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Hon. James Grant


Posted By: Annette Lucas (email)
Date: 7/11/2021 at 15:27:49

SOURCE: Biographical History and Portrait Gallery of Scott County, Iowa. American Biographical Publishing Company, H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co. Proprietors. 1895


On the fourteenth of March, 1891, Judge James Grant died at Oakland, California, and when the news of his death was passed from one to another, at his home in Davenport, Iowa, “ almost every one in Davenport ,” said the “ Daily Democrat,” commenting editorially on his death, “ felt that he had lost a personal friend . "

For fifty years and more, Judge Grant had been so conspicuous a figure in the beautiful little city on the banks of the Mississippi river, so intimately had he been associated with its progress, its development, and its material growth and prosperity, that like the rugged bluffs, which look down on the “ Father of Waters,” he seemed a part of the city itself. A landmark which could not be removed. A physical presence which must remain, and abide with it , withstanding the ravages of time.

Before Davenport was a municipality, or a hamlet even, Judge Grant was a conspicuous member of the western bar, and from the very inception of the town, he had been recognized as a promoter of its best interests. Strong, able, intensely active, brusque in manner, but generous and hospitable in his instincts, he was an interesting figure and a distinguished pioneer of the Territory with which he became identified before its evolution into a State.

He was of southern parentage, and Scotch and English lineage. Born near the village of Enfield, Halifax County, North Carolina, December 12, 1812, he was the son of James Grant, and the grandson of that James Grant, of the Highland clan, who drew his broadsword in support of the Pretender, at Culloden, and was later transported, with other rebellious subjects of the Crown, to the colony of North Carolina. His mother, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Whitaker, * was a native also of North Carolina, and lineal descendant of the Episcopal minister, Alexander Whitaker, who baptized Pocahontas, and was noted among the early Virginia colonists. Mat. Cary Whitaker was the father of Mrs. Grant, and another of his daughters became the mother of the United States Senator, Mat. Whitaker Ransom, of North Carolina.

Judge Grant's father was born on a plantation, and brought up under the " old régime," with a comfortable fortune at his command. Possessed of abundance in his early life, he was master of no trade or profession, knew little about the proper conduct of business affairs, and before he had reached middle age his patrimony had drifted away from him, and his estate was impoverished. Judge Grant was the second of his eight children, and was the kind of boy styled precocious. When he was eight years old, he began going to school, his mother having previously taught him his letters. This was the sum total of his educational accomplishments when his school life began, but in ten months he could spell every word in Walker's Dictionary. From that time forward he was first in his classes, and equally conspicuous in the field and other sports of that era and region of country. Having been fitted for college in the academies of that period, it was proposed that he should enter the Freshman class of the State University, at Chapel Hill, when he was thirteen years of age, and he was fully competent to assume that rank in the college course. He was, how ever, small of his age ; so small that the president of the institution advised his father to keep him at home two years longer, and then let him join an advanced class. This advice, says one who has written of him in the annals of Iowa, published by the State Historical Society, " was followed, and he entered the Sophomore class of 1828, having among his schoolmates J. D. Hooper, Thomas Owen, Allan and Calvin Jones, Jacob Thompson, Secretary of the Interior under President Buchanan, James M. Williamson and others who achieved distinction in later years.”

Before he was eighteen years of age he graduated from the university and then taught school three years at Raleigh. When he was twenty- one years of age, he immigrated to the Northwest, because he had an intense dislike for slavery, and wanted to get out of a slave State. He came from North Carolina to Illinois, and having read law while teaching school, he obtained a license to practice his profession, and settled in Chicago, in January of 1834. His talents, his energy and his combativeness combined to bring him into prominence, and he was appointed, by Governor Joseph Duncan, Prosecuting Attorney for the Sixth District of Illinois, in which was included all the northern portion of the State. The district had to be traveled over on horseback , and the young attorney traveled about three thousand miles a year, until he resigned the position in 1836. He remained in Chicago until the summer of 1838, when he reached the conclusion that the lake winds affected his health injuriously, and removed to that portion of Wisconsin Territory which soon after was erected into the Territory of Iowa.

Locating on a large farm near what is now the City of Davenport, he brought the land under cultivation, introduced the first blooded stock brought into Scott County, if not into the Territory, and for a time was inclined to give up his profession. He did much, at this time and later, to advance the agricultural interests of Iowa , but soon resumed the practice of law. In 1841 , he was elected a member of the Territorial Legislature, and sat as a delegate in the first constitutional convention of Iowa, in 1844. In 1846, he was a member also of the second constitutional convention, and drew up the sections embracing the bill of rights in both conventions. To break a dead-lock which existed for a time between a Whig Governor and a Democratic Legislative council, he accepted the office of Prosecuting Attorney of his district, to which he was nominated and confirmed , after numerous appointees had been rejected . After Iowa was admitted as a State, he was elected on April 5, 1847, a judge for the district in which he resided , made up , at that time, of sixteen Counties. At the end of a five years' term on the bench, he declined a re-election and, with the exception of a term in the State Legislature — when he served as Speaker of the House of Representatives - he eschewed office-holding thereafter, although he always interested himself in promoting the fortunes of the Democratic party, with which he affiliated .

In the early years of the decade beginning with 1850, what may be termed as the golden era of Judge Grant's professional career began. It was a golden era in more senses than one. Golden in the fame which it brought him , and in the emoluments which came with it. In 1851, with characteristic energy and enterprise, he interested himself in the promotion of the Rock Island Railway project, becoming first president of the corporation, and making the contract for the building of the road . Thus interested in corporation affairs, he became essentially a corporation lawyer, and his practice vastly remunerative. Apparently he grasped intuitively the full scope and bearing of certain questions of great importance to the railway corporations, when the courts and members of the bar generally were groping in the dark , in the absence of precedents to guide them . What an eminent Iowa jurist called a “ practical sagacity so marked as justly to entitle it to the name of genius,” enabled him to conduct to a successful issue litigation involving many millions of dollars of the securities of these corporations, and from a single lawsuit his firm is said to have realized, in those days of comparatively small fees, a fee of more than one hundred thousand dollars. For many years his professional income, although living in a new State and small city, is said to have been as large as that of any lawyer of that period in the United States. In the famous litigation known as the “ Railroad Aid Bond Cases ” he was especially conspicu ous ; and so certain was he that a decision must eventually result in his favor, that he profited largely by investments in these depreciated securities, at a time when courts and juries were holding against him , and when the most powerful efforts were being made to have them declared invalid. With the increase of his fortune came a corresponding increase of his activities in developing the resources, not only of Daven . port and the State of Iowa, but of other portions of the West. The famous Grant Smelting Works, originally of Leadville, now of Denver, Colorado, were built up by him , in connection with his nephew , Governor Grant, of that State, and the vivifying effects of his enterprise were felt throughout a wide extent of territory.

While absorbed to a large extent in professional work and conduct of the important affairs with which he was identified, a kindly nature and generous instincts were manifested in numerous ways. Young men found in him a wise counselor, a sympathetic friend, and one who was always ready to give them material assistance. Although he was three times married, and had two children, neither of them survived the infantile period. Married first, in 1839, to Sarah E. Hubbard, born in Massachusetts of Puritan lineage, his wife died in 1842. In 1844, he married Ada C. Hubbard , a native of Vermont, who died two years later. In 1848, he married Elizabeth Brown Leonard , who was born in Connecticut, and came with her parents to Iowa in 1838. Her father was James Leonard, a pioneer Legislator of Iowa, who died in Iowa City, in 1845, while attending a session of the General Assembly. Having no children of their own, Judge and Mrs. Grant opened their home and their hearts to the children of relatives and friends, and in all a family of eighteen boys and girls grew up under their care, receiving education and a start in life at their hands.

For many years this was a unique homestead, a hospitable home of the old-fashioned kind . The silver wedding anniversary of this distinguished couple, in 1873, was an event of unusual, in fact, of historic interest, inasmuch as it brought together a famous company of guests, who came from widely separated localities.. There were college classmates from southern States, old time jurists and lawyers from all portions of the West, and congratulatory telegrams from everywhere.

For the important influence which he exerted in elevating the character of his profession, and contributing to the enlightenment and education of its members, in Davenport and the State of Iowa , Judge Grant will always be held in grateful remembrance. Early in life he began the building up of a law library, which soon assumed large proportions. Twenty years since, it is said to have been the largest private law library in the West, if not the largest in the United States. The privilege of using this library he extended , free of charge, not only to the lawyers of Davenport, but to the lawyers of the State, and many now famous western lawyers derived incalculable benefit therefrom . While holding two sessions a year at Davenport — which the Legislature had stipulated should be without expense to the State—the Supreme Court of Iowa for years had the free use of this library, and the free use, also, of a room in connection with it, which Judge Grant fitted up for the sessions of the court. It is to the credit of the bar of Davenport that this great collection of law books has been preserved to the city, since Judge Grant's death, through the organized effort of members of the profession, and that the " James Grant Law Library ” will constitute a constantly expanding monument to its founder.

As a judge on the bench he was noted for his prompt dispatch of public business, and the broad common sense and equity of his decisions. As a practitioner, zeal , courage, resourcefulness and a felicitous power of expression were his distinguishing characteristics. A man of strong and tender emotions, “ When the subject was such as to enlist his feelings,” says an old member of the Iowa bar, " he was truly eloquent in the highest sense of that expression . "

A fine classical scholar, he never lost interest in or love for the classics, and turned to them , even in his later years, for diversion from business and other affairs. A southern man by birth and education, he was an exception among the products of that region, as a many -sided man. With southern warmth and impulsiveness, he combined northern thrift and sagacity. With southern generosity, he combined northern conservativeness. With many of the tastes of the typical Southron, he had so few of the mannerisms of that region that those who knew nothing of his history would more frequently have guessed him a native of New England than of North Carolina. In one thing, however, all agreed that the distinguished lawyer and financier was a typical Southron, and that was in his love for fine and fast horses. From his early manhood he was much interested in the breeding and speeding of this class of horses, and for years was president of the National Trotting Association.

For some years prior to his death he spent much of his time in California , and there as in Davenport he busied himself with developing the material resources of the country, and identified himself with its business interests, to an extent which made him as well known on the Pacific Coast as he had been some years earlier in the Rocky Mountain region.

At a meeting of the Scott County bar held soon after Judge Grant's death , Mr. S. F. Smith, for many years his law partner, paid the following tribute to the departed lawyer and jurist :

“ Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Bar: Upon this sad occasion it had not seemed possible for me to so control my feelings as to be able to add aught to the apt resolutions and kindly words which have so well expressed our opinions of our mutual friend, to honor whose memory we have gathered here to-day, and yet as recollections are stirred within me of the years long gone by, when Judge Grant was in active practice in the courts of this and other States, I cannot forbear to mingle my feeble words with your far more eloquent eulogies.

“ And what shall I say of the man now gone? To me he was first the preceptor, then employer, then partner, and for many long years and to the last a friend. The relations changed rapidly, it seems now then time passed more slowly. I must admit that at first his brusque, rough manner awed me. It soon became apparent that this was but the shell, within which was the pearl — the manner of the outer man, while within was the great warm heart, beating ever in sympathy with all who needed his help or advice and as the years passed, words would fail me to express what he has been to me, how much he has aided me as well as others. It mattered not how poor the client, if Judge Grant felt convinced that his cause was just, he would labor as indefatigably for him as if the fees were to be great, and that is why we saw at his funeral last Saturday the rich and poor — those high in place and the humble ; all loved him.

“ He was what he seemed—no deception about him. If he was your friend, you knew it and there could be no distrust. Equally strong was he in his likes and dislikes. Few are the men of our acquaintance who have fought so valiantly for the right, and he has left his impress upon the State, its politics and its courts, and upon us who now mourn his departure.

" I spoke of his warm heart, and who of us does not feel that it is true ? Who of us, older men at the bar, have not experienced it ? As for me, I recall the thousand and one kindnesses with which he has strewn my pathway for lo, these many years ; for, well, who does not know how he has given you all the freedom of his large and valuable library, and how it has furnished ammunition with which you have often gained your cases, even against him?

" He was especially kind to the younger members of the bar. Well do I remember my first case—his gift-before a Justice of the Peace, for the successful trial of which he promised me a handsome fee. have been simple enough ; to me it was intricate. I had hardly ever been inside of a courtroom, but armed with a bushel or more of law books - a trick which I thought I had learned of him I made the attempt, and there, when I arrived, sat the judge to hear me. The audience was worse than the trial to me. Suffice it to say, victory was on my side, and the fee was paid, although I have always believed that it came out of Judge Grant's own pocket.

" Judge Grant was an able lawyer. He was tireless in the preparation of his cases ; no point was overlooked. He had a capacity for work which I never saw equaled. From seven in the morning until late at night he would work, work, work.

" His immense library would be searched through and through . Authorities for and against him were carefully noted. He made his preparations early. The time of trial always found him ready, and he would enter the fray in full confidence that the right must win, and the right was invariably and of necessity represented by him. To the opposing counsel he was courteous, whether the attorney were old or young, but above all was the cause of his client. If the authorities were against him, then he must establish that the decisions were ‘ obiter dictum' outside of the case, or recent decisions were the sounder law, or else they were not founded on reason or common sense.

“ But you have scattered roses and lilacs upon his grave ; I but bring a few wild flowers. You older men, more experienced practitioners, have told of his greatness and worth. I know of his heart goodness, his kind deeds, and so do many others—and what of these all ? It was not success ; it was not work and energy that made the real man ; it was the great, open, noble, loving heart which took in all mankind.

“ Witness the scenes at his funeral only a day or so ago. A humble laborer begged to take a last look at his dead friend. He entered ; I retired. A little later I looked in and the poor man knelt near the casket and prayed for the soul of his dead friend. What had he been ? What done? Who knows ?

“ Late among the friends who took a last look at the great and good man came one who had known him full two- score years, himself ninety-two years of age. He leaned upon the arms of trusted friends, hardly able to totter, but he must see once again the loved face, and the tears rained down his aged cheeks as he said , 'He was a good man, my best friend, and I shall soon follow him ,' and he was helped out, but naught could prevent him from accompanying to his last resting- place the man whom he trusted and venerated ; and what need of more words, though they came from the heart ?

“ A night ago, whether sleeping or waking, I hardly know, I seemed to be in the old courthouse, which once stood upon this spot, with its stuccoed columns and ancient look ; its rickety and crooked stairs. We were gathered in the old courtroom , where so many of us have tried our first cases. Its dingy walls and wooden seats, its high bench and fenced - in clerk's desk, pine tables and old- fashioned chairs — all looked as in the past. Judge Bennett sat upon the bench. In the little place designed for the bar sat lawyers as of old. I could but notice and recall faces of those long since called hence : John P. Cook, Judge Mitchell, O. W. Skinner, J. W. Thompson, H. G. Barnes, John N. Rogers, James T. Lane, C. E. Putnam , Heywood and Linsley, and a host of others equally familiar to us in the days of yore, besides many of your well-known faces. The jury sat in the corner. Harry Leonard and Joshua D. Patton were close at hand . I seemed to be attempting to establish the fact of the good deeds and warm heart of Judge Grant. The opening counsel had hardly cross -questioned at all, as if the evidence was invincible. The court had suggested that no further testimony would be necessarythat it would only be cumulative.

" Just then, many witnesses from the neighboring seats having given their evidence warmly, earnestly and unequivocally, I glanced toward the door. The wooden- legged doorkeeper stood aghast. The door swung to and fro noiselessly upon its usually creaking hinges, and faces were coming in, crowding over heads and seeming to fill all the upper air . I looked out upon the massive stairway; they were still coming, and up the walk in front phantom forms were pushing on as if time pressed.

" In yonder corner I noticed an expectant group, with peaceful faces, yet with evidences of some former cares and hardships upon them, and the question was put to them : 'And what will you here ? Back flashed the answer : "From the shadow land we have come to help you . We were pioneer settlers of Scott County. In the early days which tried men's souls our lot was cast here. We knew Judge Grant. He was our best friend . In our sickness and poverty, when trials and troubles came upon us, he helped us. His purse and house were ever open to us. We want to testify to his great free-heartedness, his kind and loving deeds, his upright and manly career .'

“ I looked, their faces were gone; a hush had settled upon us all. "

In another corner was gathered a still larger circle — men , women and children, with bright celestial faces. Yet I thought that I could distinguish lines of sadness and care, which had left their indelible impress. And almost affrighted, I managed to ask : ‘And whence come you, and why here? ' We are the kith and kin — the relatives of Judge Grant - mostly from the South . The Civil War had left us widows and orphans, poor and feeble ; our homes devastated and gone ; and where turn and what do were with us frequent and unanswered questions ; but soon a helping hand was held out. From his northern home, away from his pressing duties, hurried our kinsman Judge Grant. He rehabilitated us, and homes were established anew. He took our children and made men and women of them . Our faith and trust returned. We came hither to- day to rise up and call him blessed , and they were gone.

“ The sun was setting in the west. The shadows had lengthened and had settled upon us all. The opposing counsel had forgotten their tasks and duties. The charge was omitted. Instructions not needed . It was useless for the jury to leave their seats. The verdict was quickly made up and read. It was simply this : "Judge Grant was a good man , in that he loved his neighbor as himself. He helped the poor and fatherless. He stood up bravely for the right, and was ever a sympathizer with the poor and oppressed. '

" Brethren of the bar! Let us, too, leave our imprints upon the sands of time. By good deeds and loving words may our lives be traced, so that when we are gone, as soon must be, our friends may gather and weave like garlands for us. " **

*Martha and Elizabeth Betsey Cary married two Whitaker brothers, and their descendants were always designated as the Cary Whitakers.

**A part of the foregoing sketch appeared in the “ National Magazine" for November, 1893.


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