|←The Iowa Historical Record||Austin Adams (1891)
|The Iowa Historical Record, Volume 7 (Issue 2, April 1891). Mary Newbury Adams was the wife of Austin Adams.Published in|
[ 49 ]The citizens of the Eastern states, during the last century, inherited their environment; those of the Western states chose and formed theirs, as did the emigrants to New England two hundred years ago. The lives of men coming to Iowa show how that has been done in this state.
Seemingly Austin Adams had everything to attract him to the East, particularly to Boston, and when he left the Harvard Law School to come west, his friends prophesied an early return, believing him unfitted, both by taste and culture, for any settlement beyond the Atlantic states. Later in life when he analyzed the motives for his change, he said: "I wanted more liberty, a society with more variety than I had ever seen in the East." He always disliked to be in a valley, or in a small room, or to have a confined view; he wanted a far horizon.
The evening he reached Dubuque and saw the sun set on the hills of Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, and the great river linking the far North with the South, saw the possibilities of this great country, he felt that here was to be his life work. No enticement in the form of money or position could ever call him away from that decision.
[ 50 ]His ancestors in Essex county, England, who lived high up on the hills of Chums River, were a quiet, strong, restrained, self-directing people. They were not in the path of armies or battles, they were away from religious disputes. From this sturdy stock came Henry Adams and his wife, who, with their family of eight sons and one daughter emigrated to America in 1632, and settled in Braintree, now Quincy, Mass. The son Joseph remained in Braintree, and from him descended Gov. Samuel Adams and President John Adams. Samuel and Thomas removed to Concord, Mass., then in 1654 to Chelmsford, N. H., and from Samuel Adams, through three intervening generations descended Jonas Adams, born in 1758, the grandfather of the subject of this biography. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and married Phoebe Hoar, in New Ipswich, N. H. She was a daughter of Benjamin Hoar and Anna Brooks of Concord, Mass. During the first years of their married life, the hardships on the frontier after the war, did much to make the strong character of their children. Two of the sons were Captain Jerry Adams, and Alvin Adams, the founder of the Adams Express Company. Captain Jerry Adams was in the war of 1812. He was a well-to-do farmer, clerk of the school district for many years, and represented his town twice in the legislature; "a man of great integrity and good sense, and had the respect of every one." In 1816 he married Dorcas Austin, daughter of David Austin and Lydia Barker. Their fifth child and oldest son was Austin Adams, born May 24th, 1826, in Andover, Vt.,—"a village, where humanity seemed to borrow the grave, enduring, reticent, and solid qualities that belong to the rocks and hills, which stand in everlasting stillness and strength, ensamples and illustrations of Nature's sternest and most steadfast moods."
His boyhood was spent on the Vermont Hill farm, with an outlook to the illumined east; with a trout brook in a deep glen, with woods near, a maple grove for making sugar, a fruit orchard under his window, melodious with birds; he had [ 51 ]the quiet of the high rocky pasture with the glories of the sky overhead, and views of distant farms for the imagination to play upon—the winding road over far hills to Boston, to the market, and to the world beyond; this situation during the summer, with the district school in winter where in early childhood he listened to older scholars reciting, and learned how his small knowledge was the beginning of a wider outlook—all this gave him a close relationship to Nature with desire for culture. Here his talents were quickened and his ambition for life directed. In the ungraded country school the history, geography and astronomy of the older pupils awakened the young active minds in the primary classes, before they were drilled and confined by their own studies, and took the place to them of travel and lectures. The school had a kind of family life.
In referring to it in later years Judge Adams wrote: "Some of the pleasantest remembrances which I have of the school are those connected with older pupils, the young men and women. They not only assisted me in my studies, but their presence and example afforded me inspiration." The association of the young with superior people he considered most important. At Dartmouth his friendship with Professors Haddock and Samuel Brown he valued above his study of Latin and Greek, for they introduced him to ancient classic culture and were themselves notable examples of its benefits. His walks and talks with them were among his most cherished recollections. It was this experience in the country school and academy life, compared with Dartmouth College years that made Judge Adams such an earnest advocate of co-education in later years.
Facilities for lighting then were poor. Tallow dips, whale oil lamps, and the light from the great fireplace, loaded with logs, were all they had. He had a high-back chair with a hanging candlestick on the right-hand post. The poor light, with small print of the Greek dictionaries, injured his eyesight, which necessitated the use of spectacles at an early age. The [ 52 ]physical inability to see distinctly increased an introspective state of mind and somewhat blunted the observing powers which he himself regretted.
His grand parents secured the school and church on a corner of their farm in 1794. Some of the people came many miles to church, which was not heated even in winter. Between the services the men walked about outside, talking over their affairs, and the women and children crowded into the parsonage, and into their house near by, thus giving them a kind of Sunday party. The noon hour brought care to the Adams household, but the compensating advantages of society. Of the preaching in this church Judge Adams retained only sad and bitter memories. He heard only dogmatic and terrorizing theology. His parents said little about it, but it succeeded in destroying much of the happiness of his childhood. Of the district school he says: "My remembrance of it and what transpired there is pleasant." There was a lyceum where the members took part, even the deserving youngest in some way. Talent was recognized and encouraged. His mother had a low box for him to speak pieces on at four years of age. Each family expected that at least one child should have a college education. The winter he was eight years old his uncle, Franklin Austin, taught and gave him an idea of the unity of knowledge, how geography helped history, mathematics astronomy, how all sciences aided each other. This gave him an enthusiasm for all knowledge, which in after life he saw was a light that many lacked, who in childhood had not had teachers with philosophic and poetic application of generalization.
While Austin Adams' tastes led him to books, his intimate friends were the strong, free-hearted boys who owned cattle and were out-of-door men. He liked fearless, go-ahead people. During his academy life he was considered an excellent wrestler. He could throw those twice his weight. His strength of muscle and cord he attributed to his strong ancestors and his summer work on the farm with scythe, pitchfork [ 53 ]and axe. While preparing for college he taught school in winter and worked on the farm in summer. When he was fourteen he went to Ludlow Academy and afterwards to another academy at Townsend, Vt., where his teacher, Prof. Bunnell, took great pains with his rhetoric, and instructed him in the permanent pleasures of literature. Here they had an Arbor Day. He planted a tree which was named for him in the public park, the reminiscences of which were so pleasant that when in 1886 the Dubuque High School celebrated Arbor Day, he marched with the pupils from school to park, where they planted memorial trees. He thought the public schools were made democratic and educational for the citizens at times to participate with the scholars in exercises, and thus parents and children, the officers of the state and fine society be united in pleasant social and educational associations. When sixteen he taught school where several of the pupils were older than himself. His government was never one of physical force. In one case of insubordination when the pupils were indirectly enlisted with the delinquents, he converted the school into a court and had the subject discussed; whether it was wise to misplace play and destroy advantages for education that were being enjoyed at high prices, and whether the few were justified in destroying for the sake of pleasure the right of the many. In after years the pupils told him that this court was invaluable. It awoke in them a sense of their responsibility to those who sent them. They learned of their rights as individuals in society, and that the good of the greatest number, not the pleasure of the few, was to be sought. After they fully understood the philosophy of the situation they began to work out their own salvation, and he had no further trouble.
After graduation from Dartmouth College, in 1848, he pursued his legal studies during the five years he was principal of an academy at West Randolph, Vt. Here his pupils, many of them preparing for college, others for teaching, were the means of his perfecting his classical studies and training in [ 54 ]him a serene patience. He always had a characteristic courtesy of manner, arising from respect for another's thought, and hearty sympathy with the aspiring and ambitious students.
In 1853 he attended for a short time Harvard Law School, and returned to Woodstock, Vt., where he was admitted to practice law January, 1854. He was examined by Hon. Jacob Collamer, before that time Postmaster General, and formed a partnership with Ex-Governor Coolidge, but soon felt that his work lay in the northwest. He settled in Dubuque, July, 1854. Many parents here urged his opening an academy, as there were no advantages for youth in the higher branches of education. He taught six months with Miss Mary Mann, sister of Horace Mann. In 1855 he became a member of the law firm of Cooley, Blatchley & Adams, but during this year was also active with Rev. Samuel Newbury in holding Teachers' Institutes, working for the establishment of the public school system in Iowa. The history of Dubuque county says: "There was much apathy in regard to education until 1855, from this time a new spirit was infused into the community and the cause of public education was greatly promoted."
He entered heartily as a citizen into the campaign of Fremont in 1856. He was then a member of the law firm of Lovell, Adams & Lovell, Virginia gentlemen. So situated he could see the coming conflict. In one address in 1856, he says: "If the day has come that John C. Fremont or any other man in the country cannot be elected president without that election destroying the government then we have no republican government to-day." Again he says: "This great battle for human rights and human liberty, the presidential campaign of '56, is fast drawing to a close. It will now become a part of the history of the country; committed to the eternal memory of letters." He then pictures the evil that will come from the election of Buchanan, and adds—"but we will place our protest in the record of the history of these days of infamy and political corruption, there shall stand also recorded the immor[ 55 ]tal principles that this day have been enunciated. Whatever shall be the result of this election the result of this campaign shall be glorious, for it has perfected the organization of a party that has more vitality to-day than all other parties combined."
In a political address he said: "It did not seem possible that in two years a political party in this country should acquire such marvelous strength; but it is not strange, for though this particular organization is new, yet our principles are old." * * * "We stick by the old precedents and the old landmarks not only because they are right and just and proper, but because they are the old precedents and landmarks, whose age is the best evidence in the world of their constitutionality." Austin Adams was a conservative in his habits and methods, but his thought was radical. It was based on the nature of the human soul, and principles underlying social formation and observations on real life about him. Social forms and governmental laws were to be honored if old. "They must have served some use in the training and educating into social order and aided right living, and must not readily, easily, nor by individuals be set aside."
He helped to organize a Young Men's Christian Association in Dubuque in 1857. The year before he delivered an address on "The Study of the Bible as Aiding People to Constitutional Liberty." For three years he had a Bible class of mature persons, while a member and a trustee of the Congregational church, and for two years in the Universalist church. One year he had evenings devoted to the study of physical science in the Young Men's Christian Association. He had the subject of geology, and "unrolled the gospel of the storied world to the youth gathered there."
He wrote: "All science may be regarded as sacred. It reveals the creative energy through which God expresses himself. Dreamy contemplation not founded upon knowledge can not attain to Him. We can not reach Him immediately in his absoluteness, we can only know Him as expressed in actual creation."
[ 56 ]During the winter of '54 and '55 he lectured three times to gain a fund for the nucleus of a public library. The books, bought with the money, were kept in his office, and he with his partner, Mr. Blatchley, kept the record of books taken and returned for two years. In 1861 he lectured for the library on "Four Epochs of Great Men." The paper reported it as "a most finished literary production, rich with information, the effort of a cultivated intellect." Three reading classes were the fruit from the discussion it caused.
In May, 1861, there was received by the Young Men's Christian Association in Dubuque, a circular from the Young Men's Christian Association of Richmond, Va., trying to influence "in connection with the Confederacy of the Young Men's Christian Associations" the members and induce northern organizations "as Christians to let them depart in peace" with their plunder of public property. They said their members with their ministry were largely represented in the ranks of their army, etc., etc. Austin Adams, then secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association, sent to them a spirited reply, admirably fitted to the time and the forming of opinion. It was full of statistics and a great deal that tended to open their eyes and inform their understanding. It was very widely copied and particularly valued by Horace Greeley.
On the 8th of September, 1857, Austin Adams was married in Dubuque to Mary K. Newbury, second daughter of the Rev. Samuel and Mrs. Mary Sergeant Newbury. In their home life their aim was, to have some inspiring thought woven into the duties of each day. They recognized that "the ornaments of a house are the friends who frequent it." Their hospitality brought to their home many choice inspiring people. He was fond of the best society and the meeting with congenial friends his delight. His hospitality to another's thought and the tact with which he would aid one to speak better than they realized that they knew, made him sought for as a friend by those who knew more than they could adequately express. Reverent to mind, with admiration for vitality and hope, he aided and encouraged effort and thought.
[ 57 ]Their children were Annabel,—Mrs. O. S. Goan,-—Eugene, Herbert and Cecilia. He joined with them in their pleasures and aided and encouraged them in industry and tasks—his sunny disposition and exquisite imagination being a great inspiration as well as help. He wrote in an article on Kindergartens: "We cannot make children perfect, but we can place before them such visions that they will be greatly stimulated in working out their own salvation." Purity and sweetness of character shone conspicuously in his home life—his children feeling a greater freedom with him than with their mates. He guided by reason in government, but used no force to compel obedience, allowing each to reap the error of wrong doing.
He wrote: "When a boy I would go any distance to hear an eloquent address. If there was a law suit in the town I was never easy until I found out all about it. Long before I attended a trial, I remember a suit brought for fraud in the sale of a horse." "The law had a perfect fascination for me before I was ten years old, and I think before I ever saw a lawyer or a court."
He frequented the Court House at Woodstock, and delighted in hearing the best legal talent in Vermont. Some of the men kindly remembered the boy after he became a man. His knowledge of motives and his love of justice often led some to think that his protection of the seeming guilty was sentimentality, when it was a deeper and farther sight, than the letter of the law permitted. After a difficult case where he felt the written law hardly gave justice, yet the law not quite flexible enough even to be right, he wrote "Loaded Dice," one verse of which was:
"Could but one search with deeper eyes
His early intuitions and observations of human characters were transformed into settled principles of feeling and action [ 58 ]in his mature years. He greatly lamented the well-meant but unauthorized attempts to subject principles of law to some imagined expediency. Courts he knew had no right to set aside laws upon their own motives of propriety, if they are constitutional, neither could they decide what was not constitutional to be a law. Every unconstitutional law which is made to stand, creates a permanent and mischievous evil by overturning the only safe-guards which we possess against public usurpation. He felt that the courts must prevent the ignorant and impetuous from destroying the stability of the very system that gave ability to advance with safety.
He had that strength of will, courage of conviction, that bore him through many a grave crisis when called to perform a duty imposed on him by the law, but repugnant to his feelings and his wishes. However slow and reluctant he might have reached an opinion, when finally convinced he adhered to his conclusion with great tenacity. He had firmness with his gentle moderation. His natural judicial mind and his pleasure in exact writing made his life after his election to the Supreme bench pleasant and regular.
During the war, 1864, he devoted three months at one time as the secretary of the Sanitary Fair, to raise money for the hospital. He was very active speaking in the two campaigns of Lincoln. He attended the discussion at Galena between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, and came home remarking: "I have heard the greatest man I ever listened to. He ought to be our next president." With such faith his work was con amore.
In 1865 he was elected president of the Board of Education in Dubuque. From that time he gave to the schools and teachers much of his time, strength and learning. His brother-in-law, Hon. P. Robb, followed him as president.
In December, 1865, he, with ten gentlemen, formed a literary club, called "The Round Table." They hired a room, furnished it, and had a large round table in the centre with room to accommodate fifteen. When Wendell Phillips and [ 59 ]R. W. Emerson were in the city, and visited it, they were much pleased and carried back to Boston complimentary accounts of their "find in the West." Austin Adams was president of this club till it disbanded when he went on the bench in 1876. Some of his subjects for conversation were "Sir Walter Scott,—The Real and the Ideal," "Alexander Von Humboldt,—The Natural History and Distribution of Plants," "Henry the VIII—Origin of the Church of England," "Julius Cæsar—The Foundation of Roman Imperialism," "Plato—The Development of the Ideal Theory in Philosophy," "Joseph Story—English and American Jurisprudence Contrasted," "Hugo Grotius—The Ethical Relations of Nations," etc., etc.
When elected to the Supreme Court of Iowa, 1875, he went from the firm of Adams, Robison & Lacy. In 1881 he was re-elected. After retiring from the Supreme bench, in 1887, he formed a partnership with County Attorney Alphons Matthews, and continued in that relation up to the time of his death.
In 1867 he delivered an address before the literary society of Lombard University, Galesburg, Ill., and later the same year at Iowa College, at Grinnell, on "Classical Learning as an Element of Modern Scholarship." He thought the practical materialistic tendencies of a democracy were corrected by the disciplinary effect of classical studies and culture of the imagination. He closed by picturing the great apostle of American democracy, the sage of Monticello, devoting his last energies, having secured the freedom of individuals, to the endowment of the study of the ancients in Virginia's University, and while people honor "the political principles of Jefferson let them not forget the connection which he thought he saw between the full fruition of democratic ideas and the liberality and culture which result from an acquaintance with the art and literature of the polished nations of antiquity." "'Tis far in the depths of history the voice that speaketh clear."
Among his papers were found, after his death, notes pre[ 60 ]paring a lecture on "Poetry as Adapted to the Mental Needs of the Laboring Man." His idea for reformation was, more means for legitimate pleasure: increase the capacity of mind to observe and enjoy the beauty about you. The liberalizing and refining influence of Walter Scott's novels and poems, and Robert Burns' was a favorite theme.
He never liked to hear tragic or terrorizing tales. He always dwelt on the sunnier phase of life; sought out what led to happiness, especially the power to rise above trouble and unfortunate circumstances. His "Stoic's Dream" is one of his most characteristic poems. It is difficult to conceive of any combination of circumstances in which he himself could have been placed where he would not have found a few rays of hope and some crumbs of comfort and consolation. He had his full share of trials but he never dwelt upon them. His recreation from the drudgery of courts was in the delights of best literature. He read with discrimination, and just what he wanted, then stopped and reflected. "Don't load the mind with what it is not interested in or needs in life." He seldom read all of one book, but had the keen scent to know where choice parts were. Writing was a rest rather than an effort. The sentences were held in mind perfectly as he wished to write them before he took his pen. His lucid and easy style came from the fact that he always knew what the distinct idea was he had to communicate. His prose pieces were not essays but statements of an idea. His poems were to express more briefly than even his short prose pieces what he wished to say. They were written for occasions, for children, or friends. He revised and prepared nothing for publication but the opinions to be found in the bound volumes of Iowa Reports from 1875 to 1887. On those he expended a great deal of strength and careful thought in regard to the precedent which they established.
In 1862 and 1863 he, with a friend, met once a week to practice and drill the mind and enlarge the fund of knowledge. Each would speak on a subject of his own selection, for [ 61 ]fifteen minutes, standing, without notes, or without having before written or committed anything to memory, but with the subject arranged in the mind and what they were to speak on. This was to train the mind in memory and to exactness in thought, to hold the matter in sequence, directed by the will. It increased the fund of knowledge and enlarged his outlook into literature. The subjects were reviews of books and sometimes physical science, which he did not naturally enjoy, only so far as it illustrated metaphysical truths, and he felt the need of a special study of exact material facts. This method he thought an admirable one, and regretted he had not had it when he was less busy and in early life. He heartily recommended it to youth of both sexes as a drill to gain possession of the powers of the mind, and to happiness by subjecting the mind to the will.
Prof. Alfred Stebbins writes of his extemporaneous remarks at this time after this practice. "I recall with great pleasure an address made by Judge Adams before my pupils and teachers in 1862, while I was in charge of the Third Ward and High School of Dubuque. I had not before met him, and I was much impressed with his scholarly appearance, and his benevolent and warm interest in young people and their development. His address was carefully prepared, classical in diction, and profound in insight. It was not only logical but was interpenetrated with warmth, and was listened to with undivided attention by both pupils and teachers. I myself and all present were uplifted and stimulated in the work of education. Judge Adams through his various addresses and personal contact with educators has left an unbounded impress upon the mind and character of this generation, and has been a great force in the evolution of the time."
August 6th, 1879, Judge Adams assisted at the opening of the Lake Park Assembly at Lake Minnetonka. He said, * * * "This spot, where lately the red man lighted his camp-fire, we have come to consecrate with prayer, song and oratory; to consecrate to social enjoyment, to rest and recrea[ 62 ]tion from the overwork and strain incident to our advanced civilization; to consecrate to aesthetics, for to its natural beauty are added those of cultivated landscape and architecture. We have to consecrate it to the study of science and literature. We have come to consecrate it to the graces of manner which courts and cities can not monopolize, but which spring up as well in the country and in the wildwood. We have come to consecrate it to the graces of the mind, and finally to the graces of life and spirit, found only in religion."
In August, 1883, Dartmouth College conferred on him the degree of LL. D.
In 1868 The Ladies Literary Society of Iowa College asked a lady who had graduated from Troy Female Seminary in 1857 to address them at their commencement, When the trustees found it out one of them, a congregational minister, told the husband of the lady that they had "had the matter under advisement, and were not yet prepared to allow a woman to occupy the college platform at commencement, but that the invitation was not recalled on personal grounds." Judge Adams took the matter into the newspapers for discussion, as he had addressed the gentlemen's literary society the year before. He wrote July, 1868, "the fact is that no person can be allowed to deliver a literary address before a literary society of young ladies in Iowa College unless such person is of the male gender. Such is the unanimous and magnanimous decision of the faculty. If I mistake not this is a decision that the friends of woman's education, in Iowa, will take notice of. Two years ago the writer attended the commencement of Iowa College. The commencement exercises were listened to by an audience two-thirds of which were ladies. The ladies who read essays from the college platform, were equal in number to the gentlemen who spoke from the same place, and were superior in ability by common consent. As I saw one lady after another step upon the platform and gracefully read a well-written essay, I thought it was the handsomest and most ladylike thing that a lady could do. These [ 63 ]young women had gone through a full course of study and exhibited a maturity of scholarship that was exceedingly gratifying. Nor was it much less gratifying to observe that while they had been absorbed for years in the most exacting studies they had not overlooked the latest fashions and had abated nothing in their good taste in dress. It was easy to predict for them a happy future. Many, it might be presumed, would become the wives of intellectual men, would be surrounded by books, and move in intellectual society. Suppose that ten years later the most accomplished lady of them all should be invited back with her ripened scholarship and higher culture to stand again on the same old platform and read an essay not of ten minutes, but of forty minutes length, the fruit of her advanced studies and deeper experiences, why should the faculty say, 'we are of one opinion about the unadvisability of getting woman orators here?'"
Judge Adams was an earnest advocate of the benefit which women would acquire from the study of the law, and the good to society to have women, particularly teachers and mothers, trained and informed by familiarity with the principle and methods adopted to secure justice and peace in the community and state. He always welcomed them to the lecture room when lecturer at the Iowa State University, and was the first chief justice to admit a woman to practice in the Supreme Court of Iowa, and often praised the manner in which she tried a case, at the time she was admitted.
In June, 1886, as chief justice, he presided at the ceremonies of the opening of the new Iowa Supreme Court rooms. His remarks were followed by Judge George G. Wright, Hon. T. S. Parvin, Judge C. C. Cole, John M. Baldwin, Esq., Judge Beck and Hon. Samuel F. Miller, of the United States Supreme Court.
In the memorial exercises for General Grant held in the Public Park, in Dubuque, Judge Adams delivered the eulogy. Several years before when General Grant returned to Galena with his honors from the war and as president of the United [ 64 ]States, Judge Adams was one of the principal speakers. The General expressed to him very warm words of praise on that occasion.
A pupil says of him: "In teaching, his efforts were directed toward training the faculties, disciplining the memory, sharpening the perception, and enlarging the understanding. He would first draw the student out, find where his difficulty lay, and assist him in that particular place. His endeavor was to assist him in securing a distinct, sharply-defined idea of what he had under consideration. In all study he urged having the leading thought not blurred by unessentials: in philosophy the pupil was kept from floating off and dissolving into mysticism by being required to state in exact definite language his understanding of the subject. He studied history by epochs, becoming interested through historical novels, drama, painting, contemporaneous history, the religion, then the politics growing from these elemental forces. The facts learned had a vital relation with each other, one felt they had a picture of that time. In the law school the students called him 'the intensely practical lawyer.' He crystallized a thought by an illustration and laid stress on the application of the principles of law quite as much as on the knowledge of them. This was one of the reasons probably for his great admiration of the Irish: their ability to find the important points in a subject and present them curtly, clearly, and their ability to apply directly to the point what they knew of the work in hand. He also admired their good heartedness and genial dispositions; their songs were his favorites."
One of Judge Adams' leading characteristics was an unusual charitableness to the opinion of others. He could understand the reason for differing beliefs; what were the conditions or state of mind that led to them, and consequently was not harsh in his judgments. He had the faculty of putting himself in another's place and seeing through their eyes, judging from their standpoint and realizing their peculiar difficulties. For [ 65 ]this reason his kindness and forbearance with people's faults were the results of a comprehension of the situation; for this reason he was a good educator. He sympathized with the best that was in one, and thus developed it. He had a cherishing care for budding ideas, which brought them to maturity, and an unlimited faith in your undeveloped resources, that acted like sunshine on your capabilities. His appreciation was most stimulating. While with him you unconsciously grew toward the ideal he had of you. He often seemed to see people quite as much in what they might be as in what they were. A struggling intellect or a striving soul had a peculiar charm for him, for the very reason that it needed assistance. This gave him great enjoyment of the young.
When he was but ten years old his father, when returning from the Legislature, brought his son Watts' "On the Improvement of the Mind;" again, "The New England School Boy;" and his mother later gave him Pope's "Essay on Man." The latter he committed to memory. These books directed his life. Here in the quiet of the Green Mountains he learned of the dignity of life and the worth of the human mind. The event looked forward to by this boy was not the circus but the meeting of Court, seeing the austere men of law adjust society to peace and progress. The instincts of his childhood and his enlightened reason led him to the faith that authority must be divinity, that the human mind must be divine else collected ballots are not authoritative. His whole life was permeated with this faith. He was not a reformer but a meliorator.
He wrote: "Social science in its ideal result will bring every individual to perfection through social effort." To him the various organizations were associations for the betterment of society: these efforts were inspired by religious feeling, but reason directed aims and methods. Among the important factors in society he ranked a well-organized family that had wisdom in the daily conduct of life.
One who knew him intimately writes: "To me his religion [ 66 ]was the most valuable part of the man. It was the main spring of his life. The knowledge of what he really was and believed would have a most beneficial influence. He was the most religious person I ever knew. It would not give a true picture of him that did not show that side of him adequately."
Austin Adams' definition of religion was: "The conscious effort of the finite to realize the Infinite." It was the rebinding of the individual will to what was true and good: the motive force of life. In a circular written in 1871 to aid in forming a society free from sects, but religious, he wrote: "Believing in all that is good in the different forms of religion, but regretting the restrictions that are imposed upon it by limiting it to times and places, and historic names," etc. * * "This society's essential idea should be not antagonism to existing institutions, but the promotion of Absolute Religion, which pervades all the sects, and which is more diffusive than the air we breathe, and older and more modern than the sun. We believe that God is not revealed by the imaginations of men, but in the truths of history, and of the physical and moral world. We are therefore reverently seeking such truth, believing that as we find it we shall find God and that as we find Him He will command our unfeigned worship and love." He could harmonize with Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile or Buddhist, any who had a definite spiritual faith, but with the irreverent, those incapable of perceiving the spirit animating humanity and had no faith in God or man, he found little in common. His philosophy and religion were part of the warp and woof of his life, and were exemplified in every act, but as was characteristic of him, he said very little about it, but insisted on the sacrifice of personal appetite, desire and taste if such came in conflict with the good of society. His rule was: "So act that the immediate motive of thy will can be the motive of every intelligent being," Kant's statement of the basis of morality. The motives which guided him could be the motives of the humblest, poorest man—a rational life [ 67 ]with cheap living. In his home and society his efforts were put forth to secure a suitable environment for such moral happy life, free from fanaticism and ignorant superstition, that would enable one to enter the eternal life of thought and aspiration with energy while in the body. All inventions, travels for knowledge, and efforts of the human mind, interested him, that led to the inheritance, through appreciation, of the earth and its law, order and beauty. To-day was sacred time. His interest in scientific and metaphysical researches, his desire to multiply advantages for culture and to stimulate ambition in progress grew from his earnest religious faith. It was the meeting reverently with minds that gave him power to quicken and inspire them with spirit, which is the testimony of many noble men and women who were his scholars—now scattered from ocean to ocean, from Florida to Oregon. They agree in their testimony that he made life seem worth living, and an integral part of the higher life. He was not one who thought liberality meant indifference to religious belief, but that one should have a definite faith that they could believe and live up to. His love for law shaped his life into methods ethical for the state. Individuals were aided to best life by calling out their highest qualities, and to self-directing action. That liberating of the mind that comes from scholarship and free inquiry, that knowing the right know how to make it prevail.
He stood with reverence before the minds of the students in the law school. He looked upon them as forces working for the salvation of society through the correct administration of law. When asked why he did not compel a certain course and certain things he answered: "The principles are their authority, not I. I strive to have them see how these have been incorporated in these laws."
In 1863 he delivered a Fourth of July address at Manchester, Iowa, and in 1870, July 4th, at Waterloo.
In 1869, when Dubuque very generally celebrated the centennial of Alexander Von Humboldt, he delivered an address.
In 1872 to his exertions was due somewhat the success of [ 68 ]the meeting of the National Scientific Association. Not as a scientist but through correspondence, by the work of weeks spent in preparing arrangements for entertaining the many learned guests in the small city, and in securing churches to hold the meetings. He was peculiarly happy in after-dinner speeches requiring humor, geniality, simplicity with fitness to persons and place. His brevity with lucidity of thought, made his remarks effective and impressive.
Some thoughts as written by Judge Adams in 1869, are here copied to afford an insight to his religious belief:
"That we are moral and responsible beings is attested by our consciousness. If the divine spirit becomes operative in our spirit it is only through a subjective union resulting in a higher freedom. This idea is recognized in the invocation of the poet,
'Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove
We sometimes come in contact with a person of so exalted a nature that the noblest impulses of our hearts are quickened and virtue and duty acquire a new attractiveness. We find ourselves elevated to a higher moral plane. We become capable of better thoughts and better deeds. For the time, and perhaps evermore, we live a truer, nobler and freer life. Yet the inspiration thus received involves the will, and it is because we voluntarily choose the higher life that the inspiration is of any value to us. The world is full of these precious influences and how carefully and sacredly we garner and cherish them. How we call into requisition the canvas, the marble, and the granite. How patiently the muse of history broods over the high places of the earth to commit to her immortal page the record of all great thoughts and deeds. And then comes the muse of poetry and over the cold, bold peaks of history throws the bright hues of her imagination. So year by year the world grows richer in all that can elevate, inspire and ennoble. And the world is and evermore shall be elevated, inspired and ennobled. This is our faith. This is our [ 69 ]religion. No one shall set limits to this blessed progression. It is from its very nature illimitable. Now however potent may be the influences in the future, that shall take up each successive generation to a higher and higher plane, who will say that anything of restraint is thereby imposed upon man's moral freedom? And in that other future, where no circling planets measure the revolving years, nor generations come nor go, but where the individual survives the race, who shall presume to estimate the inborn possibilities of the immortal spirit, or explain its laws, as it shall be ever unfolding in that world of life and love?"
During the last year of his life he was greatly interested in what he called the "vitality of mankind," that expressed itself in "Blue Grass Palaces," "Corn Palaces," "Summer Schools," etc. He compared the immense advantages people had now for meeting and exercising their ability and faculties with the first quarter of the century. Newspapers and books had not then introduced to households and harvest festivals the discussions of politics and affairs of state and society. Here in the quiet room, but with wide view, the world of nature became more than ever an interest to him, and many things gave him keen delight which he had never before had leisure to look at so closely, harmonies of color and form, the wonders of natural history, the structure of a bird's feather—the beautiful and true shown in the world of inanimate nature as well as in the world of intellect and thought. This year he more than once said, was the happiest of his life, sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust in the order and law of the universe. He did not do any business after January, nor go to ride after March, nor leave his room after May, but the powers of his mind were unabated in energy—there was a peace, a serenity and delight in the best literature, and he was able to listen to reading five and six hours a day. The leaves and flowers of the autumn garden were brought into his room, affording pleasure and peace. His family were about him in the evening when he seemed more comfortable,—but the life was closed at four in the morning, 17th of October, 1890.
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"While down the ranges of the east
the long silence came.
"When frail Nature can no more
A man gentle and bending as a steel spring, but not as a willow. He controlled high spirit and active desires which gave dignity in bearing, and to his language force, sharply directed, but restrained to the end sought, refined but strong. No untoward action ever marred the harmony of his character, no coarse or unseemly expression ever escaped his lips. He was sometimes indignant but never despairing. Regular and temperate in his habits, and an indefatigable worker, by the simplicity of his life and living he proved that the best things could be enjoyed with very little expense, and that all one's energies need not be spent to amass wealth in order to acquire culture or to spend a happy useful life. He found his enjoyment in the quiet of his home, in the rearing of his family, in the entertainment of gifted friends, and in the conscientious performance of his arduous duties. The society of the refined intellectual people of the little city he loved so well, and the picturesque scenery surrounding it were constant sources of delight. Contented and serene, pleasure could only have been increased by having leisure to enjoy what he already had. Malice or misfortune could not injure him, his happiness was in the state of his mind, not exterior conditions. A stormy path only redoubled his vigilance. He had that peace, that passeth the understanding.