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had filled out a life of rare usefulness and success. born in 1779, less than a year before Horace Binney, who is still living, and who was his contemporary for fifty years at the bar and in public life. The tribute of the latter, a few days after the death of ! is friend, at a meeting of the members of the legal profession of Philadelphia, in November, 1852, is a classic of obituaries.
At a period when so many are rushing into the law as a profession, Horace Binney on John Sergeant may not be unprofitably read. I quote:
"Mr. Sergeant was born in Philadelphia, and lived there for seventy-three years, during fifty-three years of which he was an advocate and counselor-one of the ministers of justice. He has been known and honored for half a century. In learning, integrity, and in liberal fairness, in habitual courtesy, he has maintained the reputation of the bar of Philadelphia and supported the inherent dignity of the profession. He continued every year during his whole life increasing his titles to respect and honor every day, until he achieved the highest degrees of both—as wise men estimate degrees of honor and respect-by merit, not by accident or fortune, or the breath of popular applause. He has rounded the whole circle of his life fully, completely, perfectly."
As marking the difference between the lawyers of the past and the present, I heard an anecdote of Mr. Sergeant the other day, which shows how the giants estimated their professional services and by what sensitive and scrupulous rules they squared their actions. A distinguished merchant, still living, called upon Mr. Sergeant for his opinion in an important case, which was duly prepared and sent by one of the students of the great lawyer. The merchant opened the letter, and after glancing over it asked the student for the charge. He said he did not know the contents of the paper and could not answer. The merchant then signed a blank check, and sent it back to Mr. Sergeant by the same hand, with a message that he should
fill it up with the amount of his fee. This very student, now one of the leading members of the Philadelphia bar, graphically describes the effect of the communication. He
he never saw a little man (Mr. Sergeant was of slight stature) so suddenly tower into a giant. “Mr. entirely misunderstands me, sir! Go back to him, sir, and say for me that I am the last person living to fill up another man's check. If he will carefully examine the paper I sent, he will find my fee written in one of the corners.” With this somewhat considerable flea in his ear the young man retraced his steps to the merchant, when the opinion was carefully inspected, and written in very small letters, in the angle of one of the pages, were the figures “$30."
I fear the fee of our reigning legal magnates for similar services would be at least ten times thirty dollars.
In illustration of Sergeant's mode of life, I quote again from the venerable Binney's eulogy: “His honor and integrity in all that regarded his profession or management of his cause were not only above impeachment or imputation, but beyond the thought of it. So distinct and universal was this impression, that if any man had directed a battery of that sort against him, the recoil would have prostrated him to the earth. His heart, his mind, his principles, his conscience, his bond to man, his bond to Heaven, which he had given early, and which to the last he never intentionally violated, would have made it, humanly speaking, impossible for him to swerve from his integrity. It is the best example for the rising generations to have before them. He was perfectly fair. There was no evasion, no stratagem, no surprising, no invocation of prejudice, no appeal to unworthy passions—he was far above all these.
Mr. Sergeant had too much strength indeed to make use of such arts, to say nothing of his virtue. He was charitable in doing work at the bar without pecuniary compensation-though not without reward. He did that which, in his judgment, was best, but he did not do it ostentatiously. He did not do it by proclamation, informing the court in the presence of the bystanders that he did not receive a fee, but that it would make no difference to him. He never let his left hand know what his right hand did -still less did he ever impose upon the left hand of others by informing it of what his right hand had not done."
We must not forget, in perusing such a character in the light of such an eulogy, that Horace Binney was himself, during his active career, a fair illustration of his own sentiments. Mr. Binney sat in Congress while Andrew Jackson was President, and was, perhaps, the ablest advocate of the Bank of the United States, and therefore one of the stanchest opponents of General Jackson's Administration; but he understood how to antagonize measures without assailing men-how to arraign a public policy without traducing private character—a rare quality, which might be profitably copied by our modern teachers. One day he was surprised by a note from the President soliciting an interview, and the more so because he had just finished an exhaustive protest against the President's course in regard to the United States Bank. General Jackson met him with all his grace, dignity, and cordiality, and said: “I have taken the liberty of sending for you, Mr. Binney, to say that I have read your speech, which is the most powerful yet made on your side of the House. I can not, of course, thank you for the strength of your argument, but I am happy to know you as an adversary who does not conceive it necessary to employ invective against a public officer who believes he has discharged his duty faithfully." I have this interesting fact from good authority.
John Sergeant and Horace Binney moved together in politics and in their profession. Let me employ Mr. Binney's language in 1852 once more: “I honored and respected him to the end of his life. I shall honor and respect his memory to the end of my own.
No trivial incongruities of feeling or opinion, no misrepresentations, however arisen; no petty gust; no cloud
of a hand's breadth, which may and will chill or overcast the summer sky of the truest friends; in a life of fifty-five years not a single accident disturbed the foundations of my regard for him, or even reached the depths in which they were laid. These foundations were laid upon his principles as I well knew them fifty years ago. They were laid deep upon that sure basis, and they were beyond the reach of change or chance, as his principles were.”
Binney was a member of the State Legislature sixty-one years ago, in 1806–7 [do not forget he is still living at his old home in the city of Philadelphia], and declined a re-election. He was a Representative in Congress from Philadelphia from 1833 to 1835, served as a member of the Committee of Ways and Means, and again declined a re-election. Sergeant was in Congress from 1815 to 1823, from 1827 to 1829, and from 1837 to 1842. He was especially famous for his part in the great Missouri Compromise of 1820. He was selected by President John Quincy Adams to represent the United States on the Panama Commission. He was the Whig candidate for Vice-President in 1832, on the same ticket with Henry Clay. He was tendered the mission to England by General Harrison, which he declined.
For half a century these two interesting men were associates at the bar, harmonizing in politics, and generally supporting the same measures and the same candidates. Their joint experience, their blended patriotism, their high sense of honor, their fidelity to convictions and to the interests of their city, state, and country, can not be too frequently reproduced. We tread the path of duty more bravely in the lustre shed from examples so unselfish and pure.
[October 22, 1871.)
A GOOD story is told of the celebrated George Kremer, who figured conspicuously during the “bargain and sale" excitement forty-five years ago, about the time Henry Clay was appointed Secretary of State by President John Quincy Adams. Mr. Kremer represented the old Union and Northumberland Congressional district in Pennsylvania, and was a fine type of the primitive manners and rugged Democracy of that period. He was firmly convinced that Mr. Clay threw his influence against General Jackson, by which the electoral vote of Kentucky was given to Mr. Adams, for a consideration ; and when the first place in the Cabinet was tendered to and accepted by the Kentucky statesman, honest George "cried aloud and spared not.” The sensation he created disturbed the politics of the whole country, and led to many differences between public men. John Randolph of Roanoke dilated upon the accusation against Clay to such an extent that the new Secretary of State was compelled to challenge him to mortal combat. But I do not propose a chapter on the “bargain and sale." That episode is happily ignored by the retiring generation, and is no longer recalled as a reproach on the memory of Henry Clay. I write simply to revive an incident between Randolph and Kremer characteristic of both. After one of the peculiar speeches of the eccentric Virginian, which he interlarded with copious quotations in Latin and Greek, Kremer rose, and, in a strain of well-acted indignation, poured forth a torrent of Pennsylvania German upon the head of the amazed and startled Randolph. His violent gesticulations, his loud and boisterous tones, his defiant manner, were not more annoying to the imperious Southerner than the fact that he could not understand a word that was spoken. And when honest George took his seat, covered with perspiration, Randolph rose and begged the honor