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Full text of "Life and character of the Hon. Thomas Ruffin, late chief justice of North Carolina : a memorial oration"

Life and character of Hon. Thomas 
Ruff In 



CB 

K9Z4-! 

C.4- ' 



The University of 
North Carolina Library 




From the 
ERNEST HAYWOOD LIBRARY 

Established in Memory of 

John Haywood, Trustee 1789-1827 

Edmund Burke Haywood, 1843-46 

Ernest Haywood, '80 

by 

Burke Haywood Bridgers, *03 



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c,4- ^ 



/ 




LIFE AND CHARACTER 



OF THE 



HON. THOMAS RUFFIN, 



Late Chief Justice of North Carolina. 



^ MEMORIAL ORATION, 



WILLIAM A. GRAHAM, 



Delivered before the Agricultural Society of the State, by its request, 
at the Annual Fair in Raleigh, Oct. 21st, 1870. 



EALEIGH, N. (J. 



NlCnOIiS & GOKMAN, BOOK AND JOB rBINTER.S. 



LIFE AND CHARACTER 



OF THE 



HOJ(. THOMAS RUFFIN, 



Late Chief Justice of North Carolina. 



A MEMORIAL ORATION, 



BY 



T\1LLIA]\I A. GRAHA^r, 

Delivered before the Agricultural Society of the State, by its request, 
at the Annual Fair in Raleigh, Oct. 21st, 1870. 



EALEIGH, K 0.: 

NICHOLS & GOKMAX, BOOK AXD JOB PRIXTERS. 

1871. 



ORATION. 



The patriotic people of tbe Coimty of Kockingliam 
in a public assemblage at tbeir first Superior Court 
after tbe deatb of Cbief Justice Euffix, in which 
they were joined with cordial sympathy by the gen- 
tlemen of the bar of that Court, resolved to manifest 
their appreciation of his talents, virtues and pubhc 
usefulness, by causing to be pronounced a memorial 
oration on his life and character. Such an offering 
was deemed by them a fitting tribute from a people 
among whom his fiimily first settled upon their arri- 
val in Xorth Carolina, and with whom he had been 
associated as a planter and cultivator of the soil from 
his early manhood till his decease. 

The Agricultural Society of the State, of which for 
many years he had been a distinguished President, 
subsequently determined on a like offering to his mem- 
ory at their annual Fair. The invitation to prepare 
such a discourse has been by both l)odies extended to 
the same individual. The task is undertaken with dif- 
fidence, and a sense of apprehension, that amid the 
multiplicity of other engagements, its fulfilment may 
fail in doing justice to the subject of the memoir. 

Thomas Ruffin, the eldest child of his parents, was 
born at ^''ewington, the residence of his macernal 
(rrand Father, Thomas Ptoane, in the County of King 
and (,)ueen, in Virginia, on the 17t]i of Xovember, 
1787. 



4 Life and Cliaracter of the 

His Father, Sterling Euffin, Esquire, was a planter 
in the neighboring County of Essex, who subse- 
quently transferred his residence to I^orth Carolina, 
and died in the County of Caswell. Ardent in his 
religious sentiments, and long attached to the Meth- 
odist Episcopal Church, he very late in life, entered 
the ministry, and was for a few years prior to his 
death, a preacher in that denomination. 

His Mother, Ahce Eoane, was of a family much 
distinguished in Virginia by the public service of 
many of its members, and was herself first cousin 
of Spencer Eoane, the Chief Justice of that State 
in the past generation, whose judicial course, con- 
nected as it was with questions of difficulty and 
importance in constitutional law, gave him high pro- 
fessional, as well as political, distinction ; but it may 
well be doubted, whether, in all that constitutes a 
great lawyer, he had any pre-eminence over the sub- 
ject of our present notice, his junior kinsman in 
Xorth Carohna, then but rising into fame, and des- 
tined to fiU the like office in his own State. 

His Father, though not affluent, had a respectable 
fortune, and sought for the son the best means of 
education. His early boyhood was passed on the 
farm in Essex, and in attendance on the schools of 
the vicinity. Thence, at a suitable age, he was sent 
to a classical Academy in the beautiful and health- 
ful village of Warrenton, in North Carolina, then 
under the instruction of Mr. Marcus George, an 
Irishman by birth and education, a fine classical 
scholar and most painstaking and skillful instructor, 
especially in elocution, as we must believe, since 



Hon. Thomas Rnjjln. 5 

amoug his pupils who survived to our times, we 
fiud the best readers of our acquaiutance iu their 
day. His excellence in this particular was probablj'- 
attributable to his experience on the theatrical stage, 
where he had spent a portion of his life. He 
made his first appearance in the State at the 
Convention in Hillsborough, in 1788, which rejected 
the Federal Constitution, in search of employment 
as a teacher, was engaged by the Warren gentlemen 
then in attendance, and many years subsequently 
was still at the head of a flourishing school, in 
which our student entered. The system and dis- 
cipline of Mr. George conformed to the ancient 
regime^ and placed great faith in the rod. He is 
described as a man of much personal prowess and 
spirit, who did not scruple to administer it on his 
pupils, when sloth, delinquency or misbehavior requu:ed, 
without reference to age, size or other circumstances. 
Yet he secured the respect of his patrons, and the 
confidence of the public, and inspu^ed the gratitude 
and affection of his pupils in a remarkable degree. 
This turning aside from our subject, to pay a 
passing tribute to his old preceptor, is deemed to be 
justified not only by the long and useful labors of 
Mr. George, in the instruction of youth in the gen- 
eration in which Mr. Kuffin's lot was cast, but because 
he himself entertained the highest appreciation of the 
profession of an instructor, accustoming himself to 
speak of it as one of the most honorable and bene- 
ficent of human employments. Throughout his labo- 
rious and well-spent life, he often acknowledged his 



6 Life and Character of the 

obligations of gratitude for the earl}^ training lie liad 
received under the tuition of this faithful, but some- 
what eccentric son of Erin. And it may well be 
doubted whether Lord Eldou, in the maturity of his 
wisdom and great age, retained a more grateful and 
affectionate recollection of Master Moises of the High 
School of IS'ew Gastle, than did Chief Justice Eufifin 
of Master George of the Warrenton Male Academy. 
At this institution were assembled the sons of most 
of the citizens of Eastern North Carolina and the bor- 
dering counties of Virginia, aspiring to a liberal edu- 
cation. And here were formed friendships, which 
he cherished with great satisfaction throughout lite. 
Among his companions were the late Eobeit Broad- 
nax, of Eockingham, subsequently a planter of large 
possessions on Dan Eiver, among the most estimable 
gentlemen of his time; and Cadwallader Jones, then 
of Halifax, but afterwards of Orange, at different 
periods an officer in the l^avy and in the Army of 
the United States, a successful planter, and a model 
of the manners and virtues which give a charm to 
social intercourse. With both of these gentlemen his 
early attachments were in after life cemented by the 
union in marriage of their children. Here, too, he 
found ^Yeldon I^. Edwards, of Warren, subsequently* 
distinguished by much public service in Congress and * 
under the Government of the State, thenceforward 
his lifelong friend, with whom his bonds of amity 
seemed to be drawn more closely as others of his con- 
temporaries dropped from around him. Of these four 
youths of the Warrenton Academy, at the beginning of 



Hon. Thomas Biiffin. 7 

the nineteeutli century, Mr. Edwards alone surw^es. 
Long may he live to enjoy the veneration and respect 
dne to a life of probity, honor and usefulness. 

From the WaiTenton Academy young Euffin was 
transferred to the College of Nassau Hall, at Prince- 
ton, New Jersey. It is believed that his father, who 
was a deeply pious man, was controlled in the selec- 
tion of this College in preference to that of William & 
Mary, in Virginia, next to Harvard University the 
oldest institution of learning in the United States, not 
only by a desire to place his son in an unsuspected 
situation as to his health, which had suffered from the 
malarial influences prevaihng in the tidewater region 
of Eastern Ykginia, but to secure him as well fiom 
the temptation incident to College hfe, in an institu- 
tion, in which as he supposed, there was too loose 
an authority and discipline exerted over the sons of 
aflluence and ease. He entered the Freshman class, at 
Princeton, and '^graduated at the commencement in 
1805;" the sixteenth in a class of forty-two mem- 
bers, '* being the first of the second division of in- 
termediate honors." The late Governor James Ire- 
dell, of North Carolina, was in the class succeeding 
his own, and for nearly the whole of his College 
course, his room-mate. Thus commenced a filendship 
between these gentlemen in youth, which was termin- 
ated only by the death of Mr. Iredell. Among oth- 
ers of his College associates who became distinguished 
in subsequent life, there were Samuel L. Southard 
and Theodore Frelinghuysen, of New Jersey, Joseph 
K. lugersoll, of Philadelphia, the Cuthberts and Ha- 



8 Life and Character of the 

bershams, of Georgia, Christopher Hughes of Maryland, 
and Stevenson Archer, of Mississippi. 

Eeturning home with his bachelor degree, Mr. Euf- 
fin soon afterwards entered the law office of David 
Eobertson, Esquk-e, of Petersbm^g, as a student of 
the law, and continued there through the years 1806 
and 1807. Here he was associated as fellow-student 
with John F. May, afterwards Judge May, of Pe- 
tersburg, and Winfield Scott, afterwards so highly dis- 
tinguished in arms, and the only officer down to his 
time, except General Washington, who attained the 
rank of Lieutenant General in the army of the United 
States. General Scott, in his Autobiography, describes 
their preceptor, Mr. Kobinson, as a Scotchman, a very 
learned scholar and barrister, who originally came to 
America as a classical teacher ; but subsequently gained 
high distinction as a lawyer, and was the author of the 
report of the debates in the Virginia Convention 
which adopted the Federal Constitution, and of the 
report of the trial of Aaron Burr for high treason. 
In a note to the same work. General Scott mentions 
his chancing to meet Judge Euffin in N'ew York in 
1853, while the latter was attending as a delegate, 
the Protestant Episcopal Convention, of the United 
States after a separation of forty-seven years, and 
recurs to their association together with Judge May, 
as law students, and to the conversation in which 
they then indulged, with manifest pride and pleasure. 
He also refers to their subsequent intercourse in the 
city of Washington, in 1861, while Judge Euffin was 
serving as a member of the Peace Congress, and ex- 



Hon. Tlwmas Euffni. 9 

presses the opiiiiuu, that, "if the sentiments of this 
good man, always highly conservative (the same as 
Crittenden's,") had prevailed, the country would have 
escaped the sad inflictions of the war, which was 
radnii at the time he wrote. 

Sterhng Ruffin, the father, having suffered some re- 
verses of fortune, determined to change his home, 
and removed to Eockingham County, North Carolina, 
in 1807. His son soon fohowed,' a wilhng emigrant. 
It was in :N'orth Carolina he had received his first 
training for useful life: here was the home of most 
of his early friends, and here he confidently hoped 
to renew his association with Broadnax, Jones, Ed- 
wards, Iredell and other kindred spirits. 

He doubtless brought with him a considerable store 
of professional learning from the office of Mr. Eob- 
ertson, in which he had been more than two years a 
student, but on his arrival in :Nrorth Carolina, he 
pursued his further studies under the direction of the 
Honorable A. D. Murphey, until his admission to the 
bar, in 1808. Early in 1809, he estabhshed his home 
in the town of Hillsborough, and on the 9th of De- 
cember, in that year, he was united in marriage 
with Miss Anne Kirkland, eldest daughter of the 
late Wihiam Kirkland, of that place, a prominent 
merchant and leading citizen. 

The twenty years next ensuing, during which his 
residence was continually in Hihsborough, comprehends 
his career at the bar and on the Bench of the Su- 
perior Courts. In 1813, 1815 and 1816, he served 
as a member of the Legislature in the House of 



10 Life and Cliaracter of the 

Commons from this town, under the old Constitutiony 
and filled the office of Speaker of the House, at the 
last mentioned session, when first elected a Judge 
upon the resignation of that office by Duncan Cam- 
eron. He was also a candidate on the electoral 
ticket in favor of Wihiam H. Crawford for the Pres- 
idency of the United States, in 1824. But his as- 
pirations, tastes and interests inclined him not to po- 
litical honors, but to a steady adherence to the pro- 
fession to which his life was devoted. He found at 
the bar in Orange and the neighboring counties to 
which his practice was extended several gentlemen, 
his seniors in years, who were no ordinary competi 
tors for forensic fame and patronage; of whom it 
may be sufficient to name Archibald D. Mm^Dhey, Fred- 
erick :N"ash, William l^orwood, Duncan Cameron, (who 
although he had suspended his practice for a time, 
resumed it not long after Mr. Euffin came to the 
bar,) Henry Seawell, Leonard Henderson, Wilham 
Eobards, I^icholas P. Smith, of Chatham, and later of 
Tennessee. His first essays in argument are said not 
to have been very fortunate. His manner was diffi- 
dent and his speech hesitating and embarrassed. But 
these difficulties being soon overcome, the vigor of 
his understanding, the extent and accuracy of his 
learning, and his perfect mastery of his causes by 
diligent preparation, in a short time gave him posi- 
tion among these veterans of the profession, secured 
him a general and lucrative practice, and an easy 
accession to the Bench in seven years from his ini- 
tiation at the bar. His reputation was greatly ad- 



Hon. Thomas JRuffin. 11 

vanced and extended by the manner in which he ac- 
(initted himself in this oflQce. The ^wants, however, 
of an increasing family and an unfortunate involve- 
nieiit hy suretyship forbade his continuance in a sit- 
uation of no better income than the salary which 
was its compensation. He resigned to the Legislature 
of 1818, and immediately returned to the practice. 
Mr. Euffin had kept up habits of close study of his 
profession before his promotion to the Bench, and 
the leisure aflorded by the vacations of the office was 
eagerly availed of, for the same object. He came 
back to the bar not only with his health renovated, 
which had never been very robust, but with a bright- 
ness in his learning and an increase of fame, which, 
in the Supreme Court then recently estabhshed on its 
l)resent basis, and in the Circuit Court of the United 
States, as well as on the ridings in the State Courts, 
brought to him a practice and an income, which has 
hardly ever been equalled in the case of any other 
practitioner in i^orth Carolina. For forty-three weeks 
in the year he had his engagements in Court, and 
despite of all conditions of the weather or other im- 
pediments to travelling in the then state of the coun- 
try, rarely fliiled to fulfil them. He held the appoint- 
ment of Eeporter of the decisions of the Supreme 
Court for one or two terms, but rehnquished it from 
the engrossment of his time by his practice ; and 
his labors are embraced in the prior part of the 
first volume of Hawks. Mr. Archibald Henderson, 
Mr. Gaston, Mr. Seawell, Mr. Murphey, Mr. Moses 
Mordecai, Mr. Gavin Hogg, and Mr. Joseph Wilson, 



12 Life and Character of the 

all men of renown, were, with Mr. Euffin, the chief 
advocates in the Supreme Court at that period, Mr. 
Kash and Mr. Badger being then upon the Bench; 
and according to tradition, at no time have the ar-^ 
guments before it been more thorough and exhaus- 
tive. The late Governor Swain being a part of this 
period a student of the law in the office of Chief 
Justice Taylor, in a public address at the opening 
at Tucker Hall, in which he gave many reminiscences 
of former times in Ealeigh, mentions a prediction in 
his hearing of Mr. Gaston to one ot his clients in 
1822, that if Mr. Eufl&n should live ten years longer 
he would be at the head of the profession in [N'orth 
Carolina. By the same authority we are informed, 
that only a year or two later. Judge Henderson de- 
clared that he had then attained this position of 
eminence. Among the professional gentlemen he met 
in the. wide range of his practice on the circuits, 
in addition to his seniors already named, were Bart- 
lett Yancey, Augustine H. Shepperd, Eomulus M. 
Saunders, James Martin, Thomas P. Devereux, Jas. 
F. Taylor, Charles Manly, Wm. H. Haywood, Jr., 
Daniel L. Barringer, Samuel Hillman, John M. and 
James T. Morehead, Bedford Brown, Wilhe P. and 
Priestly H. Mangum, Francis L. Hawks, Thos. Set- 
tle, John M. Dick, George C Mendenhall, and sev- 
eral others, of high distinction among the advocates 
and pubUc characters of the State; by all of whom 
his eminent abilities and attainments were fully ac- 
knowledged and appreciated. 

In the summer of 1825, upon the resignation of 



Hon, Thomas Buffni. 13 

Judge Badger, ]\Ir. Euffiu again accepted the appoint- 
liieiit of a Judge of the Superior Courts. His recent 
successes had reheved hiui of embarrassment, and 
supphed him a competent fortune ; his health deman- 
ded relaxation and rest; and his duties to his family, 
now quite numerous, in his estimation required more 
of his presence at home than was consistent with 
the very active life he was leading. He therefore 
relinquished his great emoluments at the bar for the 
inadequate salary then paid to a Judge, and virtually 
closed his career as an advocate. By the bar and the 
public he was welcomed back on the circuits, and for 
the three following years he administered the law with 
such universal admiration and acceptance, both on the 
part of the profession and the people, that he was 
generally designated by the public approbation for the 
succession to the Bench of the Supreme Court when- 
ever a vacancy should occur. 

The reputation he had established by this time, 
however, did not merely assign him capabilities as a 
lawyer, but ascribed to him every qualification of a 
thorough man of affairs. It was conceded, at least, 
that he could teach bankers, banking and merchants 
the science of accounts. 

In the Autumn of 1828, the stockholders of the old 
State Bank of Xorth Carolina, at the head of whom 
were William Polk, Peter Browne and Duncan Cam- 
eron, owing to the great embarrassment of the affairs 
of this institution, involving disfavor with the public, 
and threats of judicial proceedings for a forfeiture of 
its charter, prevailed on him to take tlie Presidency of 



14 Life and Character of the 

the Bank, with a salary increased to the procurement 
of his acceptance ; and with the privilege on his part 
to practice his profession in the city of Ealeigh. In 
twelve months devoted to this office, with his charac- 
teristic energy, mastering the affairs of the Bank with 
a true talent for finance, making available its assets 
and providing for its liabilities, and inspiring confidence 
by the general faith in his abilities and high purpose 
to do right, he effectually redeemed the institution, 
and prepared the w^ay to close out in credit the re- 
maining term of its charter. 

At this period, also, another place of high political 
eminence was at his choice, but w^as promptly declined. 
A vacancy having happened in the Senate of the Uni- 
ted States by the appointment of Governor Branch 
to the head of the Navy department, and the Honor- 
able Bartlett Yancey, who had been the general favor- 
ite for the succession, having recently died, Mr. Rufiin 
was earnestly sohcited to accept a candidacy for this 
position with every assurance of success. But his de- 
sire was, as he himself expressed it among his friends, 
^' after the labor and attention he had bestowed upon 
his profession, to go down to posterity as a lawyer." 
Irrespective, therefore, of his domestic interests, and 
the care and attention due to his family, of which no 
naan ever had a truer or warmer conception, he could 
not be diverted from his chosen line of lile by the at- 
tractions of even the highest political distinction. 

While assiduously employed in the affairs of the 
Bank, to which was devoted the year 1821), his services 
Avere still demanded by clients in the higher couits, 



Hon. Thomas Ruffln, 15 

aud his reputation at the bar suffered no ecUpse. 
Upon the death of Chief Justice Taylor, in this year, 
the Executive appointment of a successor was confer- 
red on a gentleman of merited eminence in the pro- 
fession, and of a singularly pure and elevated charac- 
ter ; hut the sentiment of the majority of the profes- 
sion as well as public opinion, had made choice of Mr. 
liuffin for the permanent office, and he was elected a 
Judge of the Supreme Court at the session of the Leg- 
islature in the autumn of 1829. In 1833, upon the 
demise of Chief Justice Henderson, he was elevated to 
the Chief Justiceship, in which he won that fame 
which will longest endure, because it is incorporated 
in the judicial literature of the country, and is co-ex- 
tensive with the study and administration of our sys- 
tem of law. 

Before directing attention to his labors in this high- 
est court of appeals in the State, it is appropriate to 
remark on his prior career as an advocate, counsellor 
and Judge of the Superior Courts. Of his arguments 
at the bar, at nisi prius, or in the Courts of appeal, 
no memorials have been preserved save the imperfect 
briefs contained in the causes that have been reported. 
His nature was ardent, and his manner of speech ear- 
nest and often vehement in tone and gesticulation. 
Though versed in hcUes lettre^s, and with tastes to rel- 
isli eloquent declamation, it was a held into which he 
did not often, if at all, adventure. His reliance was 
upon logic, not upon rhetoric; and even his illustra- 
tions were drawn from things practical, rather than 
the ideal. Analyzing and thoroughly comprehending 



16 Life and Character of the 

his cause, he held it up plainly to the view of others, 
and with a searching and incisive criticism exposed 
and dissipated the weak points in that of his adver- 
sary : and all this, in a vigorous, terse and manly Eng- 
lish, every word of which told. Few advocates ever 
equaUed him in presenting so much ot solid thought 
in the same number of words, or in disentangling com- 
plicated facts, or elucidating abstruse learning sd* as to 
make the demonstration complete to the minds of the 
auditory ; capacities, doubtless gained by severe cul- 
ture, a part of which, as I learned from an early stu- 
dent in his office, had been a daily habit, long after 
his admission to the bar, of going carefully over the 
demonstration of a theorem in Mathematics. Thus 
habituated to abstract and exact reasoning, he de- 
lighted in the approach to exactness in the reasoning 
of the law, and no student could more truly say of his 
professional investigations, ^^ Lahor ipse est vohiptas.'^ 
The accuracy thus attained in his studies, gave him 
high eminence as a pleader, in causes both at law and 
in Equity; and among his associates usually devolved 
on him the office of framing the pleadings in the causes 
in which they were engaged. It also gave him rank 
among the great counsellors of the time, whose opin- 
ions were not the result of cramming for an occasion, 
or a fortunate authority, but the well considered reflec- 
tions of gifted minds imbued with law as a science, 
and who had explored to their sources, the principles 
uvolved in the subjects they examined, and made them 
their own. This full developement of his forensic char- 
acter does not appear to have been manifested until 



Hon, Thomas Euffin. 17 

after Lis retuiu to the bar subsequently to his first 
service ou the bench. But from this period tiU his 
second retirement, in 1825, he had hardly a rival in 
the bar of the Supreme Court of the State or the 
Circuit Court of the United States, except Archibald 
Henderson and Gaston, and had a command of the 
practice in all the State Courts he attended. As a 
Judge of the Superior or nisi prius Courts, he exhib- 
ited equal aptitude for the Bench as for the practice 
at the Bar. With an energy that pressed the business 
forward, a quickness rarely equalled in perceiving and 
comprehending facts, patient and industrious habits of 
labor, and a spirit of command which suffered no time 
to be lost, he despatched causes with expedition, but 
with no indecent haste. Whilst he presided, it was 
rare that any cause before a jury ever occupied more 
than a single day, and none is remembered that ex- 
tended beyond two. 

It may be inferior to the dignity of the occasion to 
indulge in professional anecdotes. The promptness, 
however, with which he disposed of a case of some 
novelty on the circuit, may justify a passing notice. 
The plaintiff and defendent had disputed on a matter 
of law, and growing warm in the controversy, laid a 
wager on the ({uestion of whether or not the law was 
as affirmed by the plaintiff; and a suit was brought to 
have the point determined. After the contract of wa- 
ger had been proved, the plaintiff rested. The Judge 
called on the counsel for the plaintiff to prove that he 
had won. The counsel replied that that depended on 
the I'oint of law wliich he submitted to his Honor. 



18 Life and Cliaracter of the 

The Judge rejoined, that it was oue of facts in the 
the controversy^, on which he was forbidden to express 
an opinion; but for then" trifling with the Court in 
instituting such an action, he ordered it to be dismiss- 
ed, and each party to pay half the costs, with an inti- 
mation, that it was leniency in the Court to stop with 
no greater penalty. It is worthy of remark, that about 
the same time, as we since learn fi^om the reports, 
Chief Justice Abbott, in the King Bench in England,, 
ordered a cause " to be struck out of the paper," the 
subject of the action being a wager on a dog-fight, 
upon the ground that it was insignificant, and it would 
be a waste of time to try it. 

In administering the criminal law, in which the ex- 
tent of punishment generally depended on the discre- 
tion of the Judge, his sentences were such as to in- 
spire evil doers with terror, but eminently tended to 
give protection to society and confidence to honest and 
law-abiding men. 

His accession to the Bench ot the Supreme Court 
was a source of general satisfaction to the profession,, 
and to the people of the State, by whom his enlight- 
ened labors in the circuits had been witnessed with 
admiration and pride. He at once took a conspicuous 
part in the proceedings of this high tribunal, and for 
twenty-three years, that he continuously sat there, pro- 
bably delivered a greater number of the opinions on 
which its judgments were founded, than any Judge 
with whom in this long career he was associated. 
These opinions are found through more than twent^^- 
five volumes of books of reports, and form the bulk 



lion. Thomas Ruffin. 1^ 

of our jiulieial literature for a full geueration. They 
embrace topics of almost every variety, civil and 
criminal, legal and equitable, concerning probate and 
administration, marriage and divorce, slavery and 
fieedom, and constitutional law, wliicli can enter into 
judicial controversy, in the condition of society then 
prevailing in the State, and constitute memorials of 
her jurisprudence, by which the members of the pro- 
fession are content she shall be judged in the pres- 
ent age and by posterity. They have been cited 
with approbation in the American courts. State and 
National, by eminent legal authors, and in the ju- 
dicial deliberations of Westminster Hall ; and the 
Xorth Carolina lawyer who can invoke one of them 
as a case in point with his own, generally consid- 
ers that he is possessed of an impenetrable shield. 
It has been rare in England that a Judge or Ad- 
vocate has reached high distinction in the courts 
both of common law and Equity. The student of 
the judicial arguments of Chief Justice Ruffin will 
be at a loss to determine in which of these branches 
of legal science he most excelled. To the votary of 
the common law, fresh from the perusal of the black 
letter of the times of the Tudors and early Stuarts, 
and captivated with its artificial refinements and 
technical distinctions as to rights and remedies, he 
would appear to have pursued his professional edu- 
cation upon the intimation of Butler in his remin- 
iscences, that " he is the best lawyer, and will suc- 
ceed best in his profession, who best understands 
Coke upon Littleton ;" or, advancing to the modern 



20 Life and Cliaracter of the 

ages of greater enlightenment and freer intercourse 
among nations, that he had made a specialty of the 
law of contracts, bills of exchange and commercial 
law generally; whilst his expositions of Equity causes 
win satisfy any impartial critic, that he was at least 
equally a proficient and master of the principles and 
practice of the jurisprudence of the English Chancery, 
and would induce the belief that, like Sir Samuel 
Eomilly or Sir William Grant, his practice at the 
bar had been confined to this branch of th* pro- 
fession. The minute distinctions between the limits 
of the jurisdiction of the Courts of Equity and com- 
mon law, he comprehended and illustrated with a 
rare discrimination and accuracy. 

During the term of his service in that Court, it 
will be remembered by the profession, that three 
great departures were made from long established pre- 
cedents in the EngUsh Courts of Equity, which have 
tended to give simplicity to our system, and to free 
it from the embarrassment and confusion of the au- 
thorities in the English cases ; namel}^. First, in ad- 
hering to the direction of the statute of Frauds, 
and refusing to decree the specific execution of a 
contract for the conveyance of real estate required 
to be in writing, upon the ground that the parties 
had acted upon their agreement, and that it had 
been partially carried into execution. Second, in dis- 
carding the doctrine that a vendor who had sold 
land and parted with the title, trusting his vendee 
for the purchase money, yet had a lien on the land 
as a security for its payment. Third, in negativing 



Hon, Thomas Riiffin. 21 

likewise the EDglish doctriue of a married woman's 
equitable right to a settlement for lier maintenance 
before her husband should invoke the power of the 
court to reduce her estate to possession. These have 
been acknowledged as salutary reforms both at 
home and abroad, in all of which Chief Justice Euf- 
fin concurred and delivered leading arguments in their 
support. Accustomed tenaciously to adhere to prece- 
dents upon the theory, that the wisdom of a suc- 
cession of learned Judges, concurred in or tolerated 
by the Legislature from age to age, is superior to 
that of any one man, and that certainty in the rules 
of the law is of more importance than their abstract 
justice; yet where there had been no domestic prece- 
dent, and those abroad were at variance with the com- 
mand of a statute or with obvious principles, he readi- 
ly embraced these opportunities to symmetrize and per- 
fect the system of practical morality administered in 
the American courts of Equity. 

His familiar knowledge of banking and mercantile 
transactions and skilfuluess in accounts, gave him a 
conceded eminence in the innumerable causes involving 
inquiries of this nature. During his presidency in the 
Supreme Court, it cannot fail to be remarked that 
there was a great advance in the accuracy of pleadings 
hi Equity causes, and in a general extension of the 
knowledge of Equity practice throughoat the circuits. 
And the precision and propriety of entries in every 
species of procedure were brought to a high state of 
perfection, mainly by his investigations and labors, in 
conjunction with those of that most worthy gentleman, 



22 Life and Character of the 

and modest but able lawyer, Edmund B. Freeman, 
Esquire, late Clerk of the Court, whose virtues and 
pubhc usefulness, connected as he was for so many- 
years in close and friendly association with the imme- 
diate subject of om^ remarks, now likewise gone down 
beyond the horizon, I am gratified the opportunity 
serves to commemorate. 

In the department of the law peculiarly American, in 
which there comes up tlie question, whether the Legis- 
lature can legislate to the extent it has assumed, or 
other expositions of the Constitutions of the State or 
Union, though the occasions for such exercises were 
rare in the quiet times of his judicial hfe. Chief Jus- 
tice Euflin shone to no less advantage, than in those 
dependent on municipal regulations. His conversancy 
with pohtical ethics, pubhc law and English and 
American history, seems to have assigned to him the 
task of delivering the opinions on this head, which 
have most attracted general attention. That delivered 
by him in the case of Hoke against Henderson in 
which it was held, that the Legislature could not, 
by a sentence of its own in the form of an enact- 
ment, divest a citizen of property, even in a public 
office, because the proceeding was an exercise of ju- 
dicial power, received the high encomium of Kent 
and other authors on constitutional law; and I hap- 
pened personally to witness, that it was the main 
authority relied on by Mr. Eeverdy Johnson, in the 
argument for the second time, of Ex parte Garland, 
which involved the power of Congress by a test oath, 
to exclude lawyers from practice in the Supreme 



Hon. Thomas Buffln. 

Court of the United States, for having darticipated 
in civil war against the govepnment ; and in which, 
its reasoning on the negative side of tlie (luestion, 
was sustained by tliat august tribunal. 

The singular felicity and aptitude with which he 
denuded his judgments of all extraneous matter, and 
expounded the very principles of the case in hand, 
usually citing authority only to uphold what had 
been demonstrated without it, is the most striking 
feature in his numerous opinions. No commonplaces 
or servile copying of the ideas of others fill the 
space to be occupied, but a manly comprehension of 
the subject in its entire proportions, illustrated by 
well considered thought and lucid and generally grace- 
ful expression. His learning was profound, but not 
so deep as his own reflections. His powers of ab- 
straction subjected every thing to scrutiny, and rare 
was the fallacy which passed through that crucible 
without exposure. If he did not develope new truths 
the old were made to shine with a fresher lustre, 
h'om having undergone his processes of thought and 
illustration. His stjie of writing was elevated and 
worthy of the themes he discussed. His language 
well selected, and exhibiting a critical acquaintance 
with English philology. A marked characteristic in 
his wiitings, as it was also in his conversation, was 
the frequent, dextrous, and strikingly appropriate use 
Tie made of the brief words of our language, usually 
of Saxon derivation ; as in his response to the trib- 
ute of the bar to the memory of Judge Gaston : 
*' We knew that he was, indeed, a good man and a 
great Judge." 



24 Life and Character of the 

In tl\e autumn of 1852, while in the zenith of his 
reputation, and not yet pressed with the weight of 
years, Chief Justice Euffin resigned his office and re- 
tired, as he supposed forever, from the professional 
employments he had so long and with so much re- 
nown pursued. But on the death of his successor and 
friend. Chief Justice Kash, in December, 1858, he 
was called by the almost unanimous vote of the 
General Assembly then in session, to fill the vacancy, 
and sat again as a Judge of the Supreme Court 
until the autumn of 1859, when failing health ren- 
dered his labors irksome, and he took his final leave 
of judicial life. Six years of rest in his rural home 
had induced nothing of rust or desuetude : he wore 
the ermine as naturally and gracefully as if he had 
never been divested of its folds; his judicial argu- 
ments at this time evince all that vigor of thought 
and freshness and copiousness of learning which had 
prompted an old admirer to say of him, that he 
was a ^* born lawyer." It is not improbable that this 
preservation in full panoply was in some design 
aided by the circumstance, that in a desire to be useful 
in any sphere for which he was fitted, he had ac- 
cepted the office of a Justice of the Peace in the 
county of Alamance, in which he then resided, and 
had held the County Courts with the lay justices 
during this period. Though near ten years later, and 
when he had passed the age of eighty, in a matter 
of seizure, in which he took some interest for a 
friend, under the revenue laws, in the Circuit Court 
of the United States, a branch of practice to which 



Hon, TlwDKis Buffin. 25 

lie bad uot beeu habituated by experience, I had 
occasion to obserte that he was as ready with his 
pen in framing the pleadings, without books of au- 
thority or precedent, as any proctor in a Court of 
admiralty. 

In looking back upon his long life devoted to the 
profession, and the monuments of his diligence, learn- 
ing and striking ability that he left behind him, it 
is no extravagance of eulogy to affirm, that if the 
State or any American State has fostered great ad- 
vocates, counsellors or Judges, he assuredly was of 
this class. 

But when, as Coke to Littleton, we bid " Fare- 
well to om- jurisprudent," who had basked so long 
in the '* gladsome light" of jurisprudence, we have 
not wholly fulfilled the task assigned us. Jurispru- 
dence was indeed his forte ; and that in its most 
enlarged sense, embracing the science of right in all 
its aspects. Considering how thoroughly he had mas- 
tered the systems prevaihng in England and the Uni- 
ted States, the fullness of his knowledge in kindred 
studies and the facility with which he labored and 
wi'ote, it is to be regretted that he did not betake 
himself to professional authorship. But there are other 
aspects of his character than that ot a lawyer and 
Judge. 

At an early period he became the proprietor of an 
estate on Dan river, in Kockingham, on which he es- 
tablished a plantation at once, and gave personal di- 
rection to its profitable cultivation from that time until 
his death. Carrying his family to Ealeigh for a so- 



26 . Life and Character of the 

journ of twelve months upon assuming the Presidency 
of a Bank as akeacly stated, he removed thence to 
Haw river, in Alamance, in 1830, and there under his 
own eye carried on the operations of a planter with 
success until the year 1866, when the results of the 
war deprived him of laborers, and he sold the estate 
and removed again to Hillsborough. The law has been 
said by some of its old authors, to be a jealous 
mistress, and to allow nb rival in the attentions of 
its votary. Chief Justice Euffin, however, while dili- 
gently performing the duties of his great office, and 
keeping up with the labors of his cotemporaries, 
Lynnhurst, Brougham, Tenterden and Denman, in 
England, and the numerous Courts exercising like 
jurisdictions in America, found leisure to manage his 
farm at home as well as to give direction to that 
in Eockingham. And this, not in the ineffective 
manner which has attended the like efforts of some 
professional men, but with present profit and im- 
provement of the estates. From early life he ap- 
peared to have conceived a fondness for agriculture, 
including horticulture and the growing of fruit trees 
and flowers, which his home in the country seemed 
to have been selected to indulge. Here for thirty- 
fiye years, in the recess of his Courts, he found re- 
creation in these pursuits and in the rearing of do- 
mestic animals ; the f-esult of which was the most 
encouraging success in orchards, grapery, gardenc ereal 
crops, flocks and herds. Combining a knowledge of 
the general principles of science, with fine powers of 
observation, and the suggestions of the most ap- 
proved Agricultural periodicals, he was prepared to 



Hon. Thomas Ruffin. 2< 

avail himselt' in practice of the highest iutelhgence 
ill the art. It was therefore uo empty comphment 
to a great jurist and leading citizen, when the Ag- 
ricultural society of Xorth Carolina, in 1854, elected 
him to its presidency after his retirement from the 
Bt-nc'h, hut the devotion to public uses and service, 
of an experience and information in the cultivation 
of the soil, and all its manifold connections and de- 
pendencies, which few other' men in the State pos- 
sessed. He was continued in this distinguished po- 
sition for six years, when declining health demanded 
his retirement; and at no time have the interests 
of the society been more prosperous, its public ex- 
hibitions more spirited; and it may be added, that 
on no occasion did he ever manifest more satisfac- 
tion than in the reunions of its members. 

His farming was not that of a mere amatcun in 
the art, designed as in the case of other public 
characters of whom we have read, to dignify retire- 
ment, to amuse leisure or gratif}^ taste, though few 
had a higher rehsh for the ornamental, especiaUy in 
shrubbery and flowers. This, he could not, or did 
not think he could afford, but to realize subsistence 
and profit, to make money, to provide for his own, 
and to enable him to contribute in charity to the 
wants of others. He consequently entered into all 
the utilities, economies and practicabilities of husr 
bandry in its minute details, realizing the English 
proverb, quoted in the writings of Sir Francis Head, 
that *' a good elephant should be able to raise a 
cannon or pick up a pin." 



28 Life ami Clmracter of the 

The liberal hospitality that he dispensed through- 
out life was a most conspicuous feature in the pe- 
riod thus devoted to practical agriculture. His na- 
ture was eminently social, his acquaintence in his 
high position extensive, his dwelling near one of the 
great highways of travel through the State in the 
old modes of conveyance, easy of access ; and the 
exuberance of his farm, garden, orchards and domes- 
tic comforts were never more agreeably dispensed, 
than when ministered to the gratification of his 
friends under his own roof The cordiality and ease 
with which he did the honors of an entertainer in 
an old-fashioned southern mansion, is among the 
pleasant recollections of not a few between the Por 
tomac and the Mississippi. It was here, indeed, sur- 
rounded by a family worthy of the care and affection 
he bestowed upon them, relaxed from the severe 
studies and anxieties of official life, in unreserved 
and cheerful intercourse, that, after all, he appeared 
most favorably. 

By his industry, frugality and apitude for the 
management of property, he accumulated in a long 
life an estate more ample than usually falls to the 
lot of a member of the profession in this State; 
and although much reduced by the consequences of 
the civil war, it was still competent to the comfort 
of his large family. 

Judge Euffin was, until superseded by the changes 
made in 1868, the oldest Trustee of the University 
of the State, and always one of the most efficient 
and active members of the Board. For more than half 



Hon, Thomas Euffin. 29 

a century on terms of intimate intercourse with its 
Presidents, Caldwell and Swain, and the leacUng Pro- 
fessors, ]\ritchell, Phillips and their associates, he 
was their ready counsellor and friend in any emer- 
gency; whether in making appeals to the Legislature 
in behalf of the institution for support and assistance 
in its seasons of adversity, or in enforcing discipline 
and maintaining order, advancing the standard of 
education, or cheering the labors both of the Fac- 
ulty and students. His criterion of a collegiate edu- 
cation was high, and he illustrated by his own ex- 
ample the rewards of diligent and faithful study. He 
retained a better acquaintance with the dead lan- 
<niaf^es than anv of his compeers we have named ex- 
cept Gaston, Murphey and Taylor. In ethics, history 
and the standard British classics, his knowledge was 
profound. In science and in natural history, more 
especiahy in chemistry and those departments per- 
taining to Agriculture, Horticulture, Pomology and 
the hke, his attainments were very considerable, as 
they were also in works of Mies lettres, Poe:ry, taste 
and tiction, at least down to the end of the novels 
of Scott and Cooper. He worthily received the hon- 
orary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University 
of North Carolina in 1834, and the like honor is be- 
lieved to have been subsequently conferred by his 
Alma Mater at Princeton. 

His style and manner in conversation, in winch he 
took great delight and l)ore a distinguished part in 
all companies, abounded in pleasiuitry, but exhibited 
the same wide range of thought and information 



30 Life and Character of the 

with his pubhc performances, and was full of enter- 
tainment and instruction to the young. His temper- 
ament was mercurial, his actions quick and energetic, 
and his whole bearing in the farthest possible degree 
removed from sloth, inertness and despondency. In 
pohtical sentiment he accorded with the school of 
Jefferson, and for more than forty years was a con- 
stant reader of the Kichmond Inquirer, the editor 
of which, Mr. Eitchie, was his relative ; though no 
one entertained a more exalted reverence for the 
character, abilities and patriotism of Marshall, with 
whom he cherished a familiar acquaintance while in 
practice before him at the bar, and after his own 
elevation to the Bench. Later in life he formed a 
like kind and admiring acquaintance with Chancellor 
Kent. 

In the muter of 1861, the Legislature of ]S"orth 
Carohna, having acceded to the proposition of Vir- 
ginia, on the approach of the late rupture between the 
States of the Union, to assemble a body of delegates 
in the city of Washington, to consider and recom- 
mend terms of reconciliation. Judge Kuffin was ap- 
pointed one of the members in the "Peace Confer- 
ence," and is understood to have taken a conspicu- 
ous part in its deliberations and debates. We have 
the testimony of General Scott, in his Autobiography, 
already quoted, that his counsels in that assembly 
were altogether pacific. President Buchanan, in his 
work in defence of his action in that important crisis, 
makes assertion of the same fact. After the failure 



Hon. Thomas Ruffin. 13 

of the efforts at adjiistmeut, aud the war in bis 
opinion had become a necessity, Judge Euffin accep- 
ted a seat in the State Convention of 18C1, and 
threw into its support all the zeal and energy of 
his earnest and ardent temper; one of his sons, a 
grandson and other near connections taking part in 
the dangers and privations of its camps and battle- 
fields. When defeat came, he yielded an honest 
submission and acquiescence, and renewed in perfect 
good fiith his allegiance to the government of the 
United States. Too far advanced in years to be Ion. 
ger active in affiiirs, bis chief concern in regard to 
the public interests thenceforward, was for the con- 
servation of the public weal, and that the violent 
convulsion of which we had felt the shock and the 
change might be permitted to pass without any se- 
rious disturbance of the great and essential principles 
of freedom and right which it had been the favorite 
study of his hfe to understand and illustrate. 

With the close of the war his farm about his man- 
sion having experienced the desolation of an army en- 
campment, and its system of labor being abolished, 
he felt unequal to the enterprise of its resuscitation 
and culture, and therefore disposed of the estate and 
again took up his abode in Hillsborough. Here, in 
occasional occupation as a referee of legal controver- 
sies, in directing the assiduous culture of his garden 
and ground-, in desultory reading, in which he now 
and then recurred to his old favorites among the 



32 Life and Character of the 

novels of Scott, in the duties of hospitality and the 
converse of friends in the bosom of his family, he 
passed the evening of his days. In the sense of im" 
becihty or decrepitude, he never grew old, but was 
blessed with the enjoyment of a remarkable intellec- 
tual vigor and fine flow of spirits almost till his 
dissolution. And in anticipation of death in his last 
illness, he laid an injunction on his physician to ad- 
minister to him no anod^me which should deprive 
him of consciousness, as he did not wish to die in 
a state of insensibihty. 

On the 15th of January, 1870, after an illness of 
but four days, though he had been an invalid from 
an affection of the lungs for a year or more, he 
breathed his last, in the 83d year of his age. His 
end was resigned and peaceful, and in the consola- 
tion of an enhghtened and humble christian faith. 
Por more than forty years a communicant in the 
Protestant Episcopal church, he was one of its most 
active members in the State, and more than once rep- 
resented the Diocese in the Triennial Conventions of 
the Union. 

The venerable companion of his lite, a bride when 
not yet fifteen, a wife for more than sixty years, 
yet survives to receive the gratitude and affection of 
a numerous posterity and the reverence and esteem 
of troops of friends. 

This imperfect offering is a memoir, not a panegyric. 
It contains not history, but ^((/rticulas Mstorice — scraps 



Hon. Thomas Rujlin. 33 

of bistoiy which it is hoped may not be without 
their use to the . future student oi our annals, for 
the eharaeter we eonteniphite is destined to be his- 
torical. His hfe was passed in the pul)lie \iew in 
the most important public functions — in contact with 
the most gifted and cultivated men of the State for 
half a century; it ran througli two generations of 
lawyers. It was given to a profession in which were 
engaged many of the first minds of other States, and 
I can call to recollection no Judge of any State ot 
the Union who in that period has left behind him 
nobler or more numerous memorials ot erudition, dili- 
gence and ability in the departments of the law^ he 
was called to administer. The study of his perfor- 
mances will at least serve to correct the error of 
opinion prevailing with many at the North, that the 
intellectual activity of the South delights itself only 
in politics. 

To the members of the Agricultural Society and to 
this audience his devotion to, and success in agricul- 
ture is a sul)ject of only secondary interest to his pro- 
fessional fame. It has been remarked by one of the 
British essayists, as " a saying ot dunces in all ages, 
that men of genius are unfit for business." It is per- 
haps a kindred fallacy to wiiich pedantry and sloth 
have given as much countenance on the one hand as 
blissful ignorance on the other, that high culture and 
enulition as in the case of the learned professions, 
is incompatible with success in practical atlairs in 
other departments. We have before us the life of one 
who demonstrated in his own person, that it is pos- 



34 Life and Characttr of the Hon. Thomas Ruffin. 

sible for a great aud profouud lawyer to take a lead- 
ing part and become a shining liglit in practically 
promoting the first and greatest of the industrial 
arts, and although there be no natural connection 
between these occupations, that tlie same well-direct- 
ed industry, patience and energy which had achieved 
success in the one, was equal to a like triumph in 
the other ; whilst in high probity, in stainless mor- 
als, in social intercourse, in the amenities of life, and 
the domestic affections and duties, his example will 
be cherished in the recollection of his friends, and 
may well be commended to the imitation of our 
youth. 




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