbridge the
prettiest village in New England. He re-
mained away from New York for three months.
As he modestly said : "The courts are closed
during the summer months, and I am no longer
of any use in our office."

He is a pilgrim of the Pilgrims, and nothing
appears to arouse his patriotic spirit like the
forefathers of his beloved New England. He
has given to literature two large and well-
written volumes on the history of the Pilgrim
Fathers. His favorite studies are constitu-
tional law and English and French history.
His favorite authors are George Eliot and
Thackeray. He likes William Dean Howells
as a novelist, and is a great novel reader. He
reads almost everything. In his workroom have


been noticed these books: "The Rise of Silas
Lapham," " Cicero on the Immortality of the
Soul," Smollet's translation of "Gil Bias of
Santillane," Demogeot's "Historie de la Liter-
ature Frangaise," and James Freeman Clarke's
' ' Common Sense in Religion. ' ' On Mr. Choate's
mantelpiece are four busts of old Emperor Wil-
liam, Von Moltke, Emperor Frederick and Bis-
marck. With them are five old-fashioned beer
mugs, and a long German pipe hangs on the
wall. A passion and a pleasure with him is
the collecting of manuscripts of famous law-
yers. In his office and in his library at home
are scores of specimens from the quills of Chief
Justice Marshall, John Jay, William Pinck-
ney, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Daniel
Webster, Rufus Choate, and many other legal
luminaries of the first magnitude.

Mr. Choate has a splendid physique, and a
large, intelligent face. He has brown hair and
light brown eyes; his forehead is broad, but
not very high. His voice is tenor in quality,
musical, flexible, under control and effective,
especially when used in sarcasm. He is always


at ease, stands unpretentiously, sometimes with
a hand in his trouser's pocket, or a thumb and
forefinger thrust into the vest pocket after the
English fashion. Affability and dignity char-
acterize his bearing always. He has fewer
wrinkles than most men twenty years his ju-
nior. The secret of this is perhaps that he has
never been in a hurry that he has never known
what it is to worry. Unlike the majority of the
Americans, he has never known what it is to
"hustle," and struggle morning, noon and
night, but goes steadily through life, working
hard, and always looking on the bright side.

He believes in happiness and good cheer as
promoters of longevity, and we would judge
him as one of those New England pilgrims
"who meet annually at Delmonico's to drown
the sorrows and sufferings of their ancestors in
the flowing bowl, and to contemplate their own
virtues in the mirror of history."




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Online LibraryHenry Fothergill ChorleyThe Choate story book; with a biographical sketch of J. H. Choate → online text (page 1 of 6)