Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Waite, Henry Matson
WAITE, Henry Matson, jurist, b. in Lyme, Conn., 9 Feb., 1787: d. there, 14 Dec., 1869. His ancestor, Thomas, who came from England to Massachusetts about 1663, is believed to have been a son of Thomas Waite, one of the judges that signed the death-warrant of Charles I. Henry was graduated at Yale in 1809, studied law with Judge Matthew Griswold and his brother, Gov. Roger Griswold, was admitted to the bar in 1812, and practised law in Lyme. In 1815 he was elected to the legislature, serving several years as representative and as state senator in 1832-'3. He was appointed a judge of the supreme court of errors of Connecticut in 1834, and held that place and that of judge of the superior court for twenty years. In 1854 he was made chief justice of the state by the unanimous vote of the legislature. In 1855 Yale gave him the degree of LL. D. — His son, Morrison Remick, jurist, b. in Lyme, Conn., 29 Nov., 1816; d. in Washington, D. C., 23 March, 1888. He was graduated at Yale in 1837, where he was a classmate of William M. Evarts, Benjamin Silliman, and Samuel J. Tilden, and began the study of law in his father's office, but in 1838 travelled extensively, and then completed his legal education with Samuel M. Young in Maumee City, Ohio. In 1839 he was admitted to the bar, and formed a partnership with Mr. Young. He proved himself capable of grasping all the minute details of legal controversies and rose rapidly. The firm removed to Toledo in 1850, and continued until his youngest brother, Richard, came to the bar, when the two brothers formed a partnership. Mr. Waite in the mean time had become widely known for his successful management of difficult cases, and his studious habits and upright character. Opposing counsel often said that his assertion on any question of law was unanswerable. During more than three decades he was the acknowledged leader of the Ohio bar. Politically he was a Whig until the disbandment of that party, after which he was a Republican. But he took no part in political affairs, although repeatedly solicited to accept a nomination to congress, and he declined a seat on the bench of the supreme court of Ohio. In 1849 he was a member of the Ohio legislature. He first attracted national attention as counsel for the United States before the tribunal of arbitration at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1871-'2, his associates being Caleb Cushing and William M. Evarts. He assisted in the preparation of the case, and was chosen to argue the liability of the English government for permitting Confederate steamers to be supplied with coal in British ports during the civil war, the robust clearness and directness of his logic carrying conviction on all the points he raised. His argument was published (Geneva, 1872). When he returned in 1872, the degree of LL. D. was conferred upon him by Yale. In 1874 he was the choice of both political parties as a delegate to the Ohio constitutional convention, and on its assembling in Cincinnati he was unanimously elected its president. When the death of Chief-Justice Chase had created a vacancy in the highest judicial office of the United States, two or three eminent jurists were successively nominated for the post, but their names were withdrawn. On 19 Jan., 1874, the president sent to the senate the name of Mr. Waite. The nomination met with general approval, and the nominee received every vote that was cast. Mr. Waite took the oath of office on 4 March, 1874, and immediately entered upon its duties. He rigidly enforced the rules and precedents of the court in all matters of practice, watched the docket, and pushed the business rapidly. The second great period of constitutional interpretation began with his first year on the bench. The amendments were coming up for judicial exposition, and questions were to be settled as to the powers of congress, the rights of states, and the privileges of citizens. Some of the most important corporation cases that were ever argued in the United States came before him, involving the most intricate questions of interstate commerce. One of his associates on the bench says: “His administrative ability was remarkable. None of his predecessors more steadily or more wisely superintended the court or more carefully observed all that is necessary to its workings. He has written many of the most important opinions of the court — too many to be particularized.” Among these opinions are the decision on the head-money-tax cases in 1876, on the polygamy cases in 1879, on the election laws in 1880, on the powers of removal by the president, and the Virginia land cases in 1881, on the civil-rights act in 1883, on the Alabama claims, the legal-tender act, and the Virginia coupon-tax cases in 1885, on the express companies arid the extradition cases in 1886, and on the Kansas prohibition cases, the Virginia debt cases, the national banks, and the affair of the Chicago anarchists in 1887. A marked feature of Chief-Justice Waite's judicial career was the pronounced advocacy of the doctrine of state rights in his opinions. His conception of our novel and complex theory of government, and his independence of political considerations, are clearly shown in the Ku-klux, civil rights, and other decisions, in which he did not hesitate to set aside Republican legislation if he deemed it necessary; nor was he deterred, by fear of being accused of friendliness to large corporations, from pronouncing decisions in their favor — for example, his decision on the validity of the Bell telephone patents, which was his last official action. He was assigned to the 4th circuit, which included Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas, and also acted as circuit judge in New York in consequence of the disability of Justice Ward Hunt. He often was known to hurry away from a state dinner, to bestow conscientious labor upon some important opinion, working late into the night. It will be remembered to his honor that he never allowed any whisperings of ambition to divert his attention from his duties. He made it clear to the country in the most emphatic language in 1876 that he would not be considered a possible candidate for president. He also declined to serve on the electoral commission. Judge Waite was from 1874 till his death one of the Peabody trustees of southern education, continuously served on one of the standing committees of that body, and was also on the special committee of three that urged on congress the bestowal of national aid for the education of the southern negroes. Robert C. Winthrop, chairman of the trustees, at their annual meeting in 1888, in the course of remarks on Judge Waite's life and character, said of him: “Coming to the office without the prestige of many, or perhaps of any, of those whom he followed, he had won year by year, and every year, the increasing respect and confidence of the whole country, and the warm regard and affection of all who knew him.” Services were held in the capitol by the two houses of congress before the removal of his remains to Toledo. In the U. S. circuit court in Charleston, S. C., where he had often presided, members of the bar of that city spoke in his praise, especially alluding to his kindliness of manner and impartiality during the reconstruction period. “Fortunate, indeed,” said one of the speakers, “that there was a man who, amidst the furious passions which rent the country and shook the land, could hold in his steady and equal hand the balances of justice undisturbed.” The degree of LL. D. was given him by Kenyon in 1874, and by the University of Ohio in 1879. Chief-Justice Waite was of medium height, broad-shouldered, compactly built, and erect. His step was light and firm, and all his movements were quick and decisive. His well-poised, classically shaped head was massive and thickly covered with handsome grayish hair. His manners were graceful and winning, but unassuming. He was one of the most genial of men, and his whole bearing commanded instant respect. His private character was singularly pure and noble. Judge Waite was a member of the Protestant Episcopal church, and a regular attendant on its services. Mrs. Waite, four sons, and one daughter survive him.