Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 67, page(s) 598-604

OBITUARY SKETCH OF JEREMIAH HALSEY

JEREMIAH HALSEY was born in Preston, Conn., February 8th, 1822. The son of Jeremiah S. and Sally Brewster Halsey, he was descended in the seventh generation from Thomas Halsey, one of the founders of Southampton, Long Island, the first English town in New York; and on the maternal side, from Elder William Brewster, the leader of the Mayflower Pilgrims. His grandfather, Jeremiah Halsey, a member of the bar of Connecticut for nearly sixty years, was a distinguished officer of the Revolutionary War, one of the captors of Ticonderoga and the first commissioned naval commander of the United States.

In moral attributes, in mental characteristics and in personal appearance, Mr. Halsey bore the stamp of his illustrious Puritan ancestry. A lover of truth and justice for their own sake, of intellect broad, clear and penetrating, of temperament calm and self-controlled, lucid in expression and convincing in logic, deeply learned in the principles, practice and detail of his profession and gifted with a power of discrimination which made easy the practical application of them, he was as counselor, trier and advocate at once, unequaled at the bar of this State. Before court or jury he possessed that convincing power which character, candor, learning and thoroughness must always wield. As man and as lawyer he was of the highest type, and, acknowledged as such, his opinions and his arguments were ever attentively regarded.

Always of delicate constitution and hampered by defective eyesight, his early education was acquired at home, and only by the most persevering and often painful application. He was nevertheless a man of broad attainments and culture, and the enforced methods of his early instruction had cultivated in him a memory tenacious and accurate. In his youth he was compelled to seek a milder climate in the South, and at Hawkinsville, Georgia, he studied law and was there admitted to the bar on April 23d, 1845. Returning to Connecticut he was admitted to the bar of Windham County, December 11th, 1845, and in September, 1849, opened an office at Norwich in partnership with the late Samuel C. Morgan. From that time to within a few months of his death he continued in active practice at Norwich, interrupted only by a single absence of a year spent in travel and recuperation abroad. How long continued and uninterrupted that practice was, may be gathered from the fact that, with a single exception, every volume of the Connecticut Reports from 22 to 65 inclusive, contains cases in which Mr. Halsey's name appears as counsel. In 1870 he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, and before that tribunal gained some of his most notable triumphs.

Always interested in public affairs, Mr. Halsey was not fond of office nor did he seek it. He represented Norwich in the General Assemblies of 1852, 1853, 1859 and 1860. From 1853, until his resignation in 1871, he was city attorney of Norwich, and from 1883 to 1888 corporation counsel. In 1873 Mr. Halsey was appointed by Governor Ingersoll, a member of the new State House Commission, authorized by resolution of the General Assembly of that year, and continued a member of that board until the completion of the new Capitol, devoting to the business of the commission the same careful attention to thoroughness and detail which he gave to his professional duties.

Unassuming and simple in manner, he was possessed of an unusual cheerfulness and sweetness of disposition which impressed all who came in contact with him. His charity was great and far reaching, and he was intimately associated as director or adviser with all the principal educational and charitable institutions of his home city. A consistent christian and devoted churchman, he was for many years connected with Christ Church, Norwich, as member, vestry-man and warden. In 1882 Trinity College conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Mr. Halsey was married June 1st, 1854, to Elizabeth M. Fairchild of Reading, who survives him. During the later years of his life it was the custom of Mr. Halsey to spend the winter months in Washington, and it was in that city on February 9th, 1896, having just completed his seventy-fourth year, that he peacefully passed away, retaining to the end a mind unclouded and courage unimpaired.

At a meeting of the New London County Bar held February 28th, 1896, a committee presented for adoption resolutions commemorative of Mr. Halsey. In the eloquent and appreciative tribute paid to his memory by those of his brethren longest and most intimately associated with him, may fittingly be found the just and final estimate of his character and attainments.

THE RESOLUTIONS

The bar of New London county, called together by the death of Jeremiah Halsey, desire to place upon record this tribute to their departed brother.

Mr. Halsey was a conspicuous example of the highest type of the lawyer. His acute and powerful intellect, directed and controlled by his innate sense of justice, and supplemented by habits of industry which carried his application to the business of his profession to the limit and perhaps beyond the limit of his physical strength, united to make him a master of the science and the practice of the law without a peer at the bar of this county. His superiority was too marked to admit of rivalry, and the modesty with which he wore his honors disarmed envy. His brethren were proud of his success and carne to look upon his fame as one of the treasures of the bar.

He was equipped equally well for the duties of the court room and the office. His clear perception of legal principles, his power of lucid statement, his irresistible logic, his ability to disentangle and arrange the facts of a complicated case, made him a formidable trier of causes, while his sound judgment, his candor and hatred of unnecessary litigation made him the best of counselors. He was by nature a peacemaker. The prospect of a fee never tempted him to bring into court a case which could be fairly settled outside of it. The memory of his labors as a trial lawyer will be perpetuated in the records of our courts and the traditions of the bar, but much of his best work is known and will be known only by the clients who found him the wisest and most faithful of advisers.

Mr. Halsey's private virtues were in keeping with his qualities of mind. His integrity was such that he could not do a mean act or entertain a mean thought, and nothing aroused his indignation like dishonesty or meanness in another. Joined to these qualities was a serenity of temper, a cheerfulness of disposition, a kindness of heart, which made his character one of remarkable symmetry. He was a great and good man. It is some consolation to his brethren in their grief at his loss, that he was not cut off in the midst of his career, but was permitted to round out a life of usefulness. His memory will be one of the cherished possessions of the bar.

In moving the adoption of the resolutions, Mr. John T. Wait spoke as follows:

"As chairman of the committee appointed by the members of the bar to prepare resolutions of respect to the memory of our deceased brother, Hon. Jeremiah Halsey, it is my special duty and privilege to present the same to the court and request that they be entered upon its records.

"In discharging this duty I cannot refrain from paying a brief tribute to the memory of the great man and the good man who has left us. From the time Mr. Halsey commenced practice in this county to the close of his life, the closest friendship has existed between us, and I can emphatically say that nothing ever occurred in our intimate association, personal or professional, that in the least marred my sincere love and high regard for him, or weakened my warm attachment to him.

"I can unhesitatingly declare that the bar of Connecticut never had in its organization a purer or more honorable member. Associating, as I have, with Mr. Halsey in all the walks of life, and especially in the practice of our profession, I have been deeply impressed by his nobility of character, his unquestioned integrity and his masterly knowledge of the law. I can hardly find language strong enough to picture the power of his mental and moral forces. The rich development of his faculties, an enlightened heart and an elevated spirit kept him growing stronger and stronger in the profession which he adorned, and in the love and respect of his brother members of the bar.

"In the practice of his profession he was eminent for his great ability and power, his unswerving integrity in the discharge of all professional duties, and his polished and courteous manner to all who approached him. In his private life he was loyal to every duty, to all the obligations of friendship, and obedient to every claim of good citizenship. In making these declarations I am confident that I only voice the sentiments of the entire body that I have the honor to represent in presenting these resolutions."

ADDRESS OF HON. AUGUSTUS BRANDEGEE

The melancholy privilege of age assigns to me the duty of formally seconding these unanimous resolutions of the bar, and expressing the sentiments of his professional brethren at the loss of their great leader. The proprieties of the occasion do not permit any labored or extended review of his life, his character and abilities. But it is fitting that while still standing in the shadow of our great loss, we place upon the imperishable records of the court this last feeble tribute of our respect, admiration and love for our departed brother.

Jeremiah Halsey was born at Preston on the 8th of February, 1822. He was admitted to the bar in 1845. He practiced continuously, in all the courts of this State for just half a century, and died at Washington, D.C., on the 9th of February, 1896, in the ripeness of his fame, and the full maturity of his powers.

He was a great lawyer; great in every department of that profession which calls for the exercise of the highest and most varied powers of human intellect. Whether he stood before the learned judges or a jury, or an arbitrator, or a committee of the General Assembly or other tribunal upon whose decision the lives, the property and the rights of men depend, he was master of himself, his subject and his audience. In that wonderful system founded upon the principles of everlasting righteousness, wrought out by the wisdom of ages, and sanctioned by the experience of mankind, at once the handmaid and the sure defense of human society, which men call law, he was easily "primus inter pares." The principles of this system he had explored to their deepest foundations. His comprehensive and philosophical mind had sought out their reasons, their application, and their limitations. He knew how and when to apply them in their rigor and when to make them elastic enough to meet the requirements of an ever changing and ever advancing civilization. He was no mere "case lawyer," such as are the weaklings of our profession, whose sole equipment consists of a catalogue of authorities and whose ill digested citations only serve to "make confusion more confounded." He was not one of those who darken counsel with "profane and vain babblings," "striving," as saith an apostle, "about words to no profit, but to the subverting of hearers." He rightly divided the word of truth, seeming by an intuitive alchemy to know how to separate the dross from the pure gold, how to marshal, to reinforce, explain, apply, and, if needs be, to reconcile the authorities.

He loved the law. To him it was not a trade for hire, nor even a profession for furnishing one's daily bread. It was rather a sacred ministration. He looked upon it as that portion of the scheme of eternal justice committed to man by the Supreme Lawgiver for the advancement of the human race; a rule of righteousness to be administered here, as at once a preparation and a foretaste of the more perfect law of the Grand Assize, when we shall no longer see as through a glass darkly, but face to face. A judge was to him a representative of Him of whom it is written: "Justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne." A court room was a sacred temple, and while he ministered at the altar, he had no part or lot with those who in the outer courts "were changers of money and sellers of doves." And for this exalted part in the noblest of all professions, Providence had endowed him with great and peculiar gifts of intellect, temperament and character. And these fitted into and worked in harmonious action with one another, as in the most nicely adjusted piece of mechanism ever devised by the skill of man. His intellectual equipment was of the highest order. He possessed a mind strong, vigorous and acute, capable of close and continuous application, and of comprehending the most abstruse and complicated problems. Nothing seemed too high, nothing too deep, nothing so hidden or involved as to baffle or obscure that penetrating vision. When once he had grasped the underlying principle of a case, he followed that clue through all the Daedalian windings and turnings of the labyrinth to its logical results, as though guided by the fabled thread of Ariadne. He was not unmindful of the rule "Stare decisis," but he looked beyond the decision to the reasons and the philosophy of it, and if it had not these credentials he boldly challenged it, as not having entered by authority through the lawful door of the fold, but as a thief and robber that had climbed up some other way. To this clearness of vision there was added a lucidity of statement which has never been surpassed, in our time, by any member of the Connecticut bar. What he saw so clearly he had the faculty of so expressing that his hearers saw it as clearly as he did himself. This is a rare gift, and if it be not eloquence, is akin to it. It was a delight - in some tangled and complicated cause, rendered still more tangled and complicated by the efforts of others who had struggled hopelessly in the Serbonian bog to listen to the pure, clean cut Anglo-Saxon, with which he extricated and unfolded the real issue and stripped it from all incumbrances. He rarely made excursions outside his argument by way of illustration, into general literature. But at times there came a flash of humor to irradiate and illume - as lightning sometimes comes from a clear sky as a warning of the approaching thunder.

In him was happily united to these qualities a temperament which acted with them in harmony and gave them full opportunity for exercise and development. He was calm, serene, self-poised, and equable, no matter how important the issue or how desperate the contest. Whether victory or defeat hung trembling in the balance - amid the smoke and confusion of the battle, amid "the thunder of the captains and the shoutings" - like the great Marlborough, he was imperturbable. He never lost his self-possession. He never failed to employ all his resources. He never retreated till the last man was brought up, and the last gun was fired, nor until all was lost save honor. And his fight was always in the open - a fair fight and no favors. There were no mines or counter-mines, no breaches of armistice, no firing upon flags of truce - "Noblesse oblige." The law and the testimony, truth and honor, right and justice, these and nothing more, and nothing less, were his watchwords.

It was these and such qualities as these that placed him in the front rank of our profession and caused his name to become a household word in our State, from the Bronx river to the Providence plantations. But he was more than these - was a pure, spotless, honest, simple, unaffected, truthful, just, honorable, white-souled gentleman. There was never one so conspicuous who bore his honors more unostentatiously. There was never one whose life had been spent in contest and in combat, more free from "envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness." He was not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. "When the ear heard him it blessed him, and when the eye saw him, it gave witness to him."

I may not on this public occasion draw aside the veil which covers our personal relations. But it may be permitted me to say that to me he was more than a Brother in Law. For forty years we have been associated in the battles of the bar, always together, except as I remember, on only two or three occasions. He was my inspirer, my guide, my counselor and my friend. "We took sweet counsel together and walked in the courts of law as friends." We have been together in many a hard fought battle, have sympathized in many a defeat, and have rejoiced together in many a well earned victory. It was assigned to me, as junior, to lead the "light brigade" and dash at the enemy with sound of trumpet and slashing broad sword. But I knew full well whether in attack or retreat, that behind me was drawn up the heavy artillery, and that my great commander stood there as fixed and immovable as "the rock of Chickamauga."

His personal appearance harmonized with the dispositions of his mind and character. He was tall and slim, with straight black hair, a pale intellectual countenance, the eye of an eagle, and that prominent nose which is the unfailing sign of indomitable will and forceful character. His manners though mild and affable were decorous and dignified, inviting friendship while repelling undue familiarity. There was an indescribable something about him which inspired confidence. As you passed him in the street you felt "that Goodness had come that way." One knew at his mere presence - here is a man to be trusted. And he was trusted - as a counselor by his clients, as a lawyer by his brethren, as a legislator by his constituents, as a neighbor by his fellow citizens, as a man by all men with whom he came in contact.

"His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him
That nature might stand up to all the world and say - This was a Man."

Alas ! Alas ! The inexorable law of human existence, which spares not rich or poor, young or old, great or humble! "He hath given his honors to the world again, his blessed part to heaven, and sleeps in peace." He has gone "to join the innumerable caravan which ever moves to that mysterious realm, where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death." And so, for a season, we bid our brother "Farewell." He has fought a good fight. He has kept the faith. He has walked circumspectly amid the pitfalls of life. He has rejoiced not in iniquity, but has rejoiced in truth. He was first pure and then peaceable. He provided things honest in the sight of all men. He recompensed to no man evil for evil. He overcame evil with good; in all things showing himself a pattern of a perfect Christian gentleman.

And as we stood by his open grave, banked with flowers and watered by tears, as in the presence of the judges who honored him, the bar who admired him, and the great concourse of townspeople who loved him - and whom he loved - as we committed "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust," as we caught the solemn refrain of the church he loved so well - "This corruptible hath put on incorruption, And this mortal hath put on immorality," - our hearts responded to the triumphant paean, Yea - even so - it is well, "Death is swallowed up in victory."

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