Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Thomas Clapp Perkins, for a long time at the head of the Hartford County Bar, and at the time of his death of the profession in the state, died on the 11th of October, 1870, in his seventy-third year. He was born in the city of Hartford on the 29th of July, 1798. His father was Enoch Perkins, a prominent member of the Hartford County Bar, greatly esteemed in his day as a man of legal learning, sound judgment and moral excellence. His mother was daughter of Rev. Timothy Pitkin of Farmington, and sister to Hon. Timothy Pitkin, who in his day was one of the leading public men of the state. He fitted for college in the Hartford Grammar School, and graduated at Yale College in 1818, the salutatorian of his class. He studied law with Seth P. Staples, Esq., then in New Haven and was admitted to the bar in the city of Hartford, where he immediately after commenced practice, and where he resided till the time of his death. He married in 1827 to Mary Foote Beecher, daughter of Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher, who survives him. He was from early life connected by membership with the Congregational church. He was a man of great tenderness of heart and no one enjoyed more than he the opportunity to do an act of kindness to the sick or poor, or to any in special need of sympathy or aid; avoiding notice however, so far as he was able, in all his benefactions. For several years he took the oversight of and principally maintained a farm school for homeless boys a few miles out of the city, which he was accustomed to visit every Sunday afternoon for the purpose of giving the boys religious and moral instruction.
Mr. Perkins devoted himself assiduously and laboriously to the duties of his profession and had no inclination for political life, nor indeed for public office of any sort. He was twice elected to the lower house of the General Assembly, and for several years held the office of the State Attorney for Hartford County, and for a few years that of United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut. In 1861, upon the death of Chief Justice Storrs, he was elected nearly unanimously to the Supreme Court of the state, but he declined the office.
His professional and private character are very happily described by Judge Shipman of the U.S. District Court, in responding to an address made by Nathaniel Shipman, Esq., in announcing to the court the death of Mr. Perkins. Judge Shipman remarked as follows:
REMARKS OF JUDGE SHIPMAN
Through in the address just delivered, as well as elsewhere, ample justice has been done to the character and career of Mr. Perkins, I cannot allow this occasion to pass without some expression from this bench of our sense of his ability and worth, and the loss which the courts as well as the bar and the public have suffered by his death. For fifty years he was a member of the profession, and for nearly all that time, was actively engaged in the discharge of its duties. For more than forty years he was conspicuous in its ranks, and long before any of those present came to the bar he stood among the foremost. From 1825 to the present time his name will be found in the reports of the decisions of the Supreme Court of Errors as counsel in cases determined by the tribunal. As early as 1830 he was engaged in very important cases, and in that year, or the next, his name will be found in the report of the great case of Hudson v. Wadsworth, associated with the then leading lawyers of the state. His colleague on that occasion was William Hungerford, (clarum et venerabile nomen), and his antagonists Nathan Smith and Roger M. Sherman. From that time to present our Reports contain ample evidence of the extent and variety of his practice, and the weighty responsibilities which he constantly bore. It is well, brethren of the bar, to pause here, at the threshold of his grave, and for a moment consider those qualities which made him an eminent and useful lawyer, commanding the respect of his profession and public for nearly half a century and down to his death. We are all aware that there are persons of intelligence who put no very high estimate upon our profession, and who seem to think that its uninterrupted pursuit tends to narrow the intellect and harden the heart. We think that we know that this judgment is unfounded. We have seen it constantly refuted in the lives of great lawyers by displays of intellectual power as comprehensive, and by personal worth as rich and pure, as the records of any profession can present. On the roll of such examples which this commonwealth has to offer, is inscribed the name of Thomas C. Perkins.
One of the elements of personal power and virtue is industry. This is indispensable to worth and success is every calling, and prominently so in that of a lawyer. It is only through severe toil that he can become eminent or efficient. This labor must be constant, much of it away from the public eye. It is true that occasionally one is found endowed with a peculiar assemblage of gifts which enable him to distinguish himself as an advocate without unremitting labor in his office; but such examples are extremely rare, and their success usually partial and limited. We all know how steadily Mr. Perkins devoted himself to the business of his profession. From the inception of his cases to their final determination, through all the stages of consultation, preparation and trial, his labors were thorough and constant. As an associate he shirked no share of the burden. To the preliminary details, which must be investigated and settled in the office by patient industry, he devoted his energies as cheerfully as to the part to be performed in the presence of the court and the public. In this particular he was, while the acknowledged leader of the bar, as considerate of his juniors as he was in former years of his equals. His constant and well-directed industry continually augmented his usefulness, his business, and his fame.
But he was not a mere plodder, with no resources except what result from accumulating precedents from the books. He possessed an intellect of great native acuteness and vigor. His perceptions were quick, and his mind seized with readiness and wielded with strength the materials which his case and the law afforded. Both as a counselor and an advocate this bar has long conceded his ability. I use the word advocate in its larger sense, as applied to the vigorous and intelligent management of causes through all the stages of the trial. His intellect was strong and active, but not showy. In his addresses to the court or jury he was neither graphic, apathetic, nor witty. He displayed no brilliant rhetoric nor stately declamation. He was not a formal, rigid logician, following step by step through long argument the process of exact deduction. But he saw every feature of the case in hand, the nature and bearing of every fact and principle, and shed light upon every part by a full, learned, discriminating and luminous discussion. He was clear and self-possessed, with his resources, both of intellect and learning, always at his command.
While we all conceded his industry and ability, his healthy and genial qualities won our affection. He was courteous and respectful not only to the court, but to his brethren at the bar, and he almost invariably maintained this bearing even in the fiercest professional struggles. He was always serene and cheerful in his intercourse with others, and though not given to boisterous mirth, he abounded in harmless pleasantry. He was a good judge of character and saw the weak as well as the strong traits in others. He expressed himself freely in estimating other men, but there was no caustic in his criticisms. He shot no poisoned arrows. Indeed the whole tendency of his mind and heart was to look on the bright side of all things. His views and feelings had no tinge of gloom, or, if clouds hung over his mind, he turned only their silver lining towards us. He had sorrows, but we know that he bore them with a stout heart and in uncomplaining silence. His elastic, genial and hopeful spirit sought the sunlight rather than the shade, and he might well have taken for his motto the inscription said to be found on sun-dial in Florence:
"Horas non numero, nisi serenas."
Though for several years past he had suffered from a painful disease, which would have broken a less undaunted and cheerful spirit, he bore it with wonderful serenity and fortitude; laboring with success and energy in his profession, and meeting us with a pleasant smile and cordial greeting down almost to the day of his death.
Though Mr. Perkins's time and talents were mainly concentrated on his profession, it is well known that he was a man of thought and culture in other departments of knowledge. He was well acquainted with the best productions of wit and genius, and in his hours of relaxation solaced and refreshed his mind with the treasures of literature.
He was eminently fitted to discharge the practical duties of public life, but hardly well adapted to be a popular favorite at the present day. The few offices which he held were not the most distinguished, and they sought him, and not he them. He honored them rather than they him. As Attorney for the State and the United States, and member of the General Assembly, he was as conspicuous for integrity and devotion to the public welfare, as he was for the ability with which he performed his official duties. But it is not in political circles, or legislative bodies, or popular assemblies, that his loss will be most deeply felt. It is on the courts, in the midst of the bar, and on the hearthstone that the shadow of his death has fallen. This, and the other judicial tribunals in the state, have lost the aid of an instructive and enlightened counselor, the bar their most learned, experienced, and powerful leader, and those who were united to him by tenderer ties a generous and steadfast friend.