Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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JOHNSON TUTTLE PLATT was born in Newtown, Conn., January 12th, 1844. He attended the common schools of the neighborhood until about nine years of age. The next four or five years he went to various select schools in Fairfield County, the last two years being spent at the Staples Academy, Easton. In the spring of 1859 he had a severe illness, from which he did not recover sufficiently to permit his leaving home till the spring of 1863. This illness prevented him from entering college, but he was able, for a considerable part of the time, to continue his studies, being however under no instructor. In 1863 he entered the Harvard Law School, and was graduated therefrom in 1865. He was admitted to the bar in Boston, January 11th, 1865, and for six months afterwards studied in the office of the Hon. James D. Colt, of Pittsfield, Mass., who afterwards became one of the judges of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. In the fall of 1865 he came to New Haven, where the remainder of his busy and useful life was passed. He early took a high standing at the New Haven County bar, and made a place for himself both in his profession and in the community. Upon the reorganization of the Yale Law School he was made one of the instructors in 1869, and in 1872 was appointed full professor. In this year he received the degree of A. M. from Yale College. His original department of instruction was equity and pleadings; but in the later years of his professorship instruction in torts was added, while his broader studies into the origin and science of the law caused him to be assigned the topics of general jurisprudence and the history of law, in both the. regular and the graduate courses.
Mr. Platt's intelligence was of a high and very active character and he was early interested in all the questions of a political or social nature that were agitating the public. Naturally he was called upon to fill various local offices and for many years was actively connected with the city government of New Haven. He was repeatedly a member of the Common Council, first as a councilman and later as an alderman. In 1874 he was appointed corporation counsel. Upon the death of the late E. K. Foster he was made register in bankruptcy for the New Haven district in 1877. He had been for some time a United States commissioner, having received that appointment in 1870, which was followed shortly by the appointment of master in chancery.
While Mr. Platt was above all things a lawyer, and was at once proud and fond of his profession, his culture and reading were exceptionally broad and general. His interest in active affairs was most practical, and the ordinances of the city of New Haven and the statutes of the state bear the imprint of this interest. He was instrumental in a large degree in the institution of the sanitary organization under which New Haven now lives, and also in the establishment of its board of harbor commissioners. He was deeply interested in the matter of the proper drafting of the statute law, and on this topic made a notable report to the Connecticut State Bar Association. He was one of the original members of this organization, and always took an active part in its deliberations, and was prominent in the suggestion of directions in which it could be of practical benefit to the profession and to the state.
As a lawyer Mr. Platt was most thoroughly trained, and was a master of the best methods of the profession. His knowledge of the principles and theory of the law was based deep upon an intimate acquaintance with its original sources, while he had a ready command of the resources of practice. He was consequently a good counsellor and a good fighter. He was intensely loyal to his client, and more than conscientious in his fulfillment of every duty to him. In his management of court cases he was cautious, shrewd and ready, never losing sight of his client's interest in the excitement of a professional contest, exhibiting an unusual knowledge of human nature, and always impressing the court or the jury with his sincerity and honesty of purpose and with his complete mastery of his cases. He was never known to go into court except after the most careful preparation.
As an instructor in the law school he left upon the hundreds of young men who in the twenty-one years of his instruction came under his care, the impression of a gentle, helpful, sympathetic and thorough scholar. His sympathy with young men was very marked and very true. And it was a sympathy that did not spend itself in words, but was evidenced, as those who were under him call abundantly testify, by unnumbered deeds of the sincerest kindness. He enjoyed his office of teaching, not only because the occupation was congenial to his taste as a scholar, but because it gave him so free an opportunity of expressing that active sympathy with others which was so individual a feature of his character, and which, in the ordinary work of his practice, he was so often called upon to restrain or disguise.
In his personal character and private life all who came into contact with Mr. Platt were impressed with his gentleness, his genial social traits, and his sensitive honor. He had hosts of friends because he was sincerely friendly. He loved the converse of his fellow-man, and this love was not limited by age or condition. And he was as well an enthusiastic lover of the out-of-door life of nature. Until within a short time of his death he was a constant walker, and the most delightful of companions in the fields and woods. Here he was at home. The trees and the flowers of the fields were his friends. He knew them all. And here, too, he best made himself known to his companions. Here it was that his wide acquaintance with the literature of imagination and sentiment, especially of poetry, of which he was passionately fond, showed itself. With a prodigious memory, a delicate and accurate taste, and a sure judgment, he had made the whole range of English poetry his own, and could call forth from his treasures at any time, with rare aptness, just that which was fitting to the time or place. His was also a deeply religious nature, although he could never fully accept any of the current formulations of faith. His acquaintance with the Bible and with religious literature, especially of the more highly spiritual and even mystical types, was wide and thorough. He was, however, averse to ready expression on subjects of this character.
Mr. Platt's death occurred very suddenly on the twenty-third of January, 1890. He was stricken down with apoplexy, just as he was entering his office, and lived but four hours after the attack. He was buried in the cemetery of his native town, Newtown, a place for which he always cherished an enthusiastic affection.