Otis P. Lord

Associate Justice memorial

137 Mass. 591 (1884)

The Honorable Otis P. Lord, a justice of this court from the twenty-first day of December, 1875, to the eighth day of December, 1882, died at his residence in Salem on the thirteenth day of March, 1884. A meeting of the members of the bar of the Commonwealth was held in Boston on the twenty-second day of March, at which resolutions were passed, which were presented to the full court on the same day. Before presenting them, the Attorney General addressed the court as follows:

May it please your Honors: A distinguished citizen of the Commonwealth has died; an upright judge, who devoted more than twenty-three years to the administration of justice, has gone; a lawyer of remarkable ability, a leader of the bar, has passed over to the majority; and a stately form and figure, and a familiar face, indicative of great intellectual strength, crowned with the silver of more than threescore years and ten, will be seen among us no more. It is appropriate, on an occasion like this, to pause and consider his character, the lessons he has left us, and to take note of his departure.

Otis Phillips Lord was born in Ipswich on July 11, 1812; he fitted for college at Dummer Academy, in the county of Essex, and entered Amherst College in the year 1828, and graduated four years later, since which time he has received from that college the degrees of Master of Arts and Doctor of Laws. He attended the Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1836, was admitted to the bar in December, 1835, and commenced the practice of the law in his native town. In 1844, he moved to Salem, where he continued actively engaged in his profession until appointed upon the bench. Although his docket was large, he had found time to serve six terms in the General Court: five in the House of Representatives, the last year, 1854, as Speaker, and one term in the Senate; and in 1853 he was a member of the Constitutional Convention.

Upon the organization of the Superior Court in 1859, he was appointed by Governor Banks an associate justice. This position he held until appointed by Governor Gaston in 1875 an associate justice of this court, which office he continued to occupy until compelled by ill-health to resign, on December 8, 1882. Since that time he has been waiting the summons, which came to him on Thursday, the 13th instant, when the dust returned to the earth as it was, and the spirit returned unto God, who gave it.

The opinions which Judge Lord has written in behalf of this court are contained in the reports, and will be preserved for our future use and benefit. He was a good writer, but a better speaker; he was an orator, and will be most appreciated and best remembered by us, who have had the opportunity to see and hear him, as a lawyer, arguing an important cause to the court or jury, with a power and eloquence rarely excelled, or, as a judge, charging the jury in a capital trial, with a clearness of diction, terseness of expression, and comprehensiveness of statement unsurpassed.

If the court please, I am requested by the bar of the Commonwealth to present to the court the resolutions which I am about to read, the same having been unanimously adopted at a meeting of the bar this morning, and to ask that they may be entered on the records of the court.

The Attorney General then presented the following resolutions:

The bar of the Commonwealth desire to record their appreciation of the eminent character and services of the late Hon. Otis Phillips Lord, and to pay their tribute of respect to his memory. For nearly a quarter of a century he served the Commonwealth as a judge of its highest tribunals with distinguished ability; and it was only when increasing infirmities became inexorable that he reluctantly abandoned the position, which was very dear to him, both as the post of duty and of honor. Of Judge Lord it may be said, with almost literal truth, that the lawyer was "born, not made." He had a natural instinct for the law. His learning was not extensive, and his temperament was always too impatient for much research; but he could recognize a distinction or detect a fallacy at a glance. In his power to grasp and enunciate principles, to analyze and marshal evidence, to seize upon, and with remorseless clearness and logic to present, the controlling elements of a case, he was seldom, if ever, surpassed. The tone of his mind was forensic rather than judicial. If it was difficult for him, all unconsciously to himself, to maintain upon the bench an indifferent attitude to the cause he thought right, nevertheless in the highest sense he was always and absolutely impartial. Never, under any circumstances, did he lean to one side or the other, either through favor or through fear. His personal character was one of marked individuality, but it is no flattery of him to say that its most prominent features were the warmth and sincerity of his friendship, his rugged honesty, and a courage that never paltered with his convictions. In the death of Judge Lord, the bar and the Commonwealth lament the loss, not only of a most faithful and distinguished public servant, but also of an upright, fearless, and true-hearted man.

Resolved, that the Attorney General be requested to present this expression of the sentiments of the bar to the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth, and to request that the same may be entered upon its records.

Elias Merwin, Esq., then addressed the court as follows:

May it please the Court: At the request of my brethren of the bar, and with your Honors' permission, I rise to second the motion of the Attorney General. The career of Judge Lord, both at the bar and upon the bench, was so conspicuous and pronounced, that the sterling qualities by which we would recall him today have become as familiar as household words. For twenty-five years he was a positive force in the administration of justice in this Commonwealth. There was something grand, almost heroic, in the quality and proportions of his character. His fidelity to his convictions, his indifference to consequences, and his scorn of all timeserving and all timeservers, were as wholesome and bracing as the ocean breezes on the shores of his own Essex. Never a dissembler, he was what Dr. Johnson declared he delighted to honor, -- "a good hater." At the same time, his strong, vehement, but most frank and open nature never failed to command from those who knew him truly a warm and enduring regard.

As I contemplate that long and valiant forensic and judicial career, and these well-earned honors which cluster about its close, -- these tributes from bench and bar, -- I cannot but recall, as in a measure emblematic of it all, that famous picture of Turner's on the walls of the British National Gallery, -- "The fighting Temeraire tugged to its last berth." The story is read at a glance. A long career is over, and now the grand old ship, racked by winds and waves, and scarred in many a conflict, but still stately and imposing, is reverently convoyed over the bosom of the placid water into the home port. There is no sadness in all the scene, except the pathos of a completed work. The night is at hand, but the setting sun seems to linger for a while to enfold the departing veteran in the soft halo of its farewell light. No angry cloud now darkens the sky. It is all serenity and peace.

Chief Justice Morton responded as follows:

Brethren of the Bar: The recent death of our associate and friend, Judge Lord, renews and intensifies the deep sorrow and sense of loss felt by the bench and bar when, in the summer of 1882, he was stricken with a disease which made necessary his retirement from the public service. His loss was severely felt by us who were accustomed to rely upon his assistance, and by the bar and public, who looked up to him as an able and upright man. For nearly half a century he has occupied a conspicuous position in the eye of the public. He was admitted to the bar of Essex county in 1835. Endowed by nature with a powerful understanding and a resolute will, he very soon made himself felt as a power at the bar. His remarkable power of analyzing and grouping the evidence in a case, his clear insight as to the motives and arguments which were most likely to rule the minds of jurors, the strength of his convictions, and his unsurpassed power of expressing them in language, made him at once a successful advocate, and soon established for him a position as one of the leading members of the bar. He continued in practice for twenty-five years, during this time serving with marked distinction as a member of both branches of the Legislature, and of the Constitutional Convention of 1853, having been the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and for the latter part of this period was admitted to be without a rival as the recognized leader of the bar of his county. Few men in this Commonwealth have ever acquired a greater reputation as an accomplished and successful advocate. When the Superior Court was created, in 1859, it was the earnest desire of the Governor to appoint as its judges men who would command the respect of the people of the Commonwealth. After much hesitation, Judge Lord was induced to accept a position as one of its judges. Without any doubt, his appointment added strength and dignity to the court. He brought, to the duties of the judicial office the same incisive and aggressive qualities which had made his success at the bar. His mind worked with such rapidity and clearness that he was able to grasp at a glance, and as it were intuitively, the merits of a case as soon as it was opened before him. If this sometimes led him, in impatience born of his strong convictions and quick insight, to take control and direction of a case to the derangement of the plans of counsel, the result was usually found to be that the case was tried rapidly and on its real merits, and justice and right prevailed.

He loved to see a vigorous and fair contest, but he abhorred anything like trickery or chicanery in the trial of a case. Many of his charges were models of terse and forcible statements of the evidence and of the law to be applied by the jury in considering the evidence. He was a faithful, able, and brilliant nisi prius judge.

In December, 1875, he was appointed to a seat upon the bench of this court. The same great qualities which marked his career as a lawyer and as a nisi prius judge made him a valuable assistant in the labors and deliberations of this court. His numerous published opinions are the enduring monuments of his success. In the peculiar duties of this court, which consist largely of deliberations and discussions upon questions of law, he was of great value. He was a rapid thinker, and quickly formed impressions upon any questions of law presented to him. Whether his views were right or wrong, he saw them clearly and strongly; and such was his power of forcible expression that there was at times danger that he might make the worse appear the better reason. But he had such control over his mind that he could grasp and appreciate any fair argument which tended to refute his views, and the candor to abandon at once his position when convinced that he was in error. So that it was no unusual thing for him finally to yield his willing assent to a result which he had in the outset vigorously resisted. In every relation of life he was a man of marked individuality and force. In every aspect of his character he was a strong man. He was strong in his intellect, strong in his emotions, strong in his friendships, strong in his dislikes and prejudices, strong in thought, and strong in language, and, above all, strong in his integrity.

During the last year of his active labors there occurred several premonitions, known to those near him, of the attack which at last prostrated him, so that, when the attack came, his friends were compelled to believe it to be the beginning of the end. But Judge Lord for some time resisted this conviction. He commenced a letter, written in the early fall after his attack, with the quotation, "It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope," and went on to express the hope that he might recover his health so as to be able to resume his labors, and to preside at one of the fall terms which had been assigned to him. But this was not to be. After a painful struggle between alternating hopes and doubts, he finally accepted the conviction that his life's work was finished, and accordingly, in December, 1882, he sent to the Governor his resignation as a judge of this court.

After this, to the day of his death, he lived with the ever-present consciousness that a sudden death was impending over him. To use his own expression, he considered himself a "minute man;" and with every morning when he awoke came the thought that this might be to him the last of earth. He bore his fate, not with stoical indifference, but with a manly composure and a cheerful resignation. It is a comfort to us to know that his last year, though full of solemn reflections and forebodings, was not an unhappy one, and that when the final summons came to him it found him ready.

Brethren, be assured that we sympathize in the fullest manner in the sentiments of respect and affection for our departed brother expressed by you, and we accede to your request that your resolutions, together with a memorandum of these proceedings, be entered upon the records of this court, of which he was for so long a time an honored member.

The court then adjourned.

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