Ratcliffe Hicks.

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Ratcliffe Hicks






Copyright, 1896,
By Cornelius Gardiner.




Biography 3

Speeches in the Connecticut Legislature . . 15

In favor of the Bill abolishing Capital Punishment 17

In favor of the Woman Suffrage Bill 29

In favor of the Bill for a Constitutional Convention 37

In regard to the East Hartford Bridge 49

In favor of Retrenchment of Public Expenses . . 56
In favor of the Bill relieving the New York, New
Haven, and Hartford Railroad from Double

Taxation 66

On presenting a Resolution appointing a Commis-
sion on the Revision of the Constitution . . 73
On the Resolution creating a Commission on the

Revision of the Constitution 75

On the Plurality Amendment 83

On the Building and Control of the Hartford Bridge 87
On the Resolution concerning Debenture Certifi-
cates of the New York, New Haven, and Hart-
ford Railroad Company 100

On the Connecticut River Navigation 112

On the Age of Consent, and Committee Report . 120



On the A. P. A. Resolution 124

On a Question of Privilege 127

On the Death of Frederick Douglas 129

On the Meriden Dime Savings-Bank Charter . . 131

Last Speech in the Assembly 132

Miscellaneous Addresses 135

Reply to General Joseph R. Hawley .... 137

To the Tax Commission of Connecticut .... 189

On the Irish Land League 196

A Tribute to Lincoln 225

In Memory of Horace Greeley 229

In Memory of E. K. Foster 231

Introducing James F. Babcock 232

Remarks made at the Firemen's Dinner .... 235

A Tribute to Tolland 237

Opening the Connecticut Campaign 240

To the Humane Institutions Committee .... 243

To the Reform School Committee 247

In Memory of Judge Waldo 250

Correspondence . 253

The City of Meriden 255

Explaining Removal from the City Attorneyship . 257

The Stafford Disaster 262

The Johnson Trial 265

A Southern Trip 270

A Condensed History of Bermuda 277

Proposed Reduction of Interest . 281

Opposing Jury Trials 290




A Tax- Payer on Consolidation 293

New Haven County Commissioners 295

Shall Supreme Court Judges be excused from Cir-
cuit Duty ? 299

Brown University Prizes 303

Gift to Meriden High School Fund 305

The Ratcliffe Hicks Prizes in the Connecticut

Agricultural College 307

Statue to Frederick S. Brown 310

Thanks of the Congregational Ecclesiastical Soci-
ety of Tolland 315

County Reform 316

Retrenchment 320

The Bridgeport Railroad Problem 321

Letter to Governor CofiSn 325

Thanks from the Hartford Equal Rights Club . . 328

Interviews 329

An Opinion on Congress 331

A Tribute to New Orleans 338

A Tariff Commission 343

Letter declining to be a Candidate for Governor . 348


/ have been requested to compile and have printed
the speeches and public papers of Ratcliffe Hicks for
distribution among his immediate friends. They
may not be unintei-esting to the general public, and
I feel sure that there are some -who will be pleased
to have in this permanent form the public utter-
ances of Mr. Hicks on matters of general interest
to the people of the State of Connecticut.


RATCLIFFE HICKS was born in the pic-
turesque town of Tolland, Conn., Oct. 3,
1843. He is to-day the chief representative of
a line of ancestors dating back in this country to
1644, and in England till it loses itself in the
misty ages of the past. Since the arrival of his
first American ancestor, Thomas Hicks, who sailed
from London in 1644, and settled in Scituate,
Mass., the family has been closely identified with
the progress of America. Its members have
achieved distinction in all walks of life. They
have won success on the seas and on the land,
in private pursuits and in public, in trade and in
the professions. For the past century and a half
the family has made its home in historic Con-
necticut. Its name has an honored place in the
annals of that State, and to the treasury of the
noble efforts of his forefathers, Ratcliffe Hicks,
the subject of this sketch, has added the wealth of
his own endeavors.

In these days when so much is made of one's
Revolutionary ancestors, it may be proper to state
that his great-grandmother was left a widow, at the


time of the Revolutionary War. Her husband
was a prominent physician of Tolland. Being left
with two sons and three daughters, she took up
the practice of medicine, and travelled daily for
miles on horseback in keeping up the business
established by her husband. She sent her two
sons to Yale College. One of them afterwards be-
came an eminent physician, and was the first pres-
ident of the well-known New England Society of
New York City. The other son was the grand-
father on his mother's side of Mr. Hicks. He was
long a leading lawyer of Tolland, and represented
it many times in the General Assembly. In the
Legislature of 1866 he was a member of the com-
mittee on the eight-hour law, and drew the report
of the minority. The law passed one house, but
was defeated in the other branch.

The life of Ratcliffe Hicks is typically American.
It demonstrates again the possibilities which lie in
store for every American youth endowed with hon-
esty, energetic persistency, and courage. It is a
lesson which tells of the opportunities fringing the
path of every young man in the land and awaiting
his embrace. It is additional proof of the oft-
repeated but frequently disbelieved assertion that
the chances for honorable achievement and dis-
tinguished success are as great in this day of lively
competition as in the much-talked-of good old
times ; for Ratcliffe Hicks, despite the long list of
his accomplishments, is still a young man com-


pared with others who have done as much. He
has apparently many years of life in store for him
in which to enjoy the rich fruits whicli he has
gathered from his labors.

Ratclifife Hicks was named in honor of his
grandfather, who won a splendid reputation as one
of New England's bravest, most daring, and ablest
sea-captains. His voyages had taken him to every
navigable part of the globe. His life was most
tempestuous, but successful, and he left behind
him a name which his grandson has ever cherished
with ardent love and infinite respect. The father
of the present Ratcliffe Hicks was a prominent
merchant in Providence, R. I., and afterwards
in New York City. The son, of whom it is my
pleasure to write, has won fame and fortune as a
lawyer, a manufacturer, a man of business, and a
legislator. The early part of his Hfe was spent in
an unceasing effort for success. He was at that
time, as now, an omnivorous and careful reader.
The law, the sciences, and the best and choicest
literature of all ages were to him, and are now,
what many forms of amusement are to other
young men.

It was young Hicks's firm intention to get a
university training. With that end in view, after
elementary studies at home, he entered Monson
Academy, where he prepared himself for Brown
University. He became a member of the fresh-
man class of that college in iS6o, and graduated


with high honors four years later, with the degree
of A. B. Throughout his school and college days
he gave particular attention to public speaking, and
won many a triumph as a debater and young ora-
tor of much promise. He was one of the founders
of the Delta Upsilon Chapter at Brown, and has
always been a generous contributor to the Chapter.
He took high rank in his class, and was one of
the orators at the Commencement.

He began life, after graduating, as a school-
teacher in the town of his birth. He devoted his
leisure hours to studying law in Judge Loren P.
Waldo's office. He kept this up for two years, and
was then admitted to the Connecticut bar. Im-
mediately after his admission to the bar, he became
associated in partnership with United States Sena-
tor Piatt, of Meriden. This partnership continued
for three years. The following ten years he con-
tinued the practice of his profession alone, the last
three in Hartford.

His success as a lawyer was remarkable for one
so young. He soon became known throughout
the length and breadth of his State, and also in
the adjoining States, as a lawyer of great oratorical
powers, of painstaking disposition, and of rare good
judgment. Business flowed in upon him as swiftly
as he could dispose of it. The rapidity of that
flow will perhaps be more fully appreciated when
it is known that it netted him an average income
of over $10,000 a year. He was engaged in many


of the most important cases tried before the New
England tribunal. Probably the most noted of his
cases was the famous Sprague litigation in Rhode
Island. For his services in that suit he received a
fee of $10,000. His activity in the litigation of
Connecticut will be readily understood from the
statement that his name is in every volume of the
Connecticut Reports from 1866 to 1879. In two
of the other famous cases which he won, the fol-
lowing principles were established : —

That no one can recall a gift, and that where
a person has deposited money in a savings-bank,
although retaining the bank-book in his posses-
sion, it is still a gift which he cannot recall.

That intoxication is a defence to be used in
'Connecticut in cases of murder where the intent
is a feature of the crime.

Between the years 1869 and 1874 Mr. Hicks
was City Attorney of Meriden, and from 1873 to
1876 he was Attorney for the County of New
Haven. In those two public offices he made an
excellent reputation for the vigorous and skilful
manner in which he handled the public business.
They were not, however, the first pubUc offices he
held, as in 1866 he had the distinction of being
elected a member of the Connecticut Legislature.
He was the youngest member of the Legislature at
that time. He attracted considerable attention by
his enthusiastic work tempered by a maturity of
judgment seldom seen in one so young. In 1S93


he was elected to the Legislature again, and did
most important work as a member of several of
the chief committees of that body. He made
speeches during his second term as a legislator,
with a brilliancy of diction and a vigor of expres-
sion which brought him commendation and con-
gratulation from all parts of the State. His
admirers were not confined to the ranks of the
Democracy, of which he has ever been a most
loyal member. Republicans by the score were
numbered among those who paid tribute in the
shape of sincere expressions of thanks for his ser-
vices to the State. As a sample of his style of
oratory, the following paragraphs of his speech on
constitutional reform are excellent : —

" I have one appeal to make to the members of this
House. To most of them it does not make a penny's
difference who carries this State politically two years
hence. The sun will shine, the grass will grow, and
business go on the same, whichever political party
triumphs. This country is lost and saved regularly
every four years. Let us do right. Let us make a
record which we can live by and die by, — a record
which merits the approval of our own consciences and
of the intelligent future historian who will some day
write up the record of this General Assembly. No
political party has triumphed permanently in this
country. The party which is down to-day is up to-
morrow. The political caldron of American politics
is like the ebb and flow of the ocean ; but it is al-
ways safe to do right, and then, whether success or


defeat await you, you have the approval of your con-
science. And in the end history will vindicate your

He closed vi^ith the following ringing words : —

" I shall vote for this bill, not because I think it
will benefit the Democratic party, — I do not think
that either pohtical party will reap any permanent
political advantage from a constitutional convention, —
but I shall vote for this bill because it is right. This
question rises above all party politics. The State is
greater than any political party. Our children and
our children's children have an abiding interest in our
action to-day. I prefer to stand where the old Roman
stood, and to do right though the heavens fall."

During the session of 1891 Mr. Hicks was
chairman of the House Committee on Woman's
Suffrage, and reported a bill giving women the
right to vote on all school matters. He supported
the report by a speech, and the bill passed the
House almost unanimously. It became a law, and
made Connecticut the first State in New England
to give women the right to vote on school matters.
He introduced also an amendment to the Consti-
tution giving all towns of over five thousand inhab-
itants, an extra representative in the Assembly for
every 5,000 additional inhabitants. The proposi-
tion was received with a great deal of approval,
and is probably the best solution that can be made
of the present unfortunate condition of affairs in



Connecticut, — the small towns' jealousy of the
large cities.

During the session of 1895 Mr. Hicks took a
more active part, as will be seen from an examina-
tion of the doings of the General Assembly, and
probably accomplished as much, if not more, than
any man in the Assembly.

He introduced a bill providing for a State Chem-
ist and the examination of all articles of food,
which resulted in the adoption of a new and very
valuable law ; and the first report was recently
made by the State Chemist, showing nearly a
thousand articles adulterated and sold publicly in
Connecticut in the way of food and drink. He
got a law enacted providing for the care and
custody of bequests in connection with the ceme-
teries ; also a law in regard to the licenses of
pawnbrokers, compelling them, under heavy penal-
ties, to report weekly to the police all goods re-
ceived in pawn, thereby breaking up all fences or
means of shielding robberies or thefts.

He introduced a bill providing for the employ-
ment of a clerk of bills with additional duties and
powers, and taking the appointment out of politics.
This law will be very valuable hereafter in pre-
venting hasty, unwise, or crude legislation. He
introduced a resolution in regard to the support
and maintenance of the East Hartford bridge,
which led to the longest and most memorable in-
vestigation ever held before any committee in


Connecticut, and resulted in the repeal of the law,
relieving the State of Connecticut from the burden
of half a million dollars on this one bridge, and
from all attempts hereafter to place similar bridges
upon the State Treasury, thus saving the State of
Connecticut a million dollars at a low estimate.
The bridge was put back upon the towns in the
vicinity from which it had been taken by the pre-
vious Assembly, by legislation which it was charged
was secured largely by bribery. He also introduced
a resolution calling for an investigation of the
expenses of the State, A special committee was
appointed to investigate the matter, and after a
long hearing they made a most voluminous report,
sustaining all of Mr. Hicks's claims; and their
report, if it had been adopted, would have saved
the State of Connecticut anywhere from one to
two thousand dollars annually. The Legislature,
which was overwhelmingly Republican, voted down
the recommendations of the committee, and got
out of the matter by referring them to the next
General Assembly,

He introduced also a bill taking away the abso-
lute control of the School Fund by the School
Fund Commissioner, as there has been gross mis-
management of the fund at times, and placing the
control of the loan in the hands of a Board consist-
ing of the School Fund Commissioner, the Treasurer
of the State, and the Comptroller. This matter
was warmly discussed, and bitterly opposed by the


School Fund Office before the Legislature; so it
was, for the time being, defeated.

Among other measures he introduced the fol-
lowing : —

An amendment to the Constitution providing
that no member of the General Assembly shall
be eligible to any office requiring confirmation or
election by one or both branches of the Legislature.
That would have put a stop to the scandalous con-
test among members for offices.

An amendment providing that no bill appro-
priating public money should be passed until it
had been printed and on the desks of the members
for three session days, thus preventing the hasty
passage of appropriations when the members were
largely absent or at the closing hours of the ses-

An amendment providing that no more spe-
cial charters should be granted, but that all such
companies should be organized under a general
law, thus relieving the legislators of a vast amount
of business which is only a detriment to the public
interests, and doing away also with the necessity
of a large lobby, which these private charters al-
ways create.

It was hardly to be expected that these amend-
ments would at once be adopted, but in time they
are sure to be incorporated in the Constitution,
because they are right.

For his services in the Legislature, his party



desired to reward him with the nomination for
Lieutenant-Governor of Connecticut. It seemed
as if his nomination were certain. Some of the
papers of the State went so far as to say : —

" For second place on the ticket, it is given out, as
if by authority, that Ratchffe Hicks will be the man.
He is a lawyer of recognized ability and a Democrat
of the old school. He has the advantage of being
thoroughly known throughout the State, which is
more than can be said of some of the men who have
been mentioned for the place."

The Congregational Church in Tolland, which
was built some years ago and for which his grand-
father contributed liberally, Mr. Hicks, in con-
nection with others, has lately found great pleasure
in restoring and modernizing.

He has established annual prizes for public speak-
ing at the college where he was educated (Brown
University), at the Storrs Agricultural College, in
Mansfield, Tolland County, and at the High School
in Meriden.

In 1882 Mr. Hicks became connected with the
Canfield Rubber Company of Bridgeport. He was
elected its president, and has since then devoted
his talents as an executive to the management of
the concern. When he became associated with it,
its capital stock was but $10,000. To-day it has a
capital stock of $250,000, a surplus of as much
more, while its sales aggregate annually $1,000,000.
The success of the company under his direction


has been often spoken of as one of the most
remarkable achievements in the manufacturing
history of New England. It has made a substan-
tial fortune for Mr. Hicks and its other prominent
stockholders, and has furnished a comfortable liveli-
hood to a large number of operatives.

Cornelius Gardiner.




Delivered March i6, 1893, in favor of the Bill
abolishing Capital Punishment.

Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of
Representatives :

I AM opposed to the majority report of your
honorable Committee on the Judiciary, and in
favor of the minority report, in the matter of abol-
ishing capital punishment ; and with no little hesi-
tancy I will explain briefly my reasons.

I think, sir, the title of this bill should be
amended, or there should be a preamble put into
it something like this : That all men, rich and
poor, white and black, native-born and alien.
Christian and Jew, are entitled to the same rights,
and shall suffer the same punishments under the
laws of this ancient and Christian Commonwealth.

You have never executed in this State a man
worth $10,000, and never can, no matter what
kind of a murder he commits. No man who has
$10,000 and upwards in the bank can be ex-
ecuted in this State or in any other State in this
Union. You execute only some poor, unfortunate
2 17


Italian, negro, or Irishman without friends and
without money.

The man who killed Jim Fisk walks every day
up and down Broadway, or lolls in his carriage in
Central Park. If he had been some poor Italian,
negro, or Irishman, that man (his name is on
every one's lips) would have paid the penalty of the
law; but he is, instead, a living witness of the
power of money in your boasted courts of justice.
No criminal who has money enough to hire such
eloquent and eminent lawyers as the late Samuel
F. Jones or the late George D. Watrous or the
late Charles Chapman, can ever be hung in Con-
necticut. There are too many tricks in the trade,
too many devices, too many loopholes, too many
defences, too many excuses, and too much influ-
ence on judge and jury.

Thank God, they have never in one hundred
years hung but one man in that hillside county of
Tolland which I have in part the honor to repre-
sent on the floor of this House, and that was such
a disgusting spectacle that they will not hang
another man in one hundred years more. He
was a poor, simple-minded Indian, who went to
one of your licensed taverns, kept by a good
Christian Yankee, and bought that infernal stuff
which transforms men into brutes, fires the passions,
and robs them of their reason and self-control.
He went home in that maudlin condition, and killed
the only friend he had on earth, the woman he


loved as he loved his own life. He was poor and
penniless, and had to die on the gibbet. The
Indian died ; but the world moves on, and a little
later (less than the span of a human Hfe) the
Supreme Court of this State pronounced such
hanging judicial murder, as wanting in malice
aforethought and premeditation, — the necessary
elements in all murders of the first degree.

Now, gentlemen, if you had some positive,
never-failing, all-wise method of administering pun-
ishment, so that, like the apothecaries' scales, it
weighed out equal and exact justice to all men,
there might be some reason in your law. But
when you stop to consider the poor, imperfect,
faulty instrument which society has erected under
the name of a court of justice, then the instincts
of every honest man revolt against this law.

How many innocent men have been executed?
Not all the blood of all the Pharaohs can wipe out
the crime of the judicial murder of one innocent
man. Within the past week we read in all the
papers the dying confession of a murder of a for-
ester, in England, for which another man was
executed twenty-five years ago.

In ancient Greece lawyers were all paid by the
State, and every person could select his own
lawyer, the most powerful and the most learned in
the land, and that lawyer was obliged to try the
case without tee or reward. The poor man had, in
their courts of justice, the same advantage as the


millionaire. In this enlightened country it is the
theory or practice of our government, that the
poor man has no vested rights except the hope of
that better land, heaven. Nine-tenths of the men
who have been hung have died for the want of the
best lawyer. A mortifying shame ! It is the cus-
tom of your courts, if a criminal is penniless, to
assign to him some young lawyer who may experi-
ment with the case, and if the patient dies the
lawyer lives and learns. I plead for the same laws
and the same penalties for the Vanderbilt and the
wandering beggar in the street. Some day it will
be so.

It was my fortune, or misfortune, to defend a
poor criminal, a friendless Swede, some years ago
in this State. The case was tried before the Hon.
L. S. Foster, — a man who stood high in the counsels
of the nation, and ranked as a foremost lawyer in
the land. He laid down the law to the jury;
they convicted the man ; he sentenced him to be
hung as you would a mad dog to be shot. With-
out compensation I took the case to the Supreme
Court of this State, to the very court of which Mr.
Foster was himself a member ; and his associates
informed him that the law which he laid down
was neither the law of this State nor of any
State in the Union, and so the man escaped the

A few years ago a good citizen of this State went
to a very prominent lawyer, who ranks to-day



among the foremost, having declined the proffered
nomination of Chief-Justice of this State, and who
enjoys a national reputation, and he said, " I want

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Online LibraryRatcliffe HicksSpeeches and public correspondence of Ratcliffe Hicks .. → online text (page 1 of 18)