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SUMMARY OF EVENTS.
The Chief Justiceship. Morrison R. Waite. — When we went to press with our last number the President had nominated Attorney-General Williams Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and public sentiment was working its sure work on the Senate during the holidays. On the reassembling of Congress this nomination was withdrawn at Mr. Williams's request. Then, to the great surprise of every one who thought that the Chief Justice should be a man in whose hands life, liberty, and property would be always safe, " Caleb Cushing of Virginia," whose public services, but a short time since, had led to his appointment and confirmation as minister to Spain, was proposed by the President. The outcry that followed must have demonstrated, even to the executive, that the country demanded far different qualifications in its Chief Justice than would suffice for the conduct of even the most delicate diplomatic negotiations. And, despite the vigorous efforts of Mr. Butler of Massachusetts, and Mr. Conkling of New York, Mr. Cushing's mental power and great professional reputation could not prevail against an opposition founded on his unfortunate private and public record during a career of more than half a century, and the President, anticipating the opposition of the Senate, withdrew his name. How the great puzzle would be solved, or where, in other words, the lightning would next strike, none were wise enough to know, and few foolish enough to prophesy. On the 19th of January the President, having complimented Mr. Williams, — though the compliment must now seem sorry enough to him, — and paid his tribute to most of the political parties of the past in the person of Mr. Cushing, was moved to take to himself that proverbial favorite of the law, " au innocent third person; " and Morrison R. Waite of Toledo, Ohio, was nominated, and, the Senate unanimously consenting, was appointed to our highest judicial office. Mr. Waite, although never himself a judge, is a son of Judge Waite, formerly of the Supreme Court of Connecticut. He graduated at Yale College, — a classmate of Mr. Evarts and Judge Pierrepont of New York, —and moved to Ohio soon after. He is in the fifty-eighth year of his age, and has always practised his profession. His reputation in Ohio is that of a learned, upright, and able lawyer. He presided over the constitutional convention of Ohio at the time of his appointment, and was with Mr. Evarts and Mr. Cushing of counsel for the United States at the Geneva arbitration, where his services, though unaided by a prestige like theirs, were not less valuable than those of his distinguished associates. He comes to the bench with no entanglements of personal ambition, and no judicial record with which perforce he must be consistent; and we welcome him, with the assurance that whatever he accomplishes for the more full and perfect exposition of the law, will meet with the hearty support of the profession. Chief Justice Waite has had this rare experience, that twice — in heing elected to preside over the constitutional convention of Ohio, and in being confirmed as Chief Justice — he has had all the votes of each party in his favor.
Charles Sumner, a name now upon every tongue, adds lustre to the profession of his choice. Ardent and enthusiastic in the study of the law, as in every other pursuit to which he turned, he was early observed among his fellows as a youth of the highest promise, and even before he had completed his preliminary studies was invited to the editorial chair of the American Jurist, a periodical of the first rank. He soon afterwards began work upon his wellknown three volumes of Reports of Decisions of the United States Circuit Court, prepared and annotated a new edition of the younger Vesey's Reports, and Dunlap's Admiralty Practice, and for some time acted as Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University in the place of Mr. Justice Story, who specially desired that he should, at some time, succeed him permanently in that important post of duty. He dedicated to that distinguished friend his edition of Vesey, and received from him a letter of thanks, in the course of which the writer said: "The profession will . . . place you among those who have lightened the research of the learned and illustrated the intricate paths of jurisprudence."
Mr. Sumner was active and successful in general practice, but was at all times, perhaps, too fond of the Muses to attain the supreme favor of so jealous a mistress as Themis. His leading purpose may have been somewhat less to learn what the law was than what it ought to be. His was the mind of a philosopher, and his the heart of a reformer. The cognate science of ethics was as dear to him as that of law. But when his great opportunity came, he displayed superbly the advantages he had derived from his legal training as well as those which he owed to his general scholarship.
Indeed, he seems to have spent his early years in unconscious preparation for the great work which was set for him. He loved to dwell upon questions of the first magnitude. His oration upon " The true Grandeur of Nations," in 1845, showed the habitual direction of his thoughts; and the letter which was then written to him by his friend and preceptor, whom we have before quoted, shows in what estimation he was held at that early day by one of the great lights of the law. After expressing dissent from some of the positions of the orator, Judge Story says: "I have spoken in all frankness to you, because I know that you will understand your friends too well to wish them to suppress their own opinions; but be assured that no one cherishes with more fond and affectionate pride the continual advancement of your professional and literary fame than myself, and no one has a deeper reverence for your character and virtues."
Mr. Sumner above all things loved justice. He desired that truth and right should prevail everywhere. He studied and labored always to learn and to do the right and the true thing. And out of all this grew that grand character which will make his name in all time to come a tower of strength for the lovers of justice and the friends of humanity the world over.
The Bankrupt Law. — The proposition to repeal the Bankrupt Act, voted with inconsiderate haste by the House of Representatives, received a thorough and enlightened consideration in the Senate, especially from senators Edmands and Thurman, in a debate, which changed an impression against the general policy of the law in the minds of several members to a strong conviction of its expediency, so that on the. test vote the numbers were only nineteen for repeal to forty for amendment, and two of the minority voted, under instructions, against their own opinion. The debate showed that the members believed, as we do, that not only the best interests, but the overwhelming opinion of the large class of persons most interested in the subject, demand permanent legislation under the clause of the constitution relating to bankruptcies. It may be remarked, by the way, that the constitutionality of the law was ably and convincingly maintained by Mr. Thurman against objections, somewhat antiquated perhaps, but which had been urged in good faith by one of the senators.
Our former bankrupt laws were passed to meet temporary exigencies, but that of 1867 was a well-intended and in many respects highly successful attempt to supply the need which all commercial nations have experienced, of a system which shall maintain the full and equal rights of creditors as against their insolvent debtor, and between themselves, and at the same time relieve the honest but unfortunate bankrupt from a life-long burden, and restore to him and to the state his power for productive industry, — a need greater in this country than elsewhere, from the great extension we have given to credits, and from the peculiar organization of our government, which makes it impossible for the separate states to adopt an efficient and uniform system, even if they desired to do so. So long as bankruptcies continue, there ought to be an intelligent bankrupt law; and so long as our present constitution lasts, such a law can only come from Congress.
The Senate adopted certain amendments, which, although we cannot at the time of our writing foretell their fate in the House, deserve consideration on their merits, and as an expression of the opinion of the Senate, and will serve, besides, as a text for some suggestions of our own.
Great practical difficulties surround the legislator upon this subject when he comes to deal with the details of procedure, and especially with costs and expenses. There is, we fear, an irrepressible instinct in mankind to look upon a bankrupt estate as a sort of derelict, in which the chance finders have certain vested privileges of plunder, or, at least, of salvage. This tendency, of course, the lawgiver is called upon to repress or avoid to the utmost of his power, and we do not know that any better method has been discovered than to intrust the execution of the law to men who will have no interest but to enforce it honestly. For this reason we had hoped that the registers in bankruptcy might be made salaried officers, thus giving them an independent position, judicial in its character and tendencies, as their duties must be to a great extent judicial, however they are paid. We believe that such a measure, which, we admit, would require of Congress a great deal of patience and skill in tho adjustment of details, would sweep away, at one blow, the greater part of the real and disinterested dissatisfaction with the law as it stands. Perhaps it would be enough to apply this method to some of the most populous congressional districts.