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The Albany Law Journal.

ALBANY, JULY 13, 1895.

Current Topics.

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IRAM E. SICKELS, both as a man and a lawyer, is worthy of more than the passing notice which is necessarily devoted to the vast majority of our number by way of comment or eulogy.

His manhood stood the stern test of the struggle for the life of the nation and he was mustered out after three years of service, the type of the citizen soldier who had become a veteran and performed his duty and who gladly returned to his responsibilities as a citizen.

Warm hearted, kindly yet withal courteous

and conservative, he was indisposed to mingle in affairs beyond what seemed necessary by reason of his position in the community, yet was never averse to discharging his full duty in that relation.

As a lawyer, he was known to be painstaking, careful and industrious. The judicial cast of mind with which he was gifted was adapted to the determination of the large number of causes disposed of by him as referee, selected both by consent of parties and appointment by the court. This itself was a recognition of the legal ability and sterling qualities always sought for in one selected to act in such a judicial capacity.

An incident illustrates not only his disinterestedness where personal considerations were concerned, but also his pride in his profession, and the discharge of his official duties. At the time the question was agitated as to the provisions of law necessary to bring about the publication of the present combined series, Mr. Sickles was consulted by Messrs. Fiero and Whitaker, the committee of the State Bar Association who had the matter in charge, with regard to his views of the matter. He very promptly, after stating that the proposed plan would involve a pecuniary sacrifice on his part and would also entail upon him additional labor VOL. 52 No. 2.

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without extra compensation, expressed his hearty sympathy with the movement and his desire to forward whatever might be in the interest of prompt and accurate reporting of the decisions of all the courts of the State, and from that time forward gave every assistance in his power to an arrangement which not only necessarily deprived him of a considerable income but cast upon him a very considerable additional burden.

It is of course as the reporter of the decisions of the Court of Appeals, during a period of twenty-three years, that his name is so familiar to the bar, and it is also in that capacity that it will be specially perpetuated in connection with the law as administered during the past quarter of a century by our court of last resort. One hundred completed volumes of reports, the equivalent of nearly seventy thousand pages, have been issued and bear his name, a larger number than have been edited by any court reporter. It is true that one hundred and two volumes should bear the name

of Freeman's Reports had all the work been completed by him, but the fact is not to be overlooked of the existence of the gap in those reports to be filled by another.

It is not only by the quantity, but also by the quality of the work by which Mr. Sickels is to be judged, and as to this it can in all fairness be said the quality fully equals the quantity, and the New York Reports from volume 46 to volume 146 are models of terse, clear and intelligent reporting. Not bound down to any theory as to how a syllabus should be drafted, his view was to make it a concise and yet reasonably full statement of the rules of law laid down in the opinion, and in this, the unquestioned object of the head note, he succeeded admirably. The syllabus of the case as drafted and carefully revised by him contains the spirit and meaning of the opinion, and never misleads the student, the lawyer or the judge.

The bar have thus lost one whose methods of work in his official capacity were familiar and well understood, upon whose care, intelligence and industry they could always rely, and one who withal was a sound lawyer, a faithful reporter and a high-minded, honorable man.

Major Hiram E. Sickels was known by name


at least throughout the length and breadth of the country wherever the New York Reports were quoted as authority in litigated suits at law, in questions arising in contested will cases, and in the decision of constitutional questions or the construction of statutes passed from time to time by the Legislature of the State of New York. He was a man possessed of legal acumen in an extraordinary degree and combined with it a judicial discrimination and ability that would fit him for a seat on the bench of the court whose decisions for the past fourteen years he has abridged and compiled into what are known as the New York Reports. Sickels was reporter for the Court of Appeals, the highest judicial tribunal in the State, and it is generally conceded that he displayed rare faculty in the collaboration of the decisions made in the numerous cases heard before that august tribunal. He was born June 24, 1827, in the village of Albion, Orleans county, his father being of old Holland Dutch extraction, and his mother of German. Young Sickels received a general education at the Albion academy and his diligence in study enabled him on leaving the academy to commence the study of the law in the office of Curtis & Stone at Albion, and in 1848 he was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of his profession in his native village. He continued it until the breaking out of the war aroused the patriotic and martial spirit in

him as it did in thousands of other men in all

the varied walks of life, professional and otherwise. In 1862 he assisted in raising the Seventeenth Volunteer Battery of light artillery, and on August 26th of that year was commissioned its first lieutenant. He entered the profession of arms with the same zeal and spirit which had characterized his entrance into the legal profession. He took part with the battery in the capture of the seemingly impregnable Fort Fisher, participated in nearly all the battles around Richmond, especially in Grant's masterly movements in front of the rebel capital, was then transferred with his command to the front of Petersburg and was in a series of sharp battles, including Five Forks, which resulted in the evacuation of that stronghold and the fall of Richmond, and then joined in the pursuit of Lee, ending in the rebel chieftain's surrender at Appomattox. He was mustered out of service ¡

June 12, 1865, with the brevet rank of captain for the gallant and efficient service he had rendered. Returning to Albion, he resumed the practice of the law. Desiring a wider field, however, in which to practice his chosen profession, in 1871 he removed to this city, and since made it his home. In February, 1872, his eminent ability had already become known, and a recognition of it was contained in his appointment during that month to the position of State Reporter, his function being to compile the reports of cases decided in the Court of Appeals. That position he held without intermission until the time of his death.

His thorough knowledge of the law in all its branches was so well known and established that his findings or decisions in a case partake of a semi-judicial character, and were generally relied upon as final.

Maj. Sickels was the chairman of the State board of civil service examiners from 1883 to 1888. He was also a member of the special water commission and one of the organizers of the Fort Orange club.

The commencement exercises at the law schools, and especially Yale and Harvard, have been remarkable for the distinguished gathering of judges and jurists who have been present to fitly celebrate the closing scenes of the At New Haven Judge Brown, collegiate year. of the United States Supreme Court, made the principal address before the Yale Law School. His subject was "The Twentieth Century." The subjects of the oration could not have been more properly and appropriately chosen, and coming as they do from a judge of the highest court in the nation, they echo the sentiments of the judiciary on issues which involve the stability of the government. The first subject which Justice Brown spoke on was Municipal Corporations, and the principles which he laid down will be found in the short summary which we print herewith, together with a thoughtful discussion of corporations as monopolies and the so-called tyranny of labor. Judge Brown, on these several subjects, spoke as follows:

"The point I desire to urge upon your attention is that you are entering the arena of professional life at a more than usually critical

period. Old things are rapidly passing away, and the question presses itself upon us, What will the Twentieth century furnish to take their place?

"In the domain proper of the law the reforms have already been so sweeping that the future seems to promise more of conservation than of change. I look, however, to a greatly increased efficiency in the administration of the law, which, in many of the States, is most unsatisfactory. I look for the time when the technicalities which hedge about the administration of criminal law will be swept away and every case be squarely settled upon its merits.

"If we had more independent judges who could conduct trials, instead of listening to them, and more intelligent juries, there would be less complaint of the mal-administration of justice.

"The important changes of the twentieth century, however, promise to be social rather than legal or political. While the signs of the material development and prosperity of the country were never more auspicious than at present, it is not to be denied that the tendencies of the past thirty years, to which I have already called attention, have produced a state of social unrest which augurs ill for its future tranquility.

"The processes of combination have enabled manufacturing and other corporations to put an end to competition among themselves by the creation of trusts. Upon the other hand, labor, taking its cue from capital, though more slowly, because less intelligent and alert to its own interests, is gradually consolidating its various trade unions with the avowed object of dictating the terms upon which the productive and transportation industry of the country shall be carried on.

"The reconciliation of this strife between capital and labor, if reconciliation be possible, is the great social problem which will confront you as you enter upon the stage of professional life.


portion of the industrious to the idle? Where would be the incentive to labor? What would become of the hundreds of thousands who are engaged in providing luxuries for the rich, and in ministering to their pleasures? The whole fabric of civilization is built upon the sanctity of private property. Were this foundation to be taken away, the structure would crumble into ruins.

"While it is entirely true that the business methods of the past thirty years have tended to increase enormously the fortunes of a few, it is wholly untrue that the poor as a class are either absolutely or relatively poorer than before. The sins of wealth, though many and grievous, have not generally been aimed directly at the oppression of the poor.

"While I have no doubt of the ultimate settlement of our social problem upon a reasonable and judicious basis, there are undoubtedly certain perils which menace the immediate future of the country, and even threaten the stability of its institutions. The most prominent of these are municipal corruption, corporate greed and tyranny of labor.


'Municipal misgovernment has come upon us with universal suffrage, and the growth of large cities—and in general seems to flourish in a ratio exactly proportioned to the size of the city.

'Distinctions in wealth within reasonable limits, so far from being objectionable, are a positive blessing even to the poor, in the opportunity they afford for a diversity of labor and of talents,

"With no reward for industry and no punishment for idleness, what would be the pro- I der a restricted system.

"The activities of urban life are so intense, the pursuit of wealth or of pleasure so absorbing, as upon the one hand to breed an indifference to public affairs, while, upon the other, the expenditures are so large, the value of the franchises at the disposal of the cities so great, and the opportunities for illicit gain so manifold, that the municipal legislators whose standard of honesty is rarely higher than the average of those who elect them, fall an easy prey to the designing and unscrupulous.

"Though I am unwilling to believe that corporations are solely responsible for our municipal misgovernment, the fact remains that bribery and corruption are so universal as to threaten the very structure of society.

"Universal suffrage, which it was confidently supposed would inure to the benefit of the poor man, is so skillfully manipulated as to rivet his chains, and to secure to the rich man a predominance in politics he has never enjoyed un

"Probably in no country in the world is the influence of wealth more potent than in this, and in no period of our history has it been more powerful than now.

"Mobs are never logical, and are prone to seize upon pretexts rather than upon reasons, to wreak their vengeance upon whole classes of society. There was probably never a flimsier "Worse than this, however, is the combinaexcuse for a great riot than the sympathetic tion of corporations in so-called trusts, to limit strike of last summer, but back of it were sub-production, stifle competition and monopolize stantial grievances to which the conscience of the necessaries of life. The extent to which the city seems to have been finally awakened. this has already been carried is alarming, the If wealth will not respect the rules of common extent to which it may hereafter be carried is honesty in the use of its power, it will have no revolutionary. Indeed, the evils of aggregated reason to expect moderation or discretion on wealth are nowhere seen in more odious form. the part of those who resist its encroachments.

"The misgovernment of which I have spoken is so notorious and so nearly universal, that it is useless to attempt to ignore it, or to expect that it will cure itself. Whether the remedy for all this lies in raising the character of the electorate by limiting municipal suffrage to property holders, or in government or commissions, is a question which will not fail to demand your attentive consideration. The great, the unanswerable argument in favor of universal suffrage is, not that it ensures a better or purer government, but that all must be contented with a government in which all have an equal voice.

"Corporations are a necessity in every civilized State. They have a practical monopoly of land transportation, of mining, manufacturing, banking and insurance; and within their proper sphere they are a blessing to the community.

“On the other hand, the ease with which charters are procured has produced great abuses. Corporations are formed under the laws of one State for the sole purpose of doing business in another; and railways are built in California under charters granted by States east of the Mississippi, for the purpose of removing their litigation to federal courts.

another corporation, formed of the directors, which buys the rolling stock and leases it to the road-so that when the inevitable foreclosure comes, the stockholders are found to have been defrauded for the benefit of the mortgagees, and the mortgagees defrauded for the benefit of the directors.

"The greatest frauds are perpetrated in the construction of such roads by the directors themselves, under guise of construction company, another corporation, to which is turned over all the bonds, mortgages and other securities, regardless of the actual cost of the road. "The road is equipped in the same way-by

"The truth is that the entire corporate legislation of the country is sadly in need of overhauling, but the difficulty of procuring concurrent action on the part of 44 States is apparently insuperable.

"From a wholly different quarter proceeds the third and most immediate peril to which I have called your attention the tyrrany of labor. It arises from the apparent inability of the laboring man to perceive that the rights he exacts he must also concede.


Laboring men may defy the laws of the land and pull down their own houses and those of their employers about their heads, but they are powerless to control the laws of nature

that great law of supply and demand, in obedi

ence to which industries rise, flourish for a sea

son and decay, and both capital and labor receive their appropriate reward.

"The outlook for permanent peace between capital and labor is certainly not an encouraging one. The conflict between them has been going on and increasing in bitterness for thousands of years, and a settlement seems farther

off than ever.

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"Arbitration is thought by some to promise a solution of all these problems, and where a dispute turns simply upon a rate of wages it may often be a convenient method of adjustment. Yet its function is after all merely advisory. Compulsory arbitration is a misnomer a contradiction in terms. One might as well speak of an amicable murder or a friendly war.

"It is possible that a compromise may finally be effected upon the basis of co-operation or profit-sharing, under which every laborer shall become to a certain extent a capitalist. Per

haps with superior education, wider experience and larger intelligence, the laboring man of the 20th century may attain the summit of his ambition in his ability to command the entire profits of his toil.

“In dealing with the evils which threaten our future tranquility you ought to find and doubtless will find, an efficient coadjutor in a free press. Indeed, the bar and the press are the great safeguards of liberty-its influence upon public opinion we are led to regret that such influence is not oftener exerted in the right direction. But with all their faults, newspapers are indispensable, and life would lose half its charm without them. Let it be said to their credit that in times of great popular outcry against abuses their voice is generally upon the side of reform.

"It has been given to the 19th century to teach the world how a great republic can be ounded upon principles of justice and equality; it will be the duty of the 20th to show how it can be preserved against the insidious encroachments of wealth, as well as the assaults of the mob.

"Freedom and injustice are ill-mated companions; and at the basis of every free government is the ability of the citizen to apply to the courts for a redress of his grievances and the assurance that he will there receive what justice demands. So long as we can preserve the purity of our courts we need never despair of the republic."

A very interesting letter was recently published in the Mail and Express, under date of London, which discusses the English judicial system. The comparison of the English system with our own presents some considerations which will be of benefit, if they should result in the improvement of each, and for that reason we publish the letter, which runs as follows:

States on the other; but this particular trial has focused attention because in it the prisoner was allowed to give evidence, owing to the charge on which he was arraigned. For it so happens that a few years ago an addition was made to the statutes, which, while creating a new class of offenses, provided that persons accused of them should be allowed at option to make themselves witnesses. And the people are now asking, 'Why should this man be allowed the privilege of giving evidence, and a man accused of murder not be allowed?' And

there is no answer. There can be no answer,

no real answer.

"No doubt lawyers, read and brought up in the atmosphere of the courts, will contest this. They urge that an accused person more often does himself harm than good by speaking, and that, therefore, he should be forced to remain silent. It is probably true that the majority of persons brought to trial are guilty. No one ever heard of an innocent man injuring his cause by telling the truth. And, therefore, when the prisoner helps to convict himself he is furthering the cause of justice involuntarily. Is this to be regretted? Professional lawyers in England argue that it is. Why do they so argue? Because with them the professional instinct and tradition is far stronger than the love of justice. This may seem a hard saying, but it is absolutely true. It is the feeling of the fox-hunter who considers it a crime for the farmer to shoot a fox, however much harm it


may have done to the poultry yard, since, in
his eyes, all foxes should be preserved in order
Your English law-
to afford sport to the hunt.
yer looks upon a trial as a duel between coun-
sel. If the prisoner has the better tongue on
But he
his side, so much the better for him.
must not himself have a voice in the matter,
not though his life, his reputation and every-
thing dear to him, is at stake. Can anything
be more barbarous?

"A criminal trial is just over in London which has brought into strong relief that which is, "Till quite lately the accused was not even perhaps, the greatest defect in the English allowed to make an unsworn statement, but judicial system, viz., the forbidding an accused that has been altered, and a prisoner is now at person to give evidence on his own behalf. liberty to tell his own story, to give his own The point has, of course, often been noticed version of the transaction, but not on oath, and before, and invidious comparisons drawn be- not subject to cross-examination. Obviously tween the English system on the one hand and what he says in his own favor under such conthe systems which obtain in most of the United | ditions cannot often count for much. Still there

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