Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 29, page(s) 608-611

CHIEF JUSTICE STORRS

WILLIAM LUCIUS STORRS, Chief Justice of the state, died at Hartford where he resided, on the 25th day of June, 1861, at the age of sixty-six. He was a man of commanding intellect, of great legal attainments, and of the highest order of judicial ability. He was never married. His death occurred during the session of the General Assembly, the members of which attended his funeral in a body. I can not give a better sketch of his character than is contained in an eloquent tribute paid to his memory by Hon. Henry C. Deming of Hartford, before the House of Representatives of which he was a member, at the time when the death of the Chief Justice was announced to that body. Josiah M. Carter Esq., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee on the part of the house, introduced some appropriate resolutions on the occasion, which he supported by some very feeling and eloquent remarks; after which Mr. Deming spoke as follows: -

"Mr. Speaker: -I had hoped that the chairman of the judiciary committee, actively engaged as he is in the courts of which our lamented magistrate was the ornament, familiar too with the prominent features of his legal mind, and in my judgment somewhat imbued with his spirit, would have added to the touching language in which he has announced our bereavement a full length portraiture of the fate Chief Justice's judicial character. My own burthen of the common sorrow unfits me for the task of analysis.

"To me it seems that the affliction which overwhelms the nation is, in this sudden demise, brought home to our own family and hearthstone. The shafts of death have been flying freely around us, but it is long since Connecticut has been called upon to hang the crape at her own door, and clothe herself in weeds for one of her favorite children.

"The Chief Justice for whom we now mourn was emphatically a man of the old Connecticut type, born on our soil, educated in our free schools and unendowed college, home-living, home-bred, seldom absent from our midst, representing in his mind our modes of culture, our methods of thought, our tastes and peculiarities even, our local habits and customs and laws and institutions, and devoting the best years of his life, and the blossom and fruitage of a ripe development, to the maintenance of Connecticut justice and the interpretation of Connecticut law.

The vigorous understanding, which was the foundation of his strength, as well as his massive frame, he held by inheritance from his paternal and maternal line. Col. Lemuel Storrs, his father, was one of that class of men whom natural aptitude in reasoning supplies the want of logical formulation and the training of the schools - a class of men who can turn at will the whole current and volume of their resources upon any theme of thought or business undertaking which they encounter in the pathway of life. His mother was the daughter of Col. Henry Champion of Colchester, deputy commissary of supplies during the entire period of our revolutionary war - one of the main columns of the administration of Jonathan Trumbull, the man who raised the siege of famine at Valley Forge, and received the thanks of Washington for his upright and skillful management of the commissariat. The mother is well remembered by some who are here present as a lady of decided individualities, remarkable alike for the strength and keenness of her understanding, and habitually, in the enterprises of life and the intercourse of society, employing her wit and ridicule and satire to carry those points of vantage and hostile positions which she could not batter down and demolish with her masculine common sense. From such a lineage the strong and marked outlines of Judge Storrs' mind is drawn.

He was born at Middletown, March 25th, 1795. He graduated at Yale College in 1814, with the honors of the institution, and with significant promise of his future distinction and usefulness. Having completed the course of professional study which entitled him to admission to the bar, he commenced the practice of the law in his native town, and rapidly rose to distinction in his profession. In 1827, '28, and '29, he represented Middletown upon this floor. In 1834 he was again here, and by election of the house occupied the prominent position which, Mr. Speaker, you now hold. He was elected to congress on the general ticket from 1829 to 1833. In 1839 he was commissioned by the electors of the second congressional district of this state to represent them in the national House of Representatives. He found there the memory of the brilliant congressional career of his distinguished brother, Henry R. Storrs, fresh and vivid in the minds of old associates who still lingered on that splendid arena; Judge Storrs, though affiliated with a severe illness during two winters of his sojourn at Washington, contributed his share to the reputation of the family name in the great council of the nation. He was summoned from his duties in congress by a vote of the General Assembly, which called him to his seat upon the bench of our supreme court. In 1846 and 1847, he was chief instructor of the law department of Yale College, an office which he held in connection with his judgeship, and in 1856, upon the retirement of Judge Waite, was elected to the office of Chief Justice of the state of Connecticut. His judicial life you may read in those enlightened opinions which this conscientious judge has spread upon the pages of your judicial reports, and which may be safely studied, not only on the spur of particular occasions, but as models of juridical reasoning.

"It was in the freshness and vigor of his early professional noviciate at Middletown that he laid away those stores of legal learning, and disciplined his faculties to that lawyer-like penetration and clearness, which are evinced in these opinions. As the chairman of the judiciary committee has said, "he was an honest man" - honest in the most comprehensive sense of the word - honest in his moral and intellectual nature - as faithful to integrity in all his dealings with mankind and in his official finding of facts, as he was to the logical and legitimate results of legal principles. Keenness in discrimination, comprehension of view, fidelity to induction, rigid sequence of thought, and analytical strength, were leading characteristics of his intellect.

"It can not be denied that our departed friend loved popularity; but it was the popularity of the Lord Mansfield order - "the popularity which follows, not that which is run after -the popularity which, sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the pursuit of noble ends by noble means."

"Of the general character of the late Chief Justice, of his keen insight into the hidden depths of human motives, of his Johnsonian power and sententiousness in exposing a sophism and refuting a fallacy, of his dry and sarcastic humor, of his familiarity with the English Classics, of his acute sensibilities, and of his social graces, I need not speak to those who have enjoyed his society in his rare intervals of relaxation. It was not, however, these superficial accomplishments, nor his native power, nor his logical grasp, nor his acquisitions, nor his professional training, that finally established upon such a solid basis his reputation as an accomplished judge, respected and beloved by all who practice in his court. We may place in that vacant and mournful chair below us a greater natural intellect, learning more profound, sharper and more finished professional discipline; and yet the throne of the Chief Justice will not be filled. Called to the bench comparatively early in life, it was his twenty-one years of training and education there that finally fitted out and equipped him for the mastery of his responsible post. Justice herself, with downcast eyes and a saddened brow, will long search, and search in vain, for a successor reared by herself in her own temple, for ministrations at his own altar."

The speaker alludes, in his closing remark, to a change recently made in our state constitution, by which the term of judicial office in the Supreme and Superior Courts was reduced to eight years. Before the change it expired only upon the attainment by the incumbent of the age of seventy. It is very note-worthy, in view of the course of the popular mind in calling for this change, or even in assenting to it, (if indeed the popular mind had much to do with it,) that the splendid judicial qualities which made Chief Justice Storrs an object of such unqualified and universal admiration, and a subject of so much pride, were in a great measure the fruit of his long experience on the bench, and would not have fully developed themselves in the short term of eight years, if indeed he would have accepted the office under such a limitation. An eminent judge of that court who was a long time associated with him on the bench, told me that in the early part of his judicial career he manifested but little of the great ability for which he afterwards became distinguished, and that it was only by adding to his natural powers of mind the training of a continued experience on the bench that he came to be so pre-eminently great as a judge. A lawyer can not have a nobler ambition than to become an eminent judge, and it is certainly well that judicial office should be accepted as a life work, in which all ulterior aspirations are to be relinquished and the only ambition shall be to attain the highest excellence in that honorable service.