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Breese Family Monograph

Part 6 - pages 511 to 518

Airy near Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 17, 1870. He was a member of the Class of 1813 in Union College, without graduation; and at an early age

"received his warrant as Midshipman in the United States Navy. In 1814 he served under Commodore McDonough at the battle of Lake Champlain, and for gallant conduct at Plattsburg received a sword and a vote of thanks from Congress. He served in the Mediterranean against the pirates of Algiers and otherwise, in 1826-7, and was in the Levant during the war between Turkey and Greece. He also served with distinction in the war between the United States and Mexico, in 1846-7 -- was at the battles of Vera Cruz, Tuspan and others: of the last named place he was for a short time Military Governor. As Commodore he commanded the United States Squadron in the Mediterranean in 1856-7, during the Crimean War. In 1861, at the outbreak of the rebellion in our Southern States, he was Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He was one of the thirteen Commodores first selected to fill the list of Rear Admirals, when that rank was introduced into the United States Navy in 1862. His last official duty was as Admiral of the Port of Philadelphia, in 1868." 

 (2.) Sarah, born Dec. 6,  1795; who married: first, Barent Bleecker Lansing of Utica, N. Y., son of Col. Garrett Lansing, an officer in the Revolution, by Mary Antill, daughter of Col. Edward (also of Revolutionary  distinction) and Charlotte (Reverien) Antill of Montreal, Canada,  Jan. 3, 1815, by whom she had four sons, and a daughter Mannette Antill, who married her second cousin Charles Walker Morse (see above); and secondly, Hon. James Platt of Oswego, N. Y., in 1854; and died, a widow, June 16, 1879; 

(3.) Elizabeth, born June 30, 1797; who married William Malcolm son of Joshua and Ann (Ascough) Sands,25 Purser in the United States Navy, Sept. 16, 1816, by whom she had two sons, Joshua Ascough (d. unm. 1854) and William Henry (d. 1868, leaving a wife and two sons), and a daughter Catharine Livingston (d. Sept. 7, 1884); and is still living, a widow; 

(4.) Cathartine Walkcr, born Oct. 9, 1798: who married Captain Samuel B. Griswold, an officer of the United States Army in the war of 1812-14, in 1820 (who died in 1830); by whom she had two daughters and three sons. All her sons are dead: one of them, Arthur Breese (b. 1829), left a wife and three children: the elder daughter. Cornelia (b. 1821), married and now lives as the widow of William M. Goodrich of  New Orleans--"a better man never lived" -- and had several children, of' whom one daughter, Mary Willis,  is the wife of Edward Livingston son of the late Rev. Dr. Henry Montgomery of New York; the  younger daughter of Mrs. Griswold, Sarah Elizabeth (b. 1822), is the widow of  her mother's cousin Samuel Finley Breese Morse, spoken of above. Mrs. Griswold still lives, and, though in her eighty-seventh year. recites poetry by the page, beautifully, with a youthful memory;

 (5.) Sidney, born July 15, 1800: who married Eliza daughter of William Morrison (who emigrated from Pennsylvania to Kaskasia, I11., in 1790) of Carlyle, Clinton Co. II1., a lady of French descent--now living as his widow, Sept. 4, 1823; and died June 27, 1878, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois, leaving five children, two daughters and three sons, of whom Samuel Livingston is now a Commandant in the United States Navy.

Judge Breese was graduated at Union College in 1818, receiving the third honor of his Class, after Alonzo Potter, late Bishop of Pennsylvania, who had the first, and George W. Doane, afterwards Bishop of  New Jersey, who had the second. Soon after his graduation, on the invitation of Elias Kent Kane, a protege of his father, and at one time a  fellow-student at Union, though a graduate of Yale in 1813, who had already begun the practice of law at Kaskasia in what was then the Territory of Illinois, Sidney Breese went there in his eighteenth year, and began to identify himself with that part of our country where his name was destined to become so eminent, by commencing the study of law in Kane's office. Years later he told me that he "studied law under the trees;" by which he meant, I suppose, that the foundations of his legal learning were mainly laid by his own study, of the books. Such was undoubtedly the origin of that profound knowledge of the principles of law which after­wards distinguished him. He was admitted to practice in 1820; but, hav­ing failed, through diffidence (an infirmity which he never wholly threw off), in his first appearance in court, he came near to abandoning his profession. The next year, however, he took it up again; in 1822 he was appointed State's Attorney; about four years later President Adams made him United States Attorney for the State of Illinois. "In 1831 he proposed to the judges of the Supreme Court to report all their decisions. The result was ' Breese's Reports,' printed at Kaskasia in 1831, and which was the first book printed in Illinois. The reporter himself 'set up,' it is said, more than one page of the volume." He enlisted as a private, but was soon made Lieutenant-Colonel, in the Black Hawk war. He was raised to the bench in 1835, as Circuit Judge, and retained that position till 1842, when he was elected Senator of the United States for six years from March, 1843. Upon his retirement from the Senate he resumed the practice of law, and in 1857 was elected to the Supreme Court, to fill a vacancy, and again, in 1861, for the full term of nine years. "In regular course he became Chief Justice," and this high position he held three times, continuing to be a Justice of the Supreme Court till the day of his death. 

"Breese's Reports," covering "the decisions of the Supreme Court for the first eleven years of its existence," was modestly announced by the editor as prompted by "a desire to discharge in some degree that duty which one of the sages of the law has said 'every man owed to his pro­fession.''' But he did much greater service to the law, in the course of his judicial life, by his own decisions.

 Said one of his associates on the Bench:

"In his long and successful career on this bench he contributed largely in estab­lishing our system of jurisprudence. Few men have prepared and announced from the bench more opinions, in this or any other country, than have come from his pen. Many of them are marked for clearness, force, logic and finished expression. Few judges have shown more ability in constitutional, commercial, revenue, chancery, corporation, criminal and real estate questions. He was not inclined to yield assent to mere authorities, but followed the rules and maxims of the law, and never yielded assent to a proposition unless he believed it was based on sound legal principles."

 Another has said:

"Judge Breese's active life covered the entire existence of the state government down to the date of his death, and like those eminent jurists Marshall, Kent and Story, as from necessity, he wrote much from first impression. His opinions on questions of the period, concerning legislative control over corporations, and the duties and liabilities of railroad and other private corporations, will take rank with the best opinions on these subjects, and become leading cases in ail the future. These questions seem to have arisen in this and other western states in advance of the decisions of courts of the older States, on the same subjects .... On the subjects discussed it may well be believed his opinions will be of equal value in their bearing on the welfare of the generations to come, with the writings of the best of the older English and American jurists .... "

"His style was singularly perspicuous. As specimens of fine writing it is my judgment his opinions will suffer nothing in comparison with the best of the most distinguished jurists of this country and of England. In clearness of expression and splendor of diction they are fashioned after the best models."

I also quote the following words of the Attorney General of Illinois in 1878:

"Consider the judicial labor performed in the last twenty years; more than three-fourths of the volumes of our reports have been written within that period. With the material progress of the State, its enlarged commerce and business com­plications, the tendency to collisions between corporate and private interests, and the relative rights of capital and labor, new and intricate questions have been pre­sented for judicial decision. In the determination of these questions it has been necessary to apply the fundamental principles of the law, which' in the nature of things must ever remain essentially the same, to new circumstances and combinations of facts. The vigorous intellect and profound learning of Justice Breese have en­riched this field of our jurisprudence. He was a gentleman of the old school; decorous in manner, and a punctilious observer of the usages of refined society. As one of that galaxy of eminent men who constituted the 'pioneer-bar' of our State, he brought to its ranks superior culture and acquirements, an exquisite taste and disciplined mind .... The student of his judicial opinions will be impressed with his great mental endowments, his comprehensive grasp of legal principles, and his vigorous logic -- not infrequently adorned with the pleasing graces of literature. His standard of the professional ethics of the bar was high.  Unworthy conduct in its members was sure to meet with severe rebuke from him whenever opportunity was presented."

If we turn from the court-room to consider Judge Breese as one of our national councillors, we find, to use again the words of an associate judge, that

"His career as a statesman was brief, brilliant, and was marked by great results. "But few possessed the sagacity to discern in the distant future those great measures and plans that would rend to 'the advantage and prosperity of the Nation. He served but one term in the United States Senate, but it was at a time when it contained Webster, Calhoun, Benton, Clay and other great men of that period. Brief as was that period, his senatorial labors will lose nothing in comparison with those of the most distinguished men of that body, if we shall judge by the results achieved. The plan of constructing the Illinois Central Railroad from Cairo to Galena, an enterprise that has done as much as, if not more than, any other to develop the resources of the State, was first prominently brought forward by him, and its practicability demonstrated. It was his privilege, from his position in the Senate [as Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands], to first bring to the notice of the American people that other great measure, the conception of a railroad to the Pacific coast, to connect with the railroads in process of construction from the East, to con­stitute a great thoroughfare for the commerce of the world across the Continent, from ocean to ocean, an undertaking so great in its proportions that even Benton, bold and adventurous as he was, deemed it impracticable. His report made to the -Senate on that subject shows a forecast of grand events, that were to affect the commerce of the entire civilized world, that was possessed by few of his contemporaries."                             

As t, his political principles, he was a Jeffersonian Democrat, "and at an early day declared his adherence to the letter of the Federal Constitution,  and his opposition to the enlargement of any of its provisions by liberality of construction ;" and he denounced centralization as contradistinguished from the sovereignty of the States in the control of their own affairs. But he was not an advocate of the doctrine of secession, though I remember that he spoke to me, during the late civil war, of the burning of western crops as fuel, for want of a market, and hinted at the possibility that the Western States might yet be torn from the Union for the sake of a free passage for their harvests down the Mississippi.

"Repeatedly" was he "presented, without any action on his part, in conventions for nomination for Governor; and, had he given any encouragement to such a proceeding, might have long ago been the Executive of the State. In like manner his name" was "frequently connected with . . . the democratic nomination for the Presidency; but here also he abstained from any effort .... "

He was one of the first Regents of the Smithsonian Institution.  The whole life of Judge Breese was singularly identified "with the origin, development and progress" of the commonwealth in which he cast his lot in boyhood, during a period of sixty years. Without any of the arts of a demagogue, and though sometimes imperious, he was universally held in the highest respect for his vigor and acuteness of mind, his sagacity, and his scholarship even in fields apart from his profession: and no calumny ever tarnished his name. His personal character was marked, especially in his later years, by a dignified gentleness, no less than by power of command. His more personal character was well portrayed by a member of the Illinois Bar who said:

"By nature of social habits, he loved his friends, and while conveying instruction appeared as if he were receiving it. Familiar with the best authors in the English as well as other classics, he drew upon them freely. He loved every kind of rational amusement, such as the drama and poetry, and visited the galleries and museums of art whenever he could avail himself of such opportunities. He was indeed a connoisseur as well as critic in art matters.”

"He cherished no hatreds, and never manifested any malice toward individuals. When -he manifested resentment, it was always toward some person whom he supposed
 guilty of an outrage against justice, sound morals, or the public interest.

"He never paraded his personal griefs in conversation; nor did he complain of  offenses committed against himself Fraud, duplicity, gross breaches of professional
integrity and trust were ever sure to kindle his indignation; and in these cases he was frequently called upon to exercise a prudent control over his temper.

"But such was the charity of that temper ·toward an enemy, or any person he disliked, that he never trusted himself to speak of him except to praise some of his better qualities. And his estimate of the character of such a person would be as calm and dispassionate as if he had been pronouncing a judicial decision between some parties to a record in this court whom he had never seen to know.

He believed in the three cardinal principles of a Christian life: Faith, Hope and Charity; but he believed also that the greatest of these was Charity."

But he was not only a foremost and accomplished actor in great public affairs: his education and tastes fitted and led him to be their historiographer. In a printed memorial of his life, which I have been using freely, reference is made to a "scholarly address spoken in the Hall of the Capitol upon the earl), history of Illinois;" and he left in manuscript  "a very interesting account of the first settlements within the territory now comprised in the limits of the State, containing also a graphic account of the discoveries of Marquette and other bold adventurers of  that period.”26

(Children of Arthur and Catharine (Livingston) Breese Continued.)

  (6.) Susan, born June 20, 1802; who married: first, in 1825, Jacob Stout of New York, son of Jacob above named (pp. 505, 510) by his first wife (consequently half-brother of the first wife of her brother Rear Admiral Breese), by whom she had four children: one of them, Edward, a Captain, U. S. N., married Julia daughter of Commodore Aulick, U. S. N., had two daughters, and was lost at sea; another, Sarah Lansing, became deranged at an early age, and was placed in the Lunatic Asylum at Utica, N. Y., where she still lives. Susan (Breese) Stout married, secondly, in 1841, Rev. Dr. Pierre Alexis Proal, a widower with several children,     Rector of Trinity Church,. Utica, by whom she had two children: one of them, Arthur Breese, survives with a wife and two children. She died in April 1864. "In early life she was distinguished beyond all her ac­quaintances for vivacity of intellect and buoyancy of feeling, and, possessing a high social position and much personal beauty, she was long 'the observed of all observers.'" To her first husband, long an invalid, "she devoted all her youthful energies with the most exemplary assiduity . . . and nothing can speak more conclusively in her praise than that" those who became her step-children by her second marriage "respected her as much as they could have respected an own mother ;"

(7.) Henry Livingston, born Mar. 12, 1804; who died in Boston, Mass., Aug. 2, 1817;

(8.) Arthur, born Dec. 22, 1805; who died in October 1838, un­married;

(9.) Mary Davenport, born Jan. 9, 1808; who married Henry Leonard Davis of Waterford, N. Y., Sept. 13, 1830, by whom she had four sons. three of whom survive; and is still living, a widow since 1880.

By his second wife Ann (Carpender) Breese, Arthur Breese had six children:

(1)  Sarah Ann, born Feb. 13, 1811; who married Hon. Thomas Read Walker of Utica, N. Y., May 19, 1829, by whom she had five children; and died in New York June 28, 1882.

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 25 On the Sands family see Thompson's Hist. of Long Island, ut supra, ii. 463-69. Appendix.  
 26 All the quotations made in this notice of Judge Breese are from Proceedings of the Chicago Bar in Memory of the Hon. Sidney Breese, Judge of the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois. Chicago, 1878.--See, especially, pp. 44-45, 54-55, 62, 76, 80-81, 84, 88, 99.

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