History of St. Charles County, Missouri (Chapter 7)

History of St. Charles County, Missouri


Chapter 7

Bench and Bar

pages 205 - 213


Without question, affairs of government effect more vitally the welfare of the progress of society than any other public interest. A people unwisely and badly governed can at best hope for little advancement or improvement in their condition, whilst those whose laws are wise and just, and whose civil administration is pure and honorable, invariably stand among the first in prosperity and intelligence and in every desirable feature of civilization. Government, then, or the system of laws and their administration, which control the affairs of the people, are of the first importance. This has been so recognized among all nations, even among those only approaching civilization, and the legislator and the judicial magistrate, or the law-giver and the judge, have always been honored as among the first personages of the State in dignity and importance.

Nor is it a fact less beyond dispute that the profession of law, in itself a profession of the highest character and usefulness, has ever been the great school in which the wisest and best legislators and judges have received their training. Who can point to a law of any importance or value in the history of any country, not drawn by the hand of a lawyer, either a regular licentiate of the profession, or one skilled in legal science by long study and investigation? In all times the great law-givers and magistrates have almost invariably ranked among the greatest lawyers of their day, and, on the other hand, there can scarely be mentioned a great lawyer who has not left the impress of his genius upon the legislation and the judicial affairs of his time. Whatever improvement, therefore, that has been made in civil government, whatever advancement in defining and protecting the rights of man in a state of civil society, whatever progress is civilization indeed -- for government is the handmaid of civilizations -- is very largely due to the legal profession.

Draco, who gave the Athenians their first great code of laws, was the greatest lawyer of his day; Solon, nearly two hundred years later, and a man of unrivaled wisdom and purity of character, was the second great lawyer of Athens; and he, too, left a code of laws that have made his name immortal. And what schoolboy is not familiar with the name of the other great Athenian lawyer, statesman and orator, Desmosthenos? These and hundreds of others, only less eminent and distinguished, were given to Greece by the profession of the law. And in Rome, under the both the Republic and the Empire, the legal profession gave to that mighty city the laws which governed the world - laws whose influence is yet felt by the great nations of the earth, more than a thousand years since the fall of Rome herself. The Pandects and the Code of Justinian stand out everlasting monuments to the wisdom and far-sighted statesmanship of the great lawyers of that Imperial City. To-day they are the bases of the jurisprudence of all the Latin nations, and many of their wisest and best provisions have been grafted into the systems of the laws of other countries.

So, every people have produced their great lawyers and magistrates, men whose names are illustrious in their country's history. The Germans point with pride to their great advocates and jurists of to-day and of the past; and France and Spain and Italy and all the nations boast the names of men in the legal profession which were not born to die. What would English jurisprudence have been without the Bacons, the Burleighs, the Hardwickes, the Blackstones, the Cokes, the Currans, the Erskines, and the Mansfields of that country -- what would English ideas of liberty, and, indeed, American hopes and aspirations have been without them? In our country the brightest names that adorn our national history are those of the great luminaries of the legal profession -- the Websters, the Choates, the Marshalls, the Taneys, the Wirts, the O'Connors, and hundreds of others.

Nor is the history of Missouri barren of great names at the bar and on the bench. Uriel Wright was a lawyer whose learning and ability, and whose genius and eloquence would not have paled by comparison with those of any member of the bar in this country, or elsewhere. Then there was Edward Bates, originally of St. Charles county, and Mathias McGirk; and also Rufus Easton, of this county, and Henry S. Geyer; and James B. Gardenhire and Blennerhassett; Field and Robert Stewart, and Gamble, and a host of others -- all men of the first order of ability and learning, and lawyers who have left names which will grow brighter and more illustrious as they are handed down from generation to generation.

St. Charles county, as we have already intimated, has given to the profession some of the first lawyers of the State. In everythin, save and excepting eloquence at the bar alone, Edward Bates was perhaps the superior of Uriel Wright. As a land lawyer he was probably without an equal in the United States, and as a man of sterling native ability and sound, sober judgment, he had few, if any compeers.


EDWARD BATES

Mr. B. was born in Belmont, Goochland county, Va., September 4, 1793, and received an academic education. His ancestors were Quakers, but his father, though belonging to that sect, was too fervid a patriot to stand by and see his country struggling for independence without lending a helping hand. So he joined the army and fought through the Revolution. He had twelve children, Edward being the seventh son. The latter came to Missouri in 1814, his brother Frederick being the Secretary of the Territory, afterwards Governor. He immediately commenced the study of law in the office of Rufus Easton, and was admitted to the bar in 1816, at the time we adopted our common law. In 1820 he was chosen a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention, and rendered valuable assistance in the formation of our fundamental law; and in the same year was appointed Attorney-General. In 1822, he became a member of the first Legislature, the State not receiving final admission until 1821. In 1824 he was appointed by President Monroe, United States Attorney for the Missouri district. In 1827 he was elected to Congress and served a full term. In 1830 he was sent to the State Senate, and in 1834 was a member of the popular branch of the General Assembly. In 1850 President Filmore tendered him a seat in his Cabinet as Secretary of War, which he declined, though he had been confirmed by the Senate. In 1853 he was elected Judge of the St. Louis Land Court, a court created for the purpose of taking special cognizance of cases involving real estate litigation. Upon the assembling of the Whig National Convention at Baltimore, in 1856, he was chosen President, and presided over its deliberation with marked ability. In 1858 he was honored by Harvard University with the degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1861 he was selected by Mr. Lincoln as his Attorney-General, and held this office until his resignation in 1863, and died in St. Louis, March 25, 1869, at the age of 76. Mr. Bates was a natural orator, and gifted with all the graces of elocution. He had a sweet, musical voice, and words fell from his lips without any apparent labor. In 1823 Judge Bates married Julia D. Coalter, of South Carolina, a most estimable lady, who still survives him. He also left 11 children.


RUFUS EASTON

How few can be found who ever heard of the subject of this sketch; yet he ws one of the most profound lawyers of early Missouri, and has left the impress of his mind upon the laws, statutes and institutions of our State. He was born in Litchfield, Conn., on May 4th, 1774, little over a century ago. He came into life upon the dawn of our independence. Of the family but little is known, but they rendered good service in the Revolutionary War. Young Easton received a good education preparatory to entering upon the study of the law. In 1791, he commenced studying law in Litchfield, and on reaching his majority, obtained license to practice in Connecticut, and practiced in that State until the opening of the present century, when he removed to Rome, Oneida county, N.Y., where he soon became known as a promising lawyer and attracted the attention of such men as Gideon Granger, Postmaster-General under Mr. Jefferson; DeWitt Clinton, of New York, then regarded as the foremost of American statesmen. In March, 1804, Mr. Easton concluded to locate at Vincennes, Indiana Territory, and obtained license there to practice, but did not remain long, as he settled in St. Louis the same year, where he remained until a few years of his death, when he moved to St. Charles. He again visited Washington in 1804-5, and received considerable attention from men of prominence. It was during that year that Col. Aaron Burr made his arrangements to carry into effect his favorite project of establishing a Western empire, to embrace Mexico and the Western States and Territories, with New Orleans as its capital. He no doubt then calculated upon the co-operation of Easton; and, to increase Easton's influence, joined Granger and others in procuring for him the appointment of Judge of the Territory of Louisiana; for, on March 13th, 1805, Easton's commission as such was signed by Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Easton interpreted the designs of Burr through several letters by Burr to him. In September, 1805, Burr came to St. Louis and soon had a conference with Easton and others, which satisfied him that Easton would prove hostile to his plans; so they refused to confide in him, and that ended all further conference so far as Easton was concerned. After Burr left St. Louis, there were reports circulated charging him with official corruption, which were so managed that they came to the ears of the President, and when Easton's commission expired Mr. Jefferson nominated another person to his office.

Judge Easton immediately repaired to Washington and sent a communication to the President, asking to be furnished with the charges made against him; to which Mr. Jefferson replied, defining his policy in reference to appointments. Easton called upon him next day, and the President doubtless became satisfied that the charges were unfounded, for though he declined to reappoint him to the judgeship of the Territory, he gave him the office of United States Attorney. There was a warm personal friendship between him and the Attorney-General, Gideon Granger, and he helped to expose those connected in that traitorous project to divide the Union.

During this time he was actively engaged in the practices of his profession, and became the leading lawyer of the Territory and enjoyed the most lucrative practice at the bar. He was more noted for the soundness and vigor of his intellect than for impassioned eloquence. From the time he came to the Territory his popularity and influence gradually increased, and in 1814 he was elected a delegate to Congress from the Territory, and continued such for a period of four years. Upon the organization of the State government, in 1821, he was appointed Attorney-General, and continued in that office until 1827. He died in St. Charles July 5, 1834, and his remains repose in Lindenwood cemetery.


EDWARD HEMPSTEAD

was born in New London, Conn., on June 3, 1770, over a century ago, and came to the Territory of Louisiana as early as 1804, travelling all the way on horseback. At that period the facilities for travelling were very limited -- indeed almost confined to horseback. There were no steamboats plying the Western waters, and no stage routes west of the Alleghany mountains. It is true that now and then the traveler, after reaching the Ohio river, would take a passage on a flat-boat; but as a general thing he relied upon his horse -- traveling weeks and months without shelter, and exposed to all the dangers and privations that a new and almost unexplored region subjected him to. When night overtook him his place of rest was upon the bare ground, with his blanket around him and his saddle for a pillow, first having hobbled his horses and turned him loose to graze upon the shrubs and grass. Such were the facilities offered Mr. Hempstead to reach the Father of Waters. Mr. Hempstead received a classical education, and was admitted to the bar in 1801, and after practicing three years in Rhode Island came West and settled in the town of St. Charles, from whence he removed in 1805 to St. Louis, where he resided till his death.

Mr. Hempstead filled many public positions with great credit to himself and to the entire satisfaction of the government. In 1806 he received the appointment of Deputy Attorney-General for the district of St. Louis and St. Charles, and in 1809 became Attorney-General for the Territory of Uppper Louisiana, which office he filled till 1811. He was also the first delegate to Congress from the Western side of the Mississippi river, and represented Missouri Territory from 1811 to 1814, and afterwards became Speaker of the Territorial Assembly. Almost his entire professional life was spent during the territorial government, having died four years prior to the admission of Missouri as a State.

As a lawyer Mr. Hempstead was more profound than brilliant, and no one at the bar excelled him in the knowledge of the laws and regulations of the territory. He made a good delegate in Congress, and served his constituents most faithfully.

Mr. Hempstead died in St. Louis in August, 1817. There are a few still living who remember him well, and who delight to dwell upon his virtues and his talents.


EZRA HUNT

was born in Milford, Mass., on April 7, 1790, and entered the freshman class at Harvard in 1812; became greatly distinguished in mathematics, which subject was assigned him at commencement when he graduated. Upon leaving college he was appointed preceptor of Leicester Academy, a position which he held until the latter part of 1814, when he returned to Cambridge, with the intention of studying divinity, but was soon after persuaded to take charge of an academy in Pulaski, Tenn. His health failing him there, he determined to cross the Mississippi, and reached St. Louis in 1819 or 1820, entered the law office of Judge William C. Carr, and was in due time admitted to the practice of the law, and soon after settled in Louisiana, then the county seat of Pike county, where he remained about three years, when he removed to St. Charles. In 1831 he returned to Pike, and in 1836 was appointed judge of that circuit, the duties of which he discharged for many years; then returned to the practice, and finally died in Troy, Lincoln county, in 1860, at the ripe age of 70 years. His fondness for literary pursuits and his love for legal research caused him to accumulate a fine library, by the use of which, aided by a discriminating and logical mind, he became a sound lawyer and ripe scholar. As a husband and father he was kind and indulgent, and as a jurist, learned, just and true. His death occurred September 19, 1860, and was very sudden. He was at the time engaged in a very pleasant conversation with a young lady, and in an instant fell and expired. Half an hour before he had closed a speech in the courthouse.


WILLIAM M. CAMPBELL

The people of Missouri will better recognize Mr. Campbell by the name of "Billy Campbell," for by that name he was universally called. He was a native of Virginia, and was born in Lexington, Rockbridge county, June 19, 1805. He was a graduate of Washington College, now known as Washington and Lee University. He finished his legal studies in his native place and in the fall of 1829 came to Missouri and opened a law office in the town of St. Charles. He made no effort to obtain business, but his ability soon became known, and from that time he was able to command any practice he wished. The next year he was sent to the General Assembly, and finally chosen to represent his district in the State Senate, where he was retained until he moved to St. Louis, in 1844. The change of residence was occasioned by his being invited to take charge of the editorial department of the New Era, a Whig daily evening paper, published in St. Louis by Charles Ramsey, Esq. He was shortly afterwards again sent to the State Senate from St. Louis, and remained in that body until his death, which occurred December 30, 1849. Mr. Campbell was recognized as one of the ablest lawyers in the West, having, indeed very few superiors at any bar, and as a political writer was unsurpassed. He was a fine classical scholar, and spoke both French and Spanish. His style of speaking was bold, logical and fluent, and before a jury was almost invincible. His personal popularity was so great that no party discipline could defeat him before the people.

Mr. Campbell remained a bachelor through life.


CHRISTIAN KRIBBIN

Few lawyers were better known in his day than this man, for he not only practiced in all the courts of St. Louis, but was an active Democratic politician. He was a Prussian by birth, and born at Glenel, near Cologne, March 5, 1821. In 1835 his father came to the United States, and settled in St. Louis county, Missouri. In 1838 the family moved to St. Charles, where Christian's father opened a grocery store and the son was installed as clerk and chief salesman. At the age of 17 he commenced the study of law with Mayor Cunningham, Esq., of St. Charles, and in due time was admitted to the bar. For some reason he obtained very little business, and finally opened an office in St. Louis, where he soon acquired a good German practice. He was very fluent and ingenious, and spoke the English as well as the German. He became an ardent politician and during every canvass was frequently called upon to address the people. When the Mexican War broke out he enlisted in the army under Gen. Doniphan, and rose to the rank of colonel. While in Mexico he studied the Spanish language, and while quartered at Chihauhua, edited a newspaper printed half in English and half in Spanish. After the close of the war he visited Europe, and remained there two years. He corresponded with the press in St. Louis, and his letters giving an account of his travels and the state of affairs on the continent, were highly interesting. In 1854 he married Miss Delafield, of St. Louis, a daughter of John Delafield, Esq. In 1858 he was elected to the General Assembly of Missouri, and was chosen Speaker of the House. During the administration of Governor Stewart, he was appointed colonel of the militia. In 1864 he lost his wife, and the following year, on June 15, he died, leaving two children, a son and a daughter, aged respectively seven and nine years.


JOHN D. COALTER

Few men at the St. Louis or St. Charles bar were more universally esteemed than Gen. Coalter, who obtained his military title by services rendered in the State militia. He was born in South Carolina in 1818, and, when a small boy, came with his parents to Missouri. The family settled in St. Charles county, and John was sent to the South Carolina College, where he obtained his education. He then returned to St. Louis and entered upon the study of law, and in due time was admitted to the bar. He commenced the practice in St. Charles, and became one of the most successful lawyers at the bar. He frequently represented St. Charles county in the General Assembly, and it was said that he could go to the Legislature whenever he desired, no matter what party was in the ascendant. While all who knew him will admit that he was a sound, well read and reliable lawyer, yet those who knew him best will appreciate the difficulty of assigning him his true position at the bar, for it was his misfortune, if such it can be called, to be a man of ample estate, and hence not driven to professional labor by the ordinary distinction or reputation, consequently he rather avoided than sought practice. He only went into the courts when urged by his friends or when called upon by some old client who would not dispense with his services. He eschewed office and had very little respect for chronic office seekers, and never accepted any public position which he could consistently decline.

Gen. Coalter made no pretentions to oratory, yet was a forcible, clear and lucid speaker, and impressed a jury most favorably. He had a fund of good humor which often excited considerable mirth. Gen. Coalter died in St. Louis in October, 1864, leaving a widow but no children.


Transcribed June 2003 by Deborah Heimann -- Co-ordinator for the St. Charles County, Missouri USGenWeb pages.