[MVB] to Jesse Buel, 3 Dec 1819
I hope you will not fail to lay before your readers, the very interesting letter from Chancellor Kent to Mr. Hoffman. It cannot fail to be highly gratifying to every real friend of the judiciary, and well wisher of the chancellor. They have witnessed with regret the unceasing attempts which have been for some time making by some of his judicial friends, to draw him with them into all the petty intrigues of a cabal, which keeps the state in commotion. The motive for this solicitude, must be obvious to all. They hope if they do not derive a full excuse from his participation, they will at least divide the odium by his community. The determination to withdraw himself from the party dissentions of the day, and devote his time and attention to the studies and duties of his office, expressed in this letter, is as it should be. His distinguished merits have been a subject of general admiration, and not unfrequently, it is feared, of sinister commendation. it is, however, but bare justice to him, to say, that among the list of worthies who have at different periods filled our highest judicial offices, many of whom have descended to the tomb accompanied by the benedictions of their fellow citizens, there has not been one, who for spotless purity, extent of capacity, and exemplary industry, in the discharge of his official duties, has excelled the present chancellor.
There is no equity tribunal in this country organized like our court of chancery—not one in which a single judge possesses such extensive powers; and it is a source of just pride and satisfaction, that without subjecting ourselves to the charge of arrogance, we can safely challenge a comparison in point of learning, industry, integrity, and all the qualities requisite for a judge, between the present incumbent and the first jurists in the union. As such, his character [i]s the property of the state, and should be guarded against encroachments with the utmost jealousy—as such, too, it is doubly important that by his total exclusion from the angry conflicts of party (with which this state is yet for a season doomed to be afflicted) all obstacles to yielding him the united tribute of our affection and applause may be removed: so that when 'Virginians,' without regard to party, as they are wont to do, expatiate on the distinguished talents of their 'Marshall'—when our eastern brethren dwell with enthusiasm on the memory of their justly celebrated 'Parsons,' and boast of the erudition of their 'Story,' we too may be able to point to a judicial character on which New-York reposes her claim to a fair equality with the proudest of her sister states.
A steady adherence to the resolution contained in this letter, is all that is necessary to secure this great end—every thing else is already done. The republicans of the state do not desire, nor would they approve, the active co-operation of the judges of our superior courts in those party strifes which our free political institutions will ever produce. The utmost of their wish is to see them 'devote their time and attention to the studies and duties of their office.' Let chancellor Kent therefore persevere in this praiseworthy determination, and at the appointed day, when by the imperious provision of the constitution, the high powers which have been delegated to him must be surrendered, he will find that party, which can neither be intimidated by oppression, seduced by corruption or circumvented with artifice—not wanting in liberality to a political opponent—that there are no class of men who take more pleasure than they, in bestowing, when deserved, the unbought free will offering of their approbation and support upon official merit.
The example which has been thus set, is certainly deserving of "all imitation;" it would, however, be doing injustice to its author to convert it into a censure on those with whose conduct it is at variance, as such was doubtless his intention. I cannot, however, refrain from observing, that there is at least one high judicial character among us, with whose best interests it would even now, "at the eleventh hour," well comport to adopt it. For however inveterate, and, I am sorry to say, in some measure virulent, the contest has been and still remains between him and those with whom he once acted, it will never, and as a matter of abstract justice, ought never to be forgotten, that there has been at least one time when his actions and services were creditable to the state and honorable to himself.
At that disgraceful period in the history of our state, to which every good man reverts with humiliation and regret,—when our halls of legislation were basely contaminated—
"Where I have seen corruption boil and bubble,
"Till it o'errun the stew:"—
When modest merit and stubborn virtue were outfaced and vanquished by pimps and panders,—when the patriotic Tompkins stretched forth the strongest arm of executive authority, and threw himself in the breach to rescue the bleeding honors of the state;—the judicial character stood in the first rank, cherished the exertions of the minority, and exposed himself to the keen resentments of the profligate authors and abettors of that vile conspiracy. How deeply will it be to be deplored, should those bright honors be tarnished and withered by an illfated union and fellowship with the unworthy actors in those scenes. His conduct on that interesting occasion was worthy of a man, and will, notwithstanding a long, long list of after grievances, be remembered by republicans with consideration and respect, and would doubtless soon shew its influence in the changed feelings of the public, had its author the wisdom and resolution to give scope to its operation by a frank and public adoption of the example which has been thus set, and a rigid and scrupulous adherence to its course.
Let not, however, the object of this passing remark be misunderstood or misapplied. The republican party—a party, who are justly proud of their name and conduct—who, ever ready to cherish patriotism in whatever garb it may appear, or by whatever secondary appellation it may be distinguished, are notwithstanding resolved that "their barriers shall neither be broken down or trodden under foot," desire no assistance or support from that quarter. They could not receive it. They do not need it. Their success is beyond the reach of contingency. It is a fixed article in their creed, and one which will be supported with the firmness of men determined to accomplish what they resolve, to evince their devotion to our judicial institutions, by driving from the ranks of party those to whom the principal administration of them is committed; to induce them "to devote their time and attention to the studies and duties of their office," that thereby they may "deserve and command the confidence and respect of the community at large." That is the text to which they will adhere, and in enforcing the observance of which they rely on the zealous cooperation of every sound head and honest heart in the state.