Peter Thacher.

A sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 online

. (page 37 of 51)
Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 37 of 51)
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God." " Eender therefore unto Csesar the things
that are Caesar's." With such an origin, what more
honorable field of toil than this of the law 1


This view is confirmed, as we consider the
minute and ever careful guardianship which the
civil law cherishes toward the individual. It has
passed into a proverb, that any law is better than
no law. Grim despotism is not so much to be
feared as haggard anarchy. A tyrant, holding his
place through legal forms, is superior to an unre-
strained mob, defying all order. What then shall
be the estimate placed on that condition of things
in the State, which not only saves from all excesses,
within or without the limit of the statute, on the
part of the ruling power, but which secures to
every man all cherished rights 1 With no agency
of his own, each one finds himself introduced into
an order of things where the law and its deputies
do not permit the least invasion of his personal
interests. Not a sparrow of his may fall to the
ground by any ruthless hand, without their notice
and careful adjustment of the wrong. " The rod
of the wicked may not rest upon the lot of the
righteous, lest he put forth his hand unto iniquity."
Under the permeating influences of a benign Chris-
tian civilization, such is the harmony of the social
and political life, that while we hardly know there
are any laws, except as we see those appointed to
execute them arresting, trying and punishing the


offender, we do in fact have all things to enjoy.
The various departments of our civil institutions
being well balanced upon the clearly admitted prin-
ciple, that "that government is best which governs
the least ;" the body politic, like the natural body,
when the lungs are sound and the atmosphere
is pure, gives health and tone to every part.

It is no inferior labor to place man where he
belongs in society, and gird him around with all
appropriate privilege and protection. It has been
difficult to bring up a nation to those first forms of
civil life which succeed war and conquest; but far
more skill and wisdom are requisite to educe and
establish the best forms of government. Many a
one can build a ship, who could not cause it to ride
the highway of the ocean in successful commerce.
And yet, such has been the success of the legisla-
tive and executive departments of labor, here and
elsewhere, that this difficult problem has been
clearly solved. What the State is, in its code of
laws and its administrative force, is plainly due, to
a very large extent, to those familiar with the
principles of jurisprudence ; for legislative bodies
are made up in the main from the legal profession.
The other learned professions are well nigh pro-
scribed the halls of legislation and the councils of


the judiciary, by the necessities of their daily
duties. Here then is this extended empire of civil
law placed in charge of those invested with the

A well known writer on English law attributes
the difficulties with which questions in legal science
are so often encumbered, to the passage of Acts,
through the influence of " men of very little judg-
ment in law ; " implying, of course, that the higher
the legal knowledge brought in to frame the statute,
the more perfect its features. What a noble work
is seen in our courts, jury trials, the able pleadings
of learned advocates, the searching examinations
of witnesses, the erudite opinions of the judges !
What are these and the other careful forms through
which law leads those who become pupils in her
schools, and skillful gymnasts in her athletic exer-
cises, but the labor appointed to give to every man
his precious rights ! We rise on the grandeur of
this thought, when we note how the law moves
right on in its fixed purpose to punish the guilty,
reclaim the vicious, and protect the innocent, swayed
neither to the right hand nor to the left. No power
of wealth (and gold is very strong) is able to save
the offender from meeting the just measure of his
crimes. No strength of love can avail to avert the


merited blow; and yet, " many waters cannot quench
love, neither can the floods drown it." And on the
other hand, the State extends her Eegis of protection
over all her citizens, so that we may roam over con-
tinents, and sail on seas where enemies abound, and
she guards us well, " as the apple of the eye."

We may be aided also in coming to a just esti-
mate of the work to be done, by duly considering
the union which law establishes between nations.
Here the highest interests of all people are in-
volved and maintained by the forms of international
law. What a noble, benevolent sphere of opera-
tion does this department of jurisprudence present!
What a question is this now pending between Eng-
land and America ! A single man in the councils
of this nation may, by his wisdom, save two great
Christian empires from all the suffering and deso-
lation of wasting war; or, if careful judgment is
wanting, and skill to discern the right, he may pen
a line which shall set all Europe in a blaze. How
momentous, how solemn, to stand thus balancing
the fate of kingdoms ! This is no new crisis. Again
and again, in the past, the ship of state has been
brought to the verge of terrible disaster ; the elements
of destruction seemed on the alert; the heavens be-
came exceedingly dark and frowning, when lo ! the


hand of a skillful pilot, like Webster, seized the
helm, and the danger was quickly passed. Serene
skies and a calm sea insured prosperity. So shall
it continue to be while the world standeth. Now,
whatever may be the final decision in the question
of so grave debate this hour, be it for us or against
us, who will not say it is a sublime view of the
brotherhood of nations, which so defines the rights
of existing powers, that the whole national blood is
on fire at the least seeming invasion of acknowl-
edged rights. Powerful thrones stand guardians
of the interests of humanity to that degree, that
there may be no transgression with impunity.

Such is law, as it descends to us from the bosom
of God ; as it guards every man's life and property;
as it rules the nations by its firm decrees, saying,
" Thus far shalt thou go, but no farther."

O God, thou hast made the universe harmonious,
as thou dost move it together in the bonds of im-
mutable law, so • that not one sun strayeth, no
star wandereth from its appointed pathway in
the heavens ! So shall the family of man ripen
into harmonious thought and action, all people
becoming one, when the edicts of earth, like those
above, are perfect, the thrones of earth uttering
the responses of the throne of God, in truth.


IT. We come now to the examination of the
results upon the man himself.

And here, it will be admitted, the legal profession
presents a fine opportunity for mental discipline.
In the rich stores of treasured wisdom which the
science of jurisprudence presents, nothing can be
wanting to furnish stimulant for the highest en-
deavor, when pursuing where mere human thought
has opened the way of ascent. The divine in man
asks for the divine in truth. Of this, we speak not
just here. In the careful statements, close logic of
the schools of law, thought must easily come to a
degree of accuracy in discrimination and analysis,
hardly surpassed by the tuition of the exact sciences.
Those forms too of debate, which array able advo-
cates on opposing sides of the same question, are
highly conducive to intellectual vivacity and a
masterly mental gladiatorship. Such is the disci-
pline here offered that other professions have been
laid under tribute to it. Clergymen have studied
here, much to their advantage. Some of the lead-
ing minds in the pulpit, to-day, passed through
the forum on their way to the altar. Judge
Blackstone, speaking of the old world, says : " No
scholar thinks his education completed, till he has
attended a course or two of lectures, both upon


the Institutes of Justinian and the local constitu-
tions of his native soil."

It may be said of law, as of theology, There
is no department of laudable inquiry which may
not contribute of its stores to enrich this. The
foremost men at the bar and on the bench have
generally been scholars in no restricted sense.

As to eloquence, the question remains an open
one, whether the pulpit or the bar is the more
favorable to its cultivation. It is of no practical
importance on which side the decision might fall ;
for to either, there is ample scope offered for the
happiest efforts. In the oratorical department of
literature, some of the best specimens are from the
domain of secular eloquence. The pleadings of
advocates, the speeches of statesmen, the deci-
sions of courts — thought and language have been
masterly here. Man has sometimes seemed almost

Man is but half educated — not even that, when
his mind only receives strength and polish. The
heart is the best part of our being; and if that
be without its proper unfoldings and culture, the
true end of living cannot be attained. The soul
must be imbued with the spirit of goodness, and
the entire moral nature be made tender and very


pitiful. What we claim is this ; The law is a good
school for the cultivation of the heart. Look at its
duties with this thought in mind. At one time the
criminal, with heart and hand linked together in
deeds of fearful wickedness, comes to you with his
confessions and pleadings. You see the terrible
depths of ruin into which he has plunged, and offer
such aid as lies in your power, not to defend his
terrible wrong, but that he may receive his deserts
according to the forms of law ; and if sorry for his
sin, with such mitigation as judicial clemency may
appoint. This you can do, and violate no principle
of right. Again, the rights of property have been
invaded ; may not the law and its deputies be on
an errand of large benevolence, when seeking to
adjust those rights X Personal violence has been
rendered by one man to another. May not the
law heal the wounds, bind up the bruises, and be
honorable and sympathizing, even like Him who
went about doing good 1

Introduce a man of ordinary sensibilities to the
scenes of distress and suffering in those hospitals
where our patriotic soldiers have been borne,
mangled, from the field of battle, and will he not
love man more and war less? Go through the
rooms of Blackwell's Island, and witness the awful


ravages of self-inflicted disease ; will you not love
virtue more, vice less ] May it not be thus with
the advocate 1 When his practice leads him
through the dark cells of moral depravity and
the gloomy haunts of passion and hate, or along
the well-trodden paths of knavery and gilded
villainy — or even where misfortune only has en-
trapped her victim — who may not be raised to a
better life by such an experience X Whatever may
be the facts in the case, it is boldly asserted, that
no class of men are more favorably situated for
becoming models of all that is virtuous and good,
than lawyers. Away, forever away, with the ex-
cuse, that those who plead the law for others, must
perish themselves. That there are great tempta-
tions and exposures to wrong-doing here, is freely
admitted. It is true, a man may be a lawyer and
a very bad man, and yet hold his place, when a
clergyman would quickly fall by his iniquity ; and
so the conserving influence may not be so powerful
in one case as in the other. Be it so. Life every-
where, in this world of sin, is full of temptations.
But " if thou faint in the day of adversity, thy
strength is small." He that will not be a man,
whatever his calling, may conclude that his man-
hood has departed ; not in consequence of what is


without him, but from causes within his own

Human character must pass through one other
process of training, if it would come forth with
its highest honor and brightest crown : it is the
department of religious teaching, and a true
Christian experience. Manhood is never com-
pletely ripened, except beneath the rays of the
Sun of Righteousness. Human thought cannot
come to its full maturity, except as it commune,
believingly, lovingly, with the thought of God.
Does the profession of which we now speak present
unusual obstacles to a holy life % Then, indeed,
most unfortunate is the position of the counsellor
at law. It cannot be — the thought is preposterous
— that any of the claims of a holy, spiritual law,
are rendered invalid by reason of devotion to
enforcing the claims of human law. To one out-
side the circle of these duties, it appears to be the
direct tendency of the legal practice, to bring those
in it to acknowledge the claims of saving truth.
We are led to ask, How can those who deal with
these statutes of earth, in their unyielding forms
and rigid demands, escape such an estimate of the
immutable law of God, in its positive precepts
and undeviating penalties, as shall lead them to


apply to the only refuge of deliverance from its
terrible infractions 1 for there is no man that liveth
and sinneth not. And then, when the value of an
able advocate is so well understood as in our civil
courts, especially in those cases involving the
question of life and death, can the thoughtful
mind fail to be impressed with a sense of his own
need of one, so able and willing, like Jesus, to
plead in his behalf, in that solemn trial which
shall at last overtake us all, where God is judge,
and man is the impleaded criminal 1

Oh ! who that contemplates the majesty of law,
and sees in these statutes and instruments and
forms of earth, only the shadows and symbols of
eternal things as they really are, does not feel
the need of that most animating assurance im-
parted by the heavenly oracle : " If any man sin,
we have an advocate with the Father."

It has been said, with great propriety, "An un-
devout astronomer is mad." It may be added with
no less propriety, He who stands among men as
the interpreter and executive of law, has debarred
himself the highest use of reason, if he has not
been so led by her guiding hand, through the great
temple of natural and revealed truth, and along the
established order of cause and effect, law and


penalty, as to discover that his being can be har-
monized and perfected only when led to adore and
worship God and to find in Christ the only way to
eternal life. Here, as everywhere else, " the fear
of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

The theme before us is too extended to be
discussed, as its merits demand, in the brief space
allotted to this service. There is, however, less
occasion to regret this, because the life and charac-
ter of the one whose mortal remains are now before
us, and whose death has occasioned these remarks,
has, by a long and eminent professional life, so
wrought out the argument in impressive, living
forms, that none can gainsay or resist.

Never could the words before us be more appro-
priately applied than to him who now lies there
in statue-like repose. What is the mute tribute of
this unusual gathering'? The Superior Court has
paused in its grave debate, that the court and mem-
bers of the bar may be here, to mingle in the scene
of grief ; the Halls of the University are deserted
for an hour, that faculty and students may join in
these solemnities ; the Municipal Authorities are
also with us, paying no heartless homage to de-
parted worth ; while many an individual mourner,
from the several walks and avocations of life,


is here to swell the throng and emphasize the
declaration, He was a lawyer " had in reputation
among all the people."

The subject of this notice, was the eldest son of
Jonathan and Rachel Steele Barnes. He was born
in Tolland, Ct., in 1789. The father was a lawyer
of distinction. The son was graduated at Yale
College, in 1810. He read law for a time in the
office of his father ; subsequently, with Chauncy
Whittlesey, Esq., in this place, where he was ad-
mitted to the bar and opened an office in 1813.
Here he has ever since resided, in the quiet but
most diligent labors of his profession. He was
married April 29, 1819, to Maria Ward, daughter
of Ebenezer Tracy, M. D., long and favorably
known as a physician in this community. She
and her six children survive him. Death has now
for the first time entered their home-sanctuarv.

Mr. Barnes was no ordinary man. Viewed in any
light, this impression would be made upon those
who knew him. He belonged to that small class
of worthies who seek not honor from men, in the
usual forms of public patronage and popular ap-
plause. His life seemed schooled by the thought,

" Act well your part, there all the honor lies."


He was perfect master of those departments of his
profession which his practice opened to him, and
was no novice in the yet broader fields of inquiry.
The decisions of his judgment were the result of
untiring research, aided by vast stores of knowledge.
In addition to the finished classical education, be-
gun in College and perfected by daily application
through many years, he had reached a degree of
ripe scholarship in the Hebrew Scriptures, and w r as
quite at home in many of the modern languages,
reading and translating with fluency Italian, Span-
ish, Portuguese and French, besides being capable
of appreciating many of the beauties of German
literature in its original dress. He was incited to
these studies by the love of learning and a keen
relish for the literature to which the various
languages formed the key ; governed, however, as
he saw his children growing up around him, by
the principle which led another eminent man to
say : " If his son could not be as well educated at
home as in the school, he might be kept from so
great exposure to evil influences." Mr. Barnes
made his own education, in connection with such
aids as his family could furnish, the education of
his children. How wisely he judged, how well
he executed the assumed task, need not here be


As a counsellor at law his opinion carried great
weight. His decision was the end of all litigation
to a very numerous class of citizens, who brought
to his listening, patient ear, their many complaints.
Any legal instrument drawn by his accurate pen
was quite sure to stand the test of any ordeal to
which it might be subjected by advocate or jury.
To say he was rigidly honest, would be only repeat-
ing the word that falls from every tongue pro-
nouncing his name.

Had the poet raised his eye, when he had written
the line,

" An honest man '3 the noblest work of God,"

and met his form and seen his merits as we have
known them, he would have exclaimed, Behold
now that noblest work ! Had the old cynic, with
lamp in hand at noonday, met him, he would have
quickly extinguished his flame, and with rapture
shouted, Here is the object of my search !

Sincerity was another prominent feature in the
character of our departed friend. In his inter-
course with men, his conduct, if framed into a
maxim, would have been this : " Praise no man in
his presence; speak evil of no man in his absence."
Like Nathanael, he was an Israelite indeed, in


whom there was no guile. Remarkably retiring in
his tastes and habits, it was permitted to but few
to come within the inner circle of his thoughts and
feelings. But those who enjoyed this rare felicity,
discovered such truth, purity, and disinterested
benevolence, as to have occasion to regret that
the sphere of this silent influence had not been
greatly extended.

To crown all, he was a devoted Christian. In his
ripe manhood, when every faculty of his mind was
in full vigor, he examined with great care the
doctrines and claims of the Gospel. He believed
those doctrines, acknowledged those claims, and
bowed in a spirit of homage and self-consecration
before God. He accepted Christ as offered to him
in the plan of redemption, to be his Saviour from
sin, and his hope of final acceptance with the
blessed. It was this hope that sustained him
when at the fords of Jordan; for when his sighing
spirit moaned, " I am a great sinner," it brought
the response, " You have a great Saviour." And
what brightness, and joy even, is diffused over this
otherwise appalling scene, by the decisions of that
hour ! We sorrow not as others who have no
hope. Death here is simply the eclipse of life on
its earthly side, while the full orb of existence has


passed on to those transcendent glories where it
may shine as the brightness of the firmament for-
ever and ever.

In 1829, accompanied by her whom ten years
before he had led to the altar of wedded life, he
made a public profession of his faith in the doc-
trines of salvation, and became a communicant in
this church. From that impressive hour to the
very last of earth, religion received no dishonor
from his life and influence ; he bore at all times
the Christian in the man. The Sabbath always
found him in his seat at church, morning and
afternoon, if impossibilities did not prohibit. And
here the maxim which governed his decisions was :
" If able to attend court during the week, able to
attend church on the Sabbath." Noble example,
worthy to be imitated by all the profession — by all
men ! It will not soon be forgotten how quietly
he came to his place here, moving up these aisles ;
and how he lingered till all had gone, in order
that no excitement might provoke his disease to
give the fatal blow. His valuable services were
enlisted in Sabbath school instruction, until failing
health and waning strength forbade. Many there
are who received and prized his instructions in
this department. In the praises of Zion, his soul


found great delight. For many years he held his
place in the choir. His love of music was intense,
like that of Luther's. At the age of forty, he
learned, self-taught, to play the flute, feeling the
need of the sweet tones of some instrument to
vibrate along the harp of his devout soul. And
often, in his last days, the softly breathing notes, as
he touched the vocal keys, mingled with the sacred
incense of the early morning.

The event of his death, which we so greatly
deplore, came not to him, or those about him,
without its timely and kindly premonitions. For
six years an incurable disease had taken possession
of the citadel of life, and, like the servant of the
king of Macedon, was daily admonishing him :
" Remember thou art mortal." That he has lived
thus long is due, under the favor of Providence, to
the even tenor of his life and thought, eminent
medical skill, and that watchful solicitude, both of
filial and conjugal love, which ministered so becom-
ingly to every necessity. But oh ! if the prayers
of this entire community could have done the deed,
who shall say how far the shadow of the degrees
on the sun-dial of his existence would have been
turned backward ! And yet it is permitted to only
a few to come to the closing scene with more cause


for gratitude than had he. The rare felicity was
granted to him, of seeing all his children walking
in the truth, established in family relations ; and of
going to his last repose with no household graves
by his side. The beauty of his waning life was
well depicted in the tribute paid to one who was a
brother, in the two-fold relation of professional life
and family ties.

"While he was in a condition which would have
made some men forget all but self and suffering,
his expansive benevolence, worthy of its celestial
origin, constantly flowed out to his fellow-beings.
His intellect was still firm and vigorous, after years
of severe disease had taken from his body almost
all power but that of endurance, and his feelings,
instead of being soured by disappointment and
calamity, grew more tender and affectionate."

His dying, like his life, was tranquil. For a
few days he had been more than usually exercised
with pain. His last night was a season of very
great physical suffering ; under its influence, his
mind wandered for a time from its health-moorings.
At mid-day, thought once more became serene,
healthful ; a few words were spoken ; hopes were
encouraged that immediate danger had passed; but
it was only the gleam ings of the spear, even then


piercing his heart. His head bowed upon his
bosom, while seated in his chair, and he had
reached the end of earth.

" He gave his honors to the world again,
His blessed part to heaven, and slept in peace."

In the demise of Mr. Barnes, the Middlesex Bar
loses the oldest, as well as one of the most hon-
ored of its members. All who met him on his

Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 37 of 51)