Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Although the distinguished gentleman whose name stands at the head of this article was not personally known to many of the present members of our profession in Connecticut, yet he was for many years so conspicuous a figure in the public affairs of his native state that it is eminently proper that some record of his character should be made here.
Samuel Ingham was born in Hebron, Connecticut, September 5th, 1793, and died in Essex in the same state, November 10th, 1881. All the education he received previous to his professional studies was gleaned from the common schools. He studied law in the office of Governor Mattocks at Peacham, Vermont, and with the late Judge Gilbert in Hebron, in this state. He was admitted to the bar in Tolland County, Connecticut, in 1815. He practiced his profession during the first four years in Canaan, Vermont, and Jewett City, Connecticut. In 1819 he removed to Essex (then a part of the town of Saybrook) where he continued to reside until his death.
From 1828 to 1834 Mr. Ingham represented Saybrook in the lower house of the legislature. In 1834 he was Speaker. He was re-elected in 1835 and again made Speaker. At the same election he was chosen a member of Congress, but of course, on being officially notified of his election to Congress, he vacated his seat in the state legislature. He was re-elected to Congress in 1837, and served for two years as chairman of the committee on naval affairs. In 1839 he was again a candidate for Congress, but was defeated at the polls by the late Chief Justice Storrs. His failure to be returned to Congress was a source of great regret, not only to his friends at home, but to the members of that body, over which he had repeatedly presided as chairman of the committee of the whole, with great skill and ability, during some of its most stormy and protracted sessions. Had he been re-elected he would undoubtedly have been the candidate of his party for the Speaker, the third federal office in power and dignity; a position for which he was eminently fitted.
In 1843 and 1850 Mr. Ingham was a member of the state senate. In 1851 he was returned to the lower branch of the legislature and elected Speaker.
For nine years he was State Attorney for Middlesex county, and for four Judge of the County Court. He was also tendered a seat on the bench of the Superior Court and Supreme Court of Errors, but declined.
From 1858 to 1861 he was Commissioner of Customs in the treasury department at Washington.
Mr. Ingham was also four times a candidate for Governor of the state, receiving the full vote of his party, but failed through the defeat of the latter.
This long career in connection with prominent public office naturally suggests enquiry touching the personal and professional character of the man who, for nearly forty years, filled so large a space in the eye of the public. It will be interesting to note some of the characteristics of the times in which he lived. Born during the first administration of Washington, and coming to the bar at the close of the second war with Great Britain, his youth and early manhood covered a period in which our political institutions were being formed, and the foundations of the federal government laid. The conduct of public affairs involved the discussion and settlement of great questions on which preceding history shed but a feeble light. But the public men of that day were distinguished by high personal qualities and eminent public virtues. Such an atmosphere was favorable to the development of sterling traits in rising and thoughtful young minds.
When Mr. Ingham came to the bar, and during the most active part of his professional life, he was brought into contact with many able and accomplished lawyers, both on the bench and in the forum. But it was an age of simple habits, small libraries, small fees and limited resources. No marked success was to be obtained except by constant, self-reliant labor and upright conduct. These habits and qualities Mr. Ingham illustrated throughout his long life, and they made him honorably conspicuous at the bar and in public station. Though he was without the advantage of a university education, though he was neither a polished orator nor an elegant writer, he rose to eminence in public affairs, and became, in one respect at least, a formidable power at the bar. It cannot be said that, in the discussion of legal questions, he exhibited what a distinguished lawyer has called "deadly precision"; for his mind was distinguished rather for its robust sense than for acute or exact reasoning. But in his best days he had few equals as an advocate before the jury; a function far more important in his time than at the present day. With a gigantic frame, an imposing presence, a powerful voice, rendered effective by deep and unaffected emotion, aroused by sympathy with and zeal for his cause and his client, he often made a powerful impression which carried conviction to the minds he was addressing.
It can be truly said of Mr. Ingham that he was, under Providence, the architect of his own fortunes, and rose to prominence by his own merits. From 1819 to the end of his life he resided in a country village, in a rural county, where there was no circle of powerful friends to accelerate his advancement in public or professional life. He sprung from an humble origin. What honors he received, therefore, did not come by gift or inheritance, but were won by manly personal effort.
Mr. Ingham's private character was without a stain. His habits were simple and unostentatious. For the last twenty years of his life he was an earnest and consistent member of the Episcopal Church, and, until his health failed, a regular and devout attendant on its ministrations and a liberal contributor to its support.
Dying at an advanced age, and after years of retirement from active life, Mr. Ingham's departure made no ripple on the stream of human affairs, whose current acts steadily towards the grave, and drops into its silence and darkness the distinguished and the obscure. But those who remember him in his full vigor, will not soon forget the massive, antique figure which has so quietly passed away.