Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

but of a lymphatic temperament. Hence his interest has not been easily aroused, his sympathies awakened, or his enthusiasm kindled. As a natural consequence, his public efforts have been quite unequal in their effect and power. The first half of his speech may be dispassionate, or cold, logical argument, but, if his feelings then warmed to the subject, his action became impressive, his words, animated with intense thought, came with increasing force until they flowed with the resistless power of a tornado. His best efforts, as said, were born of great occasions. He is now living at Grand Rapids, and is about retiring from active public life. The old veteran lawyer and politician, were he inclined to use the pen, could give many valuable and ir.teresting reminiscences of his forensic and political contests during the forty five years of his professional career in Michigan. He is a fully equipped lawyer, strong both before court and jury.

JOHN VAN ARMAN.

John Van Arman came when a youth from the Hudson river country, near Plattsburg, N. Y., to Marshall, Michigan. He had attended, for some time, an academy in his native town. He was of a mixed German and French descent, and inherited the logic of the one nationality with the versatility and enthusiasm of the other. His command of language was copious; his delivery fluent and impassioned and often both persuasive and eloquent. His skill in the use of words was remarkable. He could “drive a substantive and sis” in a style that turned rhetoric into trenchant logic. At the bar and on the rostrum he exhibited alike a wonderful power of irony and withering sarcasm. His bitterness of invective was often unsparingly used in those hand to hand fights with opposing counsel, or toward an obdurate witness at the bar, or a political opponent at the hustings. This severity of expression sometimes detracted from his public efforts. He was fully equipped for a legal or political contest. There was no weapon known in forensic strife, or in political battle, that was lacking in his “repertory of debate.” Adroit, tactful, cool and self poised, a keen and skillful debater, ready for the “occasion sudden,” he was sure to command the eager attention and admiration of his audience. He had almost absolute sway over a popular assembly.

Van Arman seemed to possess the lawyer's art by natural instinct. He evinced that art in a masterly degree in fitting a case for trial. No oue could surpass him in training witnesses for their part in the court room, or in managing them when on the witness stand. And he was equally skillful in handling witnesses on the other side. He sometimes made then more serviceable than his opponent did. He had a skill in cross-examination which few lawyers can rival. It may be doubted whether he had an equal at

the bar in the mystery of cross-examination. It is certain that in what may be called legal diplomacy, in all that pertains to the management of a diffi cult case out of court, on which success in court depends, Van Arman was at the head of his profession. The old habitués of the court room enjoyed Van Arman's conducting a trial as highly as they did a play in the theater. The examination of witnesses is usually the dullest part of the trial to the spectators. But they would “go over to the court room” to hear Van Arman in the examination of witnesses, as well as to hear him "sum up the case.” He was a superb trial lawyer, as he had the love of contest in him. The most valuable attainment of a lawyer is the art of asking questions. Lincoln, like all great lawyers, asked but few questions, but they covered the whole subject under consideration. The world has had but one master of this art-Socrates and although he has left no successor, the legal fraternity has produced the only proficients in this art, or the best we have. And among them Van Arman held a high rank. His impromptu speeches to the court, on some point of evidence, were masterpieces of their kind. And in those close encounters with his opponents he showed his rare powers as a debater. In this arena he was a dextrous Saladin, armed with keen analysis, legal acumen, and ready wit, any one of which he wielded with telling effect. . We said that in “trying cases" he held the crowd like an old player. He did. For, from the time the case was called, to its close, unlike the great player who appears in but few acts of his play, Van Arman appeared in every "act” of his, and in the last scene he gave a grand summing up of the whole performance. Van Arman was not merely a lawyer. If he excelled at the bar, he was just as able and eloquent at the hustings, or on the platform discussing temperance, education, or any of the important questions of the day. He was one of the ablest democratic orators in Michigan. His address at Battle Creek to the volunteers about to go to the Mexican war under him as captain, had the bugle blast of military ardor and eloquence. By the power of his temperance, logic and oratory he twice closed up the liquor saloons in Battle Creek, and he did the same effectual work for the people of Augusta. For many years he has lived in Chicago. He has attained the foremost rank as a criminal lawyer.

In the presidential election of 1856, Buchanan and Breckenridge were the democratic standard bearers, while Fremont and Dayton led the young republican party, in its first effort to win presidential honors.

At a democratic mass meeting in Marshall, in the fall of '56, after Stephen A. Douglas had spoken, John Van Arman was “called out.” And the democrats were proud, on an occasion that had been honored by a speech from the “little giant,” to introduce their favorite orator. Van Arman was equal

to the occasion. He delivered a masterly speech, dealing heavy blows to the
young political “upstart” that had dared "to cross swords " with a foe that
had vanquished older and stronger rivals on many a battle field. It seemed
that the whig element in the young republican party, inspired by the memory
of 1840, had broken out into song again, for the best singers that could be
found in the country were secured, a Fremont glee club was organized and
sung at all their meetings during the campaign. Van Arman in his speech
turned his wit and ridicule against this nondescript party that instead of
arguing its cause before the people was going to sing itself into power. “Ask
them,” says he, " for a declaration of their principles and they will sing-
*The mustang colt has a killing pace,

Du-da-du-da;
He's bound to win in the White House race

Du-da-du-da-day.' “Speak to them of the question at issue before the people and they warble forth

• I'm bound to run all night, . ,
I'm bound to run all day;
I'll bet my money on the bob tail nag,
Will any body bet on the gray ?

Du-da-du-da-day.' “ Thus," said he, “I have quoted from this favorite republican campaign song to illustrate the new party's principles and argument, the pith and burden of which is simply, Du-da-du-da-day." His sallies of wit and ridicule in thus “taking off” the republicans shook the sides of the little giant with laughter.

I remember that, one evening during this campaign, after hearing Conrad Eberstein deliver a rousing republican speech to a large gathering in the old M. E. church in Battle Creek, I, with a number of republicans, went over to Wakelee's hall to hear John Van Arman, who spoke at a later hour. He had got fairly started as we took seats among his eager listeners. And as we did 80, we became at once interested in every word that he uttered. In fact, from that moment he held us the most delighted of listeners during his entire speech, while at its close, and at times during the speech, we found ourselves applauding him with all the admiration of democrats. We were democrats as far as the power of his oratory over us was concerned; he held us captive just as he did them, till his speech was delivered, and then it set us free. Such was the magic power of his oratory. This was in Van Arman's best days, before that severity of manner and language set in, which has, at times, 80 much detracted from some of his later public efforts.

An incident of his practice over forty years ago has been related as follows:

“A stranger paced back and forth on the platform at the Union depot yesterlay afternoon. It was Col. John Van Arman, the well known lawyer of Chicago, and a representative of the Telegram-Herald walked up and greeted him. “Colonel,' asked the reporter, 'how about that poisoned cake you are alleged to have eaten once upon a time in Michigan in order to convince a jury that your client was not a poisoner?'

“The great criminal lawyer laughed. “That story has always been mixed up, and I'll tell you the real facts of the case for the first time. It was in 1842. I was then twenty two years old, and had been admitted to the bar two years, and was in partnership with Attorney Brown at Marshall, Mich. A woman had been indicted at Hillsdale for poisoning her husband. He lived more than a year after the poisoning, and of course she could not be indicted for murder; yet giving poison was a penitentiary offense—amounting to a life sentence then—and I was engaged to defend her. The woman's husband was a witness against her, although he died soon after the trial.

“Chemists in those days were few, and the prosecution subpoenaed the only one within a radius of 300 miles. It was proven on the trial that the husband had eaten a cake in which arsenic had been put, and he testified that one grain was a fatal dose.

“Well I took the chemist, judge and jury to a bakery and had the baker mix a cake in their presence and put in two grains of arsenic and bake the cake while they looked on. When done it was brought to the court by the judge.

"I began by saying that the celebrated chemist had sworn that one grain of arsenic would produce death. In this cake were two grains, a fact which judge, jury and chemist acknowledged. I thereupon ate the cake, after which I began my address to the jury and spoke for three hours, at the end of which time I drew their attention to the fact that I was not dead yet and demanded the acquittal of my client, which the jury did without leaving their seats.'

“Llow did you account for your escape?' asked the reporter.

“Oh!' laughed the jolly Colonel, ‘at that time I was used to eating from six to seven grains of arsenic without feeling the worse for it.'

“The case was a celebrated oue in Michigan and as yet remembered by old settler3, pırticularly in and about Hillsdale county, and it was the making of Col. Van Arman.”

Van Arman was an honest lawyer; let the following vouch for it:

Charles Lay, now of Chicago, was justice of the peace in LeRoy, Calhoun county, when, in 1843, John Kewney, of Battle Creek, was tried befor him for the crime of burning the barn of William Wilson. His brother-in-law, Van Arman, was Wilson's counsel. During the trial Justice Lay, after listening' to the discussion of a point of law by the lawyers, for an hour or more, and still being so fogged that he could not come to a clear decision on the point, finally called Van Arman aside and asked him which one was right on the question. Van Arman* replied, “My opponent is right, and I am wrong." “This convinced me,” says Justice Lay, “that Van Arman was an honest lawyer; he was so to me at any rate.”

We give a little incident to show how the justice got out of an unpleasant "fix' during this trial. Mr. Lay, having no blanks, had written out the warrant for Kewney's arrest, from memory, and had failed to put in the first sentence: “To any sheriff or constable in the county, etc." While the lawyers were discussing the defect in the warrant, he was writing a new one, which, when finished, he gave to Ira Case, the constable, with instructions as to its use. And when the lawyers had finished their wrangle over the defective warrant, he formally discharged Kewney from the suit. The latter, overjoyed at his supposed release from the trial, was leaving the room when constable Case re-arrested him. He was then tried, the suit lasted nearly a week, found guilty and bound over for final trial in the circuit court at Marshall, where through Van Arman's able inanagement he was convicted, and sentenced to five years in the state prison. He was not long there, for, while out of prison one day, with a squad of convicts, quarrying stone, he escaped from the officer in charge and was never re-arrested. It was afterwards learned that he went to Mishawaka, where he died a number of years ago.

I give the following incident which led to one of the most remarkable trials in central Michigan. While Mr. Chas. Lay, in 1841 or 1842, was building a barn for Mr. Bishop, brother-in-law of Ephraim Harrison, he boarded with the latter a part of the time. This was in South Climax. Harrison, knowing that Lay was fond of reading, said to him: “You will find a lot of newspapers in that trunk which will afford you all the reading you want.” One day while he was searching for new reading matter among the papers, he discovered that the bottom of the trunk was covered with silver dollars—bogus dollars, that had been struck off, but had not yet been milled. He quietly slipped two into his pocket and, putting the papers back in the trunk, closed it and went to his work. The next day he consulted Daniel B. Eldred of Climax. The result was that constable Ira Case was soon equipped with the proper papers, and sgarch was made on Harrison's premises, which led to the discovery of all the tools and implements for making bogus money. And to the astonishment of the people in central Michigan, John Gove Bean, deputy sheriff of Calhoun county, a well known and highly respected citizen of Marshall, was arrested as the head of this gang of counterfeiters. He was

*After the trial Van Arman said to Justice Lay, “When we lawyers "fog up" a point of law, and you can't see your way clear, just cling to the common sense of the case and you'll come out right."

« ZurückWeiter »