James Madison Barker

Associate Justice memorial

189 Mass. 605 (1906)

The Honorable James Madison Barker, a justice of this court from the eighteenth day of June, 1891, died at Boston, where he was sitting as a single justice, on the second day of October, 1905. A meeting of the members of the bar of the Commonwealth was held in Boston on the twentieth day of January, 1906, at which a memorial was adopted, which was presented to the full court on the same day. Before presenting it, the Attorney General addressed the court as follows:

May it please your Honors: As a young man, James Madison Barker's great ambition was to be a judge of our Superior Court. He attained that office in 1882, and more than that, a place upon the bench of this court in 1891. Each appointment was considered by all a good one, not only on account of his ability, but because the position had been earned by conscientious work in his profession, in the Legislature and upon a commission to revise the statutes of the Commonwealth.

From his young manhood he had been taught industry, self-reliance and respect for labor, which are so necessary to learn if one is to win success in the profession of the law. He had been active and influential in all the affairs of his town and county, social, business and, until he took his place upon the bench, political. A very useful man, a man of very high ideals, and a very good citizen, the leading man of his generation of Berkshire men. His practice at the bar was in Berkshire County, which has furnished its quota of the strongest and best, -- men of the highest character and attainments, men who have left brilliant examples to their successors of how the law should be practised and administered.

He was loyal to his profession, and had ever in mind that the bar, through personal character, prestige and example, must constantly continue the work of educating themselves and the public as to the importance of keeping the bench and bar upon the highest plane of ability and character.

His was the manner of the courteous gentleman, always; but behind the attractive presence, the mildness of manner, there was a strength, a fairness, a firmness of character that could be relied upon. He was a good business man, coming from a race of manufacturers, and especially valuable upon the court at a time when the practice of the law is more and more commercial in its character, and trials are more and more businesslike, with less attempt to evade the speedy conclusion of the issue.

He was also a valuable adviser in the large affairs of his community, but never in sympathy with commercialism in its grosser forms. He was always pleasant and agreeable on the bench, always a high-minded gentleman, highly respected in both courts for his courtesy, and especially for his integrity.

Judge Barker was an open-minded man who sought faithfully to discharge the exacting duties of his position. His opinions show constant and unremitting toil, and bear evidence of most careful consideration of all the questions involved.

No happy talent and no fortunate opportunity formed the sides of the ladder on which he mounted to preferment; but the rounds of that ladder were made of stuff to stand wear and tear.

Judge Barker died on the second of October, 1905, and in every bar association in the Commonwealth there was genuine sorrow.

The last time I saw Judge Barker socially was at a dinner given by the Berkshire Bar Association, at which I had the honor of being one of the speakers with him. He referred to the circumstances under which be became a judge. While enjoying an outing with a friend one summer's day, the then young men told each other their respective ambitions. Judge Barker expressed the hope that some day he should attain his ideal of public service, -- a place on the Superior Court bench of Massachusetts. It so happened that in after years his friend of that summer afternoon was elected Governor of Massachusetts, and he, remembering the conversation of the early days, appointed Judge Barker to the place he had coveted. This was twenty-five years ago. On the bench now is but one man who was his senior in point of office, -- Chief Justice Knowlton.

I now have the honor to present the resolutions of the bar, and to move that they be entered of record in this court.

The Attorney General then presented the following memorial:

The members of the Suffolk bar place on record this tribute to the high personal character and devoted public service of James Madison Barker, late a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, whose death on the second day of October, 1905, is a personal and public bereavement.

Born in Berkshire County in 1839, graduated at Williams College in 1860, he was afterwards at the Harvard Law School, and then entered upon his profession in his native town of Pittsfield. To his birthplace, as long as he lived, he devoted his abilities at every call. He served its schools, its financial institutions, all its public interests, identifying himself actively with every uplifting and refining local effort of a social or public character. He was a model of true citizenship.

In 1872 he was elected to the Legislature, bringing to its important duties the steady, undemonstrative application which was a marked characteristic of his mental habits. In 1874 he was appointed one of the commission to revise the statutes, in 1882 a justice of the Superior Court and in 1891 a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, at which post he died. He was equal to every position of honor or trust to which he was called, and in each rose to the ideal of pure, faithful, patient, wise, consummate service.

His character found expression in his firm but gentle face, his calm, sweet manners, his receptive and considerate attention in the court room, and in the combination of personal dignity with charming comradeship.

He was thoroughly grounded in the law, its principles and its precedents, and his sound legal learning combined with his rare good sense, his familiarity with the ways and interests of the people at large, and his instinctive fidelity to the essentials of truth and justice made him as a judge upon the bench a pattern of the best judicial standards of the Commonwealth.

Chief Justice Knowlton responded as follows:

Brethren of the Bar: If we consider the career of Judge Barker, to discover the causes which led to his success, we find, first of all, that his boyhood and youth was spent under very favorable conditions. The eldest son of a prosperous manufacturer, he grew up among the hills of Berkshire, in a thriving town which has become a city and for many years has been the county seat. He breathed an invigorating atmosphere, charged with ozone from the fields and woods, and he found stimulating food for thought among his intelligent neighbors in his native town. He was able to obtain a liberal education without enduring the privations of poverty, or suffering from the peculiar temptations which often accompany the possession of great wealth. On entering Williams College he came under the influence of the great educator, President Mark Hopkins, and having been graduated just before reaching his majority, he went forth to the study of his profession, with a high purpose and a firm resolve to make the world better for his living in it. After his admission to the bar he joined the practitioners of law whom he had known in his boyhood, and, to the end of his life, he remained loyal to the friendships and traditions which he shared in his youth.

As a lawyer and citizen he was interested in local affairs, and for a time he held an important town office. Like his distinguished predecessors in this court, Judge Wells in Brookline and Judge Colt in Pittsfield, he deemed it a duty to join the voters in town meetings, and there to give expression to his opinions in debate. While yet a young man he was sent as a representative to the General Court, where he served two years on important committees, and took an active part in shaping legislation. He was a delegate in the national convention of the Republican party in 1880, and at all times he showed a lively interest in public measures, with an earnest purpose to improve the methods of government.

All this was in addition to the practice of law, which was his regular vocation. To his professional work he gave assiduous attention, striving to attain the highest success in the prosecution of it, and making such success the principal object of his ambition. In the autumn of 1882, with this preparation and experience, he was appointed to the bench of the Superior Court; and to say that be carried with him the confidence of the bar and of the people to this new service is to state a fact which could hardly fail to follow.

As a judge at nisi prius he was dignified, kindly, regardful of the rights and wishes of others, thorough and painstaking in his investigations, patient and attentive in hearing counsel, definite and intelligible in his rulings, and ready to secure to all parties their right to a revision of his decisions if such a revision was desired. He was a lover of justice and a hater of chicanery and fraud. He was diligent in his study of legal principles and judicial decisions. The chief object of his effort was to do justice through a proper administration of the law.

When, after nearly nine years of service in the Superior Court, he was promoted to the Supreme Judicial Court, his long experience and careful training gave him special qualifications for the performance of his new duties. He entered upon the work with enthusiastic interest and was faithful in it to the end. He found it easy to express his conclusions in written opinions. He enjoyed especially extended investigation of the history of the legislation which he was obliged to interpret, and often in that way he obtained new light upon doubtful questions. His familiarity with the statutes through his service as a legislator and his wider experience as one of the commissioners who revised the laws which became the Public Statutes of 1882, gave peculiar value to his work in this department of the law. He also had great familiarity with mills and machinery, which sometimes enabled him to make plain that which otherwise would have been obscure in cases involving mechanical operations.

His affection for his native town and county, and especially for Williams College, was strong and steadfast. For many years before his death he was a trustee of the college, and he served its interests faithfully in a variety of ways. In his official journeys about the State, especially when he was a judge of the Superior Court, he embraced opportunities to become familiar with places and persons outside of the precincts of the court. Often he took long walks, and sometimes, at intervals between sittings, he journeyed into neighboring towns, making observations and gathering experiences which he put into charming bits of narration for the entertainment of his friends. It has been my privilege, on several occasions, to listen to delightful papers, giving his experiences and reflections on such excursions. These were illustrations of a breadth of humanity and a depth of sympathy which filled a large place in his personality. He loved the hills and woods and streams. He enjoyed his rural retreat on the mountain heights of the little town of Windsor, where it was his delight, with a few friends, in a rustic way, to spend the days in communion with nature and with these companions. Above all, he had a genius for friendship. He felt kindly towards his fellows, and had a genuine, unselfish interest in promoting their happiness. This it was which intensified the sorrow at his death in thousands of hearts all over the Commonwealth.

Dignity and modesty were blended in his nature in a remarkable way. No one ever had a higher sense than he of the dignity of the courts, and of high official positions of every kind. He felt the dignity of noble manhood, and of those who are chosen to represent manhood. At the same time, no one was ever more simple and unobtrusive than he in demeanor. In feelings and in manner he was modesty personified.

We all miss him, in his absence from his accustomed place. We who were his associates upon the bench, in daily intercourse which brought us very close together, miss him as you do, and a great deal more. The sundering of ties, which have accumulated in their strength the growing affection of many years, always brings sadness which surpasses all other sadness in human experience. Were it not for consolation, found in memories of the past and in hope for the future, it would seem unendurable.

An order may be entered that your resolutions be recorded, and the court will now adjourn.

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