Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/William R. Day

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WILLIAM RUFUS DAY, jurist, diplomat, statesman, has made for himself a very interesting record. Son of Judge Luther Day, grandson of Judge Rufus Paine Spalding, who was also one of Ohio’s representatives in the thirty-eighth, thirty-ninth and fortieth Congresses, and great-grandson of Judge Zephaniah Swift, Chief Justice of Connecticut, and author of “Swift’s Digest,” he may be said to have come of a judicial line, and to have received by direct inheritance the qualities which have marked his career.

His mother was Emily (Spalding) Day, and he was born at Ravenna, Ohio, April 17, 1849. After preparatory studies at home, he took a collegiate course in the University of Michigan, and was graduated B.S. in 1870. He then read law in the office of Judge Robinson, of Ravenna, attended lectures in the law department of the university, meanwhile acting as librarian of that department, was admitted to the bar in 1872, and immediately established himself for the practice of his profession at Canton, Ohio, in association with William A. and Austin Lynch, a firm which later included also David B. Day. In 1875 he was married to Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Louis Schaefer, of Canton, Ohio, and is the father of four sons, William, Luther, Rufus, and Stephen. In 1886 he became judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the ninth judicial district, and in 1889 was appointed by President Harrison and confirmed by the senate as United States Judge for Northern Ohio, but was constrained by the condition of his health to decline the appointment.

Being fond of the law, he was reluctant to leave it even temporarily; but in February, 1897, he accepted the call of President McKinley to look into the mixed state of affairs in Cuba, and was on his way through Washington, when, because of the non-confirmation of Bellamy Storer as assistant secretary of state, he was appointed to that position, which proved to be one of unexpected and very great responsibility on account of the failing health of John Sherman, then head of the department. The coming on of the
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difficulties with Spain, in 1898, opened to him what was not only an entirely new field, but one for which he soon proved himself exceptionally well fitted. Almost his first act of importance was in dealing with De Puy de Lome, then Spanish Minister to the United States, who on account of differences with President McKinley concerning Cuba, and something of a cherished resentment, had been led to express himself to another in terms less than respectful; whereupon, instead of dealing with him in a formal way, by correspondence, Assistant Secretary Day took the minister’s offensive note in his hand, went to the Spanish office of Legation and, showing it to the minister, requested him to say whether he was its author. The minister made affirmative answer, and soon after resigned his place and returned to Spain.

This and other proofs of Judge Day’s mettle were so far pleasing to the President that, upon the resignation of Secretary Sherman soon after (on April 28, 1898) Judge Day was appointed to succeed him. War against Spain had been already declared, and the period of its continuance was a trying one for the new secretary, because of the delicacy of our relations with some of the other powers. But on July 26, 1898, Spain sued for peace, and on August 12, at 4.23 P. M., he was privileged to sign with Monsieur Cambon, Spanish Ambassador, the protocol which formed the basis of the treaty of peace.

The protocol having provided for a commission to meet representatives of the Spanish government in Paris, on September 16, 1898, he resigned the office of secretary of state to accept a place thereon, together with Senators Davis, Frye, and Gray, and Whitelaw Reid. He became president of the commission, whose negotiations finally resulted in the treaty executed in December. In February, 1899, he was appointed circuit judge for the sixth judicial district, and in 1903 was appointed to the place he now holds as one of the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

His native endowments, independence, clearness and vigor of mind, fluency and effectiveness as a public speaker, with a sufficiency of personal ambition to be and to do, together with sincerity, earnestness, resoluteness, and loyalty to duty, inspire confidence ; and these qualities, coupled with a modest reserve, courtesy and kindliness, insure to him the hearty good-will of all who come to know him, and inspire confidence in his legal opinions and decisions.