William Crowinshield Endicott

Associate Justice memorial

177 Mass. 607 (1901)

The Honorable William Crowinshield Endicott, a justice of this court from the fifth day of March, 1873, to the thirty-first day of October, 1882, died at his residence in Boston on the sixth day of May, 1900. A meeting of the members of the bar of the Commonwealth was held in Boston on the twenty-fourth day of the following November, 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 the Court: William Crowninshield Endicott, a justice of this court from 1873 to 1882, died at his residence in Boston on the sixth day of May last, at the age of seventy-three years. He had retired completely from active life several years before his death, and, consequently, was known to the younger members of the bar only by reputation. But those of us to whom his dignified and courtly presence upon the bench had been familiar have not forgotten and will not forget the respect and esteem which he commanded.

The high regard which the people of the Commonwealth, laymen as well as lawyers, have always entertained for her judiciary has often been demonstrated. It is evidence not only of the high character of her judges, but of the wisdom of the method of their selection, to which Massachusetts, almost alone among the States of the Union, has constantly adhered. Judge Endicott was a conspicuous illustration of the wisdom of this policy. From his youth he had been constant in his support of a political party which during the active years of his life was in an almost hopeless minority. How far he commanded the respect of his party associates was shown by the fact that without solicitation on his part he was frequently nominated by them for the highest positions in the gift of the people. But he was never elected to any important office by popular vote. If judges had been so chosen, the bench would probably not have been adorned by his presence.

The circumstances of Judge Endicott's life disproved the frequent assertion that adversity is the only mother of greatness. It is often without doubt the spur that quickens the sluggish pulse and inspires to noble deeds. But Judge Endicott may be said to have achieved eminence in spite of temptations to a life of mediocrity. He was descended on both sides from an illustrious and distinguished family. He was reared amidst fortunate surroundings; and he might well have been content with the laurels which were his by heredity. These circumstances undoubtedly contributed to that serenity and repose of temperament, to that apparent disregard of popular favor, and to that disinclination to aggressiveness which characterized his life. His successes, indeed, came to him unsought, except as he deserved them by a life of honorable industry and of devotion to the high calling of his profession.

The story of his career in its relation to the public is briefly told. After his admission to the bar in Salem in 1850, at the age of twenty-four years, he devoted his energies almost exclusively to his profession. He soon acquired the best kind of a law practice. He was never a popular man, in the ordinary meaning of the term, but he is said by his associates at the bar to have been unusually successful before that keenest of tribunals, the petit jury. He did not, however, neglect the study of the law as a science. Some of the opinions upon difficult questions he was called upon to render during his practice had a weight scarcely less than that accorded to the decisions of this court.

In March, 1873, in consequence of an act providing for all increase in the number of judges, he was appointed an associate justice of this court. From the very beginning he proved himself to be an admirable judge. His first opinion, printed upon the page following that containing the memorandum of his appointment, was upon the right of a town to spend money to prevent its dismemberment by legislation. It showed the hand of a master. With scarcely an unnecessary word or phrase, and yet with a felicity of expression that never failed him, it reached its conclusions in a way that made them appear to be almost axiomatic. It was a model opinion; one of the kind that convinces even the losing side. The standard thus at once reached was consistently maintained throughout the ten years of his services. Not one of his opinions has been overruled.

He was in illustrious company. In the same year that marked his succession to the bench, Horace Gray was made Chief Justice, and Charles Devens was appointed an associate. The bench thus constituted was composed of Chief Justice Gray, with Wells, Colt, Ames, Morton, Endicott and Devens as associates. Without forgetting the illustrious service of Chief Justice Shaw and those associated with him, I am, nevertheless, of the opinion that this court had never had a more able bench than when it was made up of the men I have named. It is a remarkable fact that during the ten years of Judge Endicott's service, covering twenty-two volumes of reports, there were but four dissenting opinions; and upon such examination as I have been able to make I think there were few decisions whose soundness has been challenged by the bar, or by succeeding judges.

Of the services of Judge Endicott in other departments of life, it is not incumbent upon me to dwell at length excepting to say that among other positions he held were those of President of the Essex Bar Association, President of the Salem Bank, and member of the corporation of Harvard University; that he was a leading member of a national administration conspicuous for its ability; and that as Secretary of War, he maintained the high reputation that Massachusetts has always had, and still has, in the councils of the President. But all these, while they showed the esteem in which he was held, were scarcely more than incidents in a life devoted almost exclusively to the work of his profession.

Of one thing that impressed itself upon every one who came into contact with Judge Endicott I hesitate to speak, for fear of being misunderstood. We are accustomed to deny the existence of class distinctions in this land of democracy. Especially to be deplored is the growing tendency of this generation to recognize distinctions created by wealth, hereditary or acquired. But the history of Massachusetts from its beginning is crowded with great and noble deeds; and it is inevitable that those who can trace their lineage to the historic days, who have preserved unsullied the traditions of the founders of the Commonwealth, and whose lives have justified their lineage, should command to a peculiar degree the respect of the community. They constitute what has been termed the aristocracy of New England, of whom we must confess we are all rather proud. It needed only the most casual acquaintance with Judge Endicott to realize that he was of the purest type.

It was, perhaps, the most striking phase of his personality. He wore not his noble lineage as a badge of honor; it rather surrounded him as with a halo of distinction, and no sketch of him would be complete that failed to recognize the fact. That the best blood of the Puritans flowed in his veins did not make him; but it went far to demonstrate that heredity is a factor not to be disregarded in any analysis of the character of a man.

I recur, however, with renewed satisfaction to his career as a judge of this court. I realize that I have but imperfectly conveyed to the younger members of the bar the measure of esteem in which he was held by his associates and by those who practised before him. I can only say, as I have already said, that he appeared to us, by temperament, by learning and wisdom, by the dignity and grace of his manner, to be peculiarly fitted for his position. To use a common but expressive phrase, he seemed to be born a judge.

The memory of such a man we are proud to honor. His life illuminates the noble profession to which our lives are devoted. Without an able and upright judiciary, the bar cannot justify its claim to be the chief bulwark of society. But supported and adorned by the selection from its ranks of judges who commend themselves to mankind, it marches in the front rank of civilization.

It is my privilege to present to the court resolutions which have been adopted by the bar, expressive of the respect they entertain for the memory of Judge Endicott, and to ask that they be spread upon the records of the court; and to suggest as a further token of respect, that thereupon the court do adjourn for the day.

The Attorney General then presented the following memorial:

Hon. William Crowninshield Endicott, formerly an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of this Commonwealth, died at his residence in Boston on Monday, May 6, 1900.

The bar of the Commonwealth, in appreciation of his character and services, desires to present to the court of which he was an honored member the following memorial:

Judge Endicott was born in Salem, November 19, 1826. He sprung from a distinguished ancestry, being a lineal descendant of Governor John Endicott. From the foundation of the colony the family has held a position of influence in Essex County. He graduated at Harvard College in 1847, and immediately entered upon the study of the law, in part under the guidance of Nathaniel J. Lord of Salem, one of the legal giants of his day. He was admitted to the bar in 1850, and entered upon and continued the practice of the law in Salem until he took his seat upon the bench of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1873.

He came to his profession enjoying the full inheritance of the high integrity and culture of his ancestry. Of refined manners and graceful bearing, of entire independence and self-confidence, dignified, yet modest and affable, and possessing common sense and sound judgment, he soon attracted clients, and in the later years of his practice he was a leader in the courts of his county and in the competition of a bar among whose members leadership was not easily to be won. His addresses to juries were graceful and forcible. Before the courts his arguments upon questions of law were convincing, and clothed with excellent diction.

Upon his promotion to the bench he became a most valuable judge. His urbanity and his knowledge of men and of affairs rendered the transaction of business in his court smooth and expeditious. The repose of the bench suited him better than the enforced activity of the bar. His opinions were sound, and his culture and command of language lent them terseness and lucidity.

He resigned his office as judge in 1882, and in 1885 was appointed Secretary of War in President Cleveland's first cabinet. This office he held during President Cleveland's first administration. The years were peaceful and called for no especial display of statesmanship. He discharged his duties unostentatiously, but efficiently and honorably.

Retiring from Washington, he resumed the practice of his profession, but did not attempt his early activity.

He was a public-spirited citizen, not confining himself to private interests or official duties. He gave his services and counsel to many scientific, educational and historical associations, of which he was a member, and he was for many years a fellow of Harvard College.

He leaves the reputation of a sound and successful lawyer, of a dignified and efficient judge, of a wise and faithful public servant and of a refined and courteous gentleman.

Chief Justice Holmes responded as follows:

Gentlemen of the Bar: It is November and the last leaves are falling that once screened my generation from the sky. When I began my practice Mr. Endicott was the leader of the Essex bar. He left the bench a little before I came to it and in the same year. I caught some glimpses of him in both capacities, as a lawyer and as a judge. When I was still very young, for some reason which I never could explain except by his kindness, he called me into a case which be was going to try in Boston, as his junior. It was a case involving, if I remember rightly, some of those dealings of builders and contractors which are enough to puzzle or at least confuse older heads than mine was then. I fear that I never understood it and that I was but little help to him. But it taught me more than one lesson. The thoroughness of his preparation, the calmness with which he separated and drew out the tangled threads, the luminous ardor with which he put his case to the jury, all were enough to inspire a neophyte with enthusiasm. And then his consideration for me, his manners to all -- a wonderful contrast to much that then was tolerated. I am happy to think that his example has prevailed and that now it is the rule that a lawyer will try his case like a gentleman without giving up any portion of his energy and force.

When next I saw him it was upon the bench, and again he excited my admiration. He was sitting in the old equity courtroom in Court Square, and I remember thinking at the time, as I still think, that he represented in the superlative degree my notion of the proper bearing and conduct of a judge. Distinguished in person, with the look of race in his countenance which in more ways than one suggested a resemblance to that first Endicott to whom Massachusetts owes so much, he sat without a thought of self, without even the unconscious pride or aloofness which seemed, nay, was, his right, serenely absorbed in the problems of the matter in hand, impersonal yet human, the living image of justice, weighing as if the elements in the balance were dead matter, but discerning and collecting those elements by the help of a noble and tender heart. Ah, me! How often I have wished that one of his successors could attain the perfection which once he saw in the flesh! How often has that charming and impressive figure risen before my eyes, at once to encourage and to warn.

He was not less successful in the performance of his other duties as a judge. He was thought to have great power over juries -- a matter of more importance in this court then than now, as in his day more jury cases were tried here. Among other causes, the jurisdiction in actions of tort still was retained, and murders continued to be tried before two judges of this bench until long after I came to it. Even under our unfortunate legislation, in his mode of presenting the different hypotheses and stating the law according to what the jury may find, a judge inevitably adopts such an order and such an emphasis as to bring to their attention what he deems the important elements of the case, and by so doing inevitably in some degree helps to lead them to what he thinks the proper result. I never heard Judge Endicott complained of as going too far, but I think it was recognized that the jury was likely to come out in the way that be thought right.

As a writer of decisions of the full court, I cannot estimate him as accurately as I could wish, because my other duties have not allowed me time to study his work with a view to critical appreciation. When one reads cases in the way of business, one is intent upon other things than the personality of the man who happens to express the judgment of the court. I think of him as not avoiding the difficulties of a case, as not seeking refuge in generalities, as clear in exposition, and as agreeable to read. Beyond that I should not undertake to speak. I have been led to surmise that he found the labor of writing too great, and that this was the reason for his resignation. That is a matter of temperament. The work here has killed some men who took it too hard. But I should not have supposed that Judge Endicott found it other than easy, from his style.

I shall not speak of his important political place after he left this court, for the reason that I know too little about it, but shall content myself with saying that as I saw and knew him upon the bench, of the many interesting, powerful and impressive figures that now are only memories, his stands out unique in dignity and charm.

The court then adjourned.

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