Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Roger S. Baldwin died in New Haven, his native town, on the 19th day of February, 1863.
There are especial reasons why the members of the profession, as well as the public at large, in this state, should accord to his memory unusual honors. He had been for many years one of the brightest ornaments of our bar, and had also been, in various capacities, a most able, upright and faithful servant of our commonwealth.
He was of the best Connecticut stock on both sides, and was worthy of his pedigree. His father, Simeon Baldwin, who died about twelve years ago, universally respected and beloved, had been a representative of this state in Congress, and, for many years, a judge of the Superior Court and of the Supreme Court of Errors; and was a lineal descendant of John Baldwin, a Puritan emigrant from England, who came hither with Davenport, Prudden, Whitfield, and the other original settlers of New Haven, Milford and Guilford, and who was himself of the thirty-five original proprietors by whom the town of Norwich was afterwards settled.
His mother was a daughter of Roger Sherman, the statesman so justly renowned as one of the committee which reported the Declaration of Independence, as one of the signers of that instrument, as one of the ablest members of the convention which formed the constitution of the United States, and as a distinguished Representative and Senator from this state in the Congress of the United States.
Roger Sherman Baldwin was born January 4th, 1793. He entered Yale College in 1807; graduated with honor at the age of eighteen; then studied law in his father's office, and afterwards, under the able instruction of Judge Reeve and Judge Gould, in the law school at Litchfield; and was admitted to the bar in 1814. He then commenced practice in New Haven; and from that time until the close of his life, except during those periods when his attention was engaged by official duties in the public service, devoted himself with unremitting energy to the pursuit of his profession.
In 1826 he was a member of the common council of New Haven, and in 1828 was one of the aldermen of that city. In 1837 he was a member of the senate of this state; and in 1838 was re-elected, and was chosen president pro tempore of that body. In 1840 and in 1841 he was a Representative of New Haven in the General Assembly. In 1844 he was chosen Governor of Connecticut, and in 1845 was re-elected to that office. In 1847 he was temporarily appointed by the Governor to fill that vacancy in the senate of the United States occasioned by the death of Senator Huntington; and in May, 1818, he was elected by the General Assembly as senator of the United States for the unexpired portion of Senator Huntington's term, which ended in 1851. In 1860 he was chosen as one of the Electors of President for the state at large; and was afterwards, by appointment of Governor Buckingham, a member of the celebrated "Peace Congress", in which he occupies a prominent and influential position.
Probably no lawyer ever attained in Connecticut a higher rank at the bar than that which was generally conceded to Governor Baldwin by his professional brethren. He possessed every one of the characteristics and faculties of a great lawyer. All of those characteristics and faculties he possessed in a high degree, and many of them in a pre-eminent degree. In any forum, anywhere - in the Supreme Court at Washington, or in Westminster Hall, or at any other bar where our system of jurisprudence is understood and practiced - Governor Baldwin would have been regarded, not merely as a skillful practitioner, but as a man entitled to rank among the great lawyers of his day.
He possessed a comprehensive and thorough acquaintance with the science of his profession. He was master of its learning. He understood it in its great doctrines and in it details. In short he had that legal scholarship, that legal acumen, that legal knowledge, which no intellect but a high one can attain at all, and which even a great intellect can not fully acquire without long, thorough and conscientious labor.
Although Governor Baldwin was powerful before the jury, he was more truly in his proper element before the court. A strong antagonist in trying questions of fact, he was especially formidable in the argument of nice and difficult questions of law.
His discourse, whether addressed to the court or the jury, was marked by uniform purity and transparency of style. His English was perfect. He was always able to say, - guarding with proper qualifications, exceptions and limitations, when necessary, every sentence and phrase, so that his idea, when expressed, stood forth sharply defined, exactly in the form in which he wished it to appear. Rarely, if ever, has he been known to construct an entangled or imperfect sentence. His steady and clear intellect so controlled his tongue, that with him every sentence spontaneously assumed its fit beginning, its appropriately arranged contents, and its accurate and graceful termination.
His oratory was not often impassioned. It was dignified, logical, clear and convincing, addressed to the intellect rather than to the feelings. Yet, having in himself a large reserve of feeling, he possessed the power of appealing in terms of impressive earnestness to the higher sentiments and sympathies of men. Personal pride, the sense of honor, contempt for meanness and fraud, indignation at corruption and injustice - these and such like sentiments of the human heart he knew how, on proper occasions, to touch and to inflame.
In guarding the interests of his clients his watchfulness was incessant. No circumstance, which might affect those interests favorably or unfavorably, escaped his notice or failed to receive his full attention. He never abandoned, without a vigorous contest, any claim, great or small, which he thought that his client could rightfully make, and which it was important in the slightest degree for him to maintain.
In his relations to his clients, to the court, and to his professional brethren, he was always courteous sincere, upright and honorable. His professional character, like his personal character, in whatever light it may be viewed, stands forth without one solitary stain upon it.
Such, in short, was the lawyer whom one of his most distinguished professional brethren - the late General Kimberly - pronounced to be "the ablest lawyer that Connecticut has ever produced in any part of her history."
Governor Baldwin, although an earnest Whig and Republican, was not by any means, in the popular sense of the term, a politician. The arts of politicians he did not understand; and if he had understood them he would have scorned to use them. Therefore while he firmly held, and on all proper occasions energetically vindicated, his political opinions, he was, always treated with sincere respect by his political opponents. He never sought office. He never would consent to do any thing for the purpose of securing to himself a nomination or an election. Indeed his friends were sometimes disposed to complain of his excessive punctiliousness in this respect. Undoubtedly he desired to be returned to the United States Senate at the close of his term of service in that body. He did not say so; but his friends were conscious that such was his desire. He had ambition, - such ambition as was worthy of such a man. He had enjoyed his senatorial life. Its duties suited his style of mind and character; and it was impossible for him not to feel that he was able to discharge those duties with honor to himself and to his native state. When the question of his re-election came up in the General Assembly there was in the House of Representatives only as bare majority of Whigs, some two or three of whom declined to vote for him (although he was the nominee of their party) because they were under an impression that his opinions on some points did not exactly accord with the policy of their party as they understood it. His intimate friends knew that this impression had so little foundation that they could easily remove the obstacles in the way of his re-election if they could procure from him for their use, a written statement of his opinions upon the points in question. Such a statement he firmly and persistently refused to give; -declaring that he would not put himself into the position of a seeker of office; that such a written statement of his opinions would be regarded, under the circumstances, as a pledge: and that, in his judgment, a member of the senate ought to occupy in that body a position not trammeled by pledges of any sort whatsoever. The result was that he was not re-elected; -a result which he knew to be probable, if not certain, but which he was willing to accept rather than swerve from a principle of action which he considered sound.
If, however, rigor of his principles constituted, to no small extent, a barrier to his political success, he did not fail to distinguish himself in those official positions to which he was sometimes called. His administration as Governor of Connecticut was dignified and able. Chancellor Kent said of his annual address to the General Assembly, that they recalled "the bright days of the Trumbulls, Ellsworths and Shermans, who threw such a lustre on the golden annals of the state." He took a high rank in the senate of the United States when it contained some of the ablest men who ever sat within its hall-Webster, Clay, Benton, Calhoun, Seward, and their contemporaries. He devoted himself with characteristic fidelity to his duties in that high place; and during the four years of his service there, few if any, of the members of the senate took a more active part in its debates and other proceedings than he. His principle speeches were upon the Mexican war, and the extension of slavery as connected with it; the admission of California into the Union; the Compromise Measures of 1850, especially the Fugitive Slave Law; and the Oregon bill. His speech against the Fugitive Slave Law was regarded by the opponents of that measure as an overwhelming and unanswerable argument against it, while the advocates of the law, however they might dissent from his conclusions, did not withhold from him the respect due to the power which he displayed in the discussion of his subject. His most spirited speech however was an impromptu one in reply to Mr. Manson, of Virginia, who had ventured to institute offensive comparisons between Virginia and Connecticut in regard to the Revolutionary history of the two states. Mr. Baldwin was the last man to shrink from a contest with any antagonist on such a subject. Mason's attack upon Connecticut was unprovoked, insolent and confident. No sooner had he taken his seat than Mr. Baldwin sprang to his feet. By a few words full of dignity, force and fire, he completely overwhelmed his adversary; and not only overwhelmed him but drove him into ignominious silence. At the conclusion of Mr. Baldwin's speech, Senator Underwood, of Kentucky, rose and suggested that his "friend from Virginia" had "in this contest" manifested "much more valor than discretion," and advised him to not pursue the matter farther. The Virginian was wise enough to act upon his advise, and the debate thereupon ended. It was not safe for any man, as Mr. Mason on this occasion discovered to disparage Connecticut in the hearing of her senator. He was well acquainted with the history of his country. He knew too (what citizens of other states seldom care to remember, and perhaps seldom know, and, what we ourselves do not seem always to properly appreciate,) that the state which he represented had a history, civil, military, which enabled her to compare favorably, not only with Virginia, or with any other state in this Union, but with any commonwealth that ever existed upon earth; and with that history, especially dear to him for many reasons, he was perfectly familiar. Proud therefore of his native state, and abundantly able to defend her against all attacks, from whatever quarter they might come, he was always, while in her service, the vigilant guardian of her interests and her honor.
No part of Governor Baldwin's public life was more anxious, arduous and exhausting to him than the brief period during which he was a member of the "Peace Congress." In that body, as a member of a committee of one from each state therein represented, he made a minority report in his own name, which he presented to the convention, with an accompanying resolution recommending the several states "to unite with Kentucky in her application to Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments the constitution of the United States." This report and this resolution be supported, in a powerful speech, which was the last great effort of his public life.
The reserve and resistance which were marked characteristics of Governor Baldwin, made him appear, to those who did not know him, somewhat distant and formal; while, in fact, as those who were better acquainted with him knew perfectly well, kindness of heart, sensitiveness to the sufferings of others, and forwardness to give pleasure and confer happiness upon all within his reach, were fundamental traits in his character.
This sketch, necessarily short and imperfect, accomplishes its purpose and does justice to the subject of it only so far as it depicts the character, and partly discloses the life, of a great lawyer, whose own virtues secluded him in a measure from those opportunities distinction in public life to which his abilities entitled him, - and of an incorruptible, sensitive, honorable man, who did his duty in this life well and faithfully in those stations whereunto it pleased God to call him, and who died at last, lamented most by those who knew him best, and respected by everybody who knew him, leaving behind him, for the honor and comfort of his children, a noble and unsullied reputation.[footer.htm]