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ISAAC F. REDFIELD
SINCE the publication of the last volume of these reports, Isaac Fletcher Redfield, for more than twentyfive years a Justice, and for more than eight years of that time the Chief Justice, of the Supreme Court of Vermont, has passed away. Though not a member of the Court at the time of his death, some notice here of a life in so large a part devoted to its service seems appropriate and becoming.
He was born in Weathersfield, Vermont, on the ioth of April, 1804, the eldest of a family of twelve children. His father, Dr. Peleg Redfield, removed to Coventry, in Orleans County, in 1808, where he spent most of his life, a prominent physician and much - respected citizen, and died in 1848, at the age of 72. Judge Redfield graduated with high honors at Dartmouth College in 1825, entered immediately upon the study of the law, and was admitted to the bar in Orleans County in 1827. He rose rapidly in his profession and in public estimation, and held from 1832 to 1835 the office of State's Attorney for that county. In February, 1834, on motion of Daniel Webster, he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, Chief Justice Marshall presiding.
At the October session of the Legislature of Vermont in 1835, he was elected a Justice of the Supreme Court. He was then only thirty-one years of age, the youngest man who has ever attained that office in this State. His election was entirely unexpected to himself, especially as his political opinions were not in accordance with those of the majority of the Legislature; and it afforded a very marked proof of the personal and professional reputation he had acquired. His associates on the bench at the time he took his seat were Charles K. Williams, Chief Justice; Stephen Royce, Samuel S. Phelps, and Jacob Collamer. It is not too much to say that the Court thus formed has never been surpassed in this country. Judge Redfield accepted the appointment with much hesitation and distrust of his own powers; but had very soon the satisfaction of knowing that he was regarded by the bar as the fit associate of his distinguished compeers.
For twenty-four successive years after his first election (the judges being then annually elected in Vermont), he was unanimously re-elected by the Legislature, though a large majority of that body were during that time opposed to him in political sentiment. Judge Williams, in 1846, and Judge Royce, in 1852, successively retired from the Chief Justiceship, full of years and honors. Judges Phelps and Collamer had meanwhile passed from the bench to the United States Senate, the former in 1838, the latter in 1842. Judge Redfield succeeded Judge Royce as Chief Justice, and was eight times unanimously elected to that office. These facts are far more significant to show the estimation in which he was held by the bar and the people of Vermont than any comment that can now be made. His term of office was longer than that of any judge who ever sat upon the bench in the State,
though exceeding by only two months that of Judge Royce.
Judge Redfield's judicial opinions, so far as reported, are contained in the Vermont Reports from Vol. VIII. to Vol. XXXIII., extending through the best period of his life. They form the enduring monument by which he will be judged among lawyers when all the generation of those who knew him shall have followed him to the grave. They exhibit the judicial cast of his mind, the vigor of his reasoning powers, the extent and accuracy of his learning, his unwearied industry, his clear, strong, conscientious sense of justice, the breadth of his views, the elevation of his sentiments. They show in some measure the field of his exertions and the usefulness of his long service in the administration of justice. Of all his writings, they are the most significant of the character and mental structure of the man, because they are not the mere discussion of theoretical principles, or the enunciation of abstract conclusions, but contain that practical application of legal truth to the affairs of life and the course of justice in the success of which the law and the judge find their true test, and their only substantial value. "What good came of it at last?" is the question that mankind will ultimately apply to the finest of learning and the most exhaustive of disquisitions. It is upon this final and best criterion, the justice which they wrought in the cases to which they were addressed, and the wholesomeness of the general system of law which they helped to build up, that these recorded labors of Judge Redfield and his associates, during a quarter of a century, may be safely left to the consideration of posterity.
Judge Redfield's opinions were perhaps more distinguished in the departments of equity, commercial and railway law. It would be interesting to advert to some of the more important of them, and to trace their influence in the deliberations and conclusions of other courts. But the limits of this brief sketch do not admit. Two or three general characteristics are all that can be mentioned.
There are lawyers who, strong in principles and vigorous in deductive reasoning, too little regard the light and the learning afforded by the labors of others. There are those, on the other hand, who know little but cases, and can be brought to almost any conclusion that seems to be sustained by what is called authority; by whom the reported decision of a court can never be answered, except by the counter-decision of some other court. Between these two classes of lawyers, Judge Redfield occupied, very fortunately, a middle ground. A diligent student at all times, thoroughly acquainted with the course of English and American decisions, drawing largely upon their reasoning, and in no respect undervaluing their authority, established principles, and a strong sense of justice and of right were, after all, the controlling element in bringing him to results. He was never brought“ by learned reason to absurd decrees." Technicalities were not allowed to subvert justice when by any fair means they could be surmounted or escaped. He regarded the general field and current of decision, rather than those isolated cases always to be found, which constitute the ignes fatui of the law, and serve to lead weak minds astray. He followed authority, but he questioned the validity of that authority which controverted
sound principles, or conducted to unsatisfactory judgments.
His views of the law were always elevated. He did not look upon it as an aggregation of arbitrary rules and disconnected machinery, but as a broad, fair, and noble science that ought to pervade with a salutary and wholesome influence all the affairs of human life; as not merely the protector of private right, but equally the conservator of public liberty. Neither his reading nor his thought was circumscribed by the narrow channel of the subjects actually in controversy before him. He made himself familiar with the higher branches of jurisprudence, its constitutional foundations, its history, its philosophy, its morality, its literature, its connection with the framework of society and of government. He became not only a lawyer, but a jurist, in the true sense of the term. Such studies enriched his opinions with a many-sided scholarship, and gave them an elevated and dignified sentiment. They rest, when important questions are to be considered, upon broader and higher grounds than mere technical rules or arbitrary precedents.
Judge Redfield contributed largely in the course of his judicial service towards that gradual infusion of equity principles into the rules of the common law that has marked its recent progress, and has brought the two systems so much nearer together than formerly. Many of his opinions could be cited as illustrations of this. Striving always to make the standard of legal judgment as nearly as possible that of sound morality and substantial justice, and strongly predisposed towards the views of courts of equity, he was a persistent advocate, often somewhat in advance of the current