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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Dignity of the Jurist

By Charles Sumner (1811–1874)

INTO the company of jurists Story has now passed; taking a place not only in the immediate history of his country, but in the grander history of civilization. It was a saying of his, often uttered in the confidence of friendship, that a man may be measured by the horizon of his mind,—whether it embraced the village, town, country, or State in which he lived, or the whole broad country, ay, the circumference of the world. In this spirit he lived and wrought; elevating himself above the present both in time and place, and always finding in jurisprudence an absorbing interest. Only a few days before the illness which ended in his death, it was suggested to him, in conversation with regard to his intended retirement from the bench, that a wish had been expressed by many to see him a candidate for the highest political office of the country. He replied at once, spontaneously and without hesitation, that “The station of President of the United States would not tempt him from his professor’s chair, and the calm pursuit of jurisprudence.” Thus spoke the jurist. As a lawyer, a judge, a professor, he was always a jurist. While administering justice between parties, he sought to extract from their cause the elements of future justice, and to advance the science of the law. He stamped upon his judgments a value which is not restrained to the occasions on which they were pronounced. Unlike mere medals,—of curious importance to certain private parties only,—they have the currency of the gold coin of the republic, with the image and superscription of sovereignty, wherever they go, even in foreign lands.

Many years before his death, his judgments in matters of Admiralty and Prize had arrested the attention of that illustrious judge and jurist, Lord Stowell; and Sir James Mackintosh, a name emblazoned by literature and jurisprudence, had said of them that they were “justly admired by all cultivators of the law of nations.” His words have often been cited as authority in Westminster Hall,—a tribute to a foreign jurist almost unprecedented, as all persons familiar with English law will recognize; and the Chief Justice of England has made the remarkable declaration, with regard to a point on which Story had differed from the Queen’s Bench, that his opinion would “at least neutralize the effect of the English decision, and induce any of their courts to consider the question as an open one.”