Charles Hammond


CHARLES HAMMOND, Extract from sketch by Judge G. L. Cranmer: "Charles Hammond, who was perhaps the most profound lawyer that ever practiced at the bar of what is now the first judicial circuit, was a son of George Hammond, who emigrated to what is now Brooke county, in this state, in the year 1785, and settled on the waters of Buffalo creek, about five miles east of Wellsburg. The father was a man of education and some culture, and possessed a retentive memory and appreciative taste. He would frequently recite whole plays of Shakespeare, and he had committed to memory Young's "Night THoughts", and many other poems. He was a man of uncommon mental force and hysical endurance. His strong, bold views concerning men and things, he impressed indelibly and distinctly upon the young and susceptible mind and heart of his son Charles. The studious habits of CHarles, together with his love of composition and books, led his father to determine that he should follow the profession of law. Accordingly he was entered as a student in the law office of Philip Doddridge, a man of genius and ability, and one of the first lawyers of his day. Here he studied not only law, but devoted a portion of his time also to the study of political economy and the philosophy of history, in which, as well as in the study of the law, he made rapid progress. He also now wielded his pen in the discussion of local and general questions, but he attracted but littlw attention as a writer, until the year 1799. He was admitted to the bar in 1803, and immeniately opened an office in Wellsburg, Va. Judge Burnet, a man of culture and eminence in the line of his profession, was one of the committee appointed by the court, at the time in session in Marietta, Ohio, for the purpose of examining young Hammond as to his legal qualifications and ability. So thorough and complete died he prove himself to be in the mastery of the principles of his profession that for years afterward this able and distinguished jurist was wont to mention with great satisfaction the readiness and thoroughness with which the young law student had responded to the searching inquiries put to him by the examining committee. Shortly after his admission to the bar, he removed to Wheeling, then a small village containing a population of 400 or 500, where he remained until the year 1810. In October of the same year, he entered into a matrimonial alliance with Miss Sarah Tillinghast, of Wellsburg. The development of Wheeling as a municipality began in 1806, in which year it was incorporated as a town, and Mr. Hammond was appointed the first recorder. During the period of his residence in Wheeling, an incident occurred, illustrative of his fairness and honesty of his character, in the highest degree commendable. Gambling at that time prevailed to an alarming extent in the community. It was the fashionable vice of the day, and was indulged in by nearly all classes of society. During a session of the court a large number of indictments were found against the least influential members of the community, under which they were put on trial and convicted, and heavy fines were imposed on the offenders. Mr. Hammond was indignant at what he deemed the injustice practiced on these humble persons, and being unable to restrain himself he addressed the court substantially to the following effect: "May it please the court, it is impossible for me to stand this any longer. Here are a number of individuals who have been indicted and fined for this offense who I know are unable to pay their fines, while a still larger number, greatly more able and far more guilty, escape the notice of the prosecuting attorney wholly. I beg leave, therefore, first to file information against myself, and next against your honor, and then against the gentleman who prosecutes, and then upon the other members of the bar. When these I have mentioned are fined, there will be little difficulty in fining those who are not less culpable. As a lawyer he had few equals, and was surpassed by none. Possessed of a quick, vigorous and sententious mind, he detected as if by magic the waek points in his adversary's case, and promptly took advantage of them. His business grew rapidly. It was not confined to the courts in Wheeling but extended throughout all the counties of West Virginia and eastern Ohio, as well as in the courts of the United States in these respective states, and in the supreme court of the United States. In the Judicial field he met as competitors, such men as Obadiah Jennings, Samuel Paul, Noah Linsly, Philip Doddridge, John C. Wright, Benjamin Tappan, John M. Goodnow, Jeremiah Hallock, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Sergeant and others, " all foeman worhty of his steel." His sun paled in splendor before none of these luminaries, but shone as brightly as any. In the spring of 1810 he changed his residence from Wheeling to Belmont county, Ohio, and located on a farm about four miles east of St. Clairsville and since known as the "Woodmanse Farm." Here he engaged in the practical duties of an agriculturist, while at the same time pursued the practice of his profession. In 1823 he moved to Cincinnati. During his residence in Belmont county he perhaps was the instrument of settling amicably more cases than all the other members of the bar together. No man was ever more free from the charge of fomenting litigation than he. So marked was this trait in his character that the sheriff of the county was accustomed to express himself by saying that unless Charles Hammond left the county, he and the clerk would starve for the want of fees. As earnestly and diligently sought to promulgate. Hence he embraced frequent opportunities of giving currency to them in newspaper communications. His federalist views, to which he tenaciously clung, were not only unpopular, but daily growing distasteful. As the hostilities between our own country and England became more imminent, and finally culminated in the war of 1812, those who had always respected his ability and sincerity shrank from publishing his views, when tendered by him. His opposition to the war was fearless and outspoken. As a consequence he was denounced, threatened, abused and mobbed. But this conduct on the part of his opponents only intensified his purpose in and resolving to maintain his rights by their exercise, he founded and established a journal of his own. Such was the origin of the Ohio Federalist, printed for him at St. Clairsville, Ohio, by John Berry. Its motto was significant of the character of its owner, being the following extract from one of Cowpower's poems:
    "In freedom's field, advancing his firm foot
    He plants it on the line that justice draws,
    And will prevail or perish in her cause."
"In 1816 Belmont county sent him as her representative to the legislature, and in 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820 he represented that county in the house of representatives and in the senate of the state. Here his great ability was at once made manifest. The acts drafted by him were models of perspicuity and brevity. He prepared during his legislative career and revised the laws regulating descents and distributions, together with many of those referring to legal and chancery proceedings. Many of the most important statutes were amended and revised, removing many ambiguities and repetitions, and introducing into them greater method and order.

"As a great constitutional lawyer he ranks with Marshall, Story and Webster. His review of the opinion of Chief Justice Marshall in the Bank of the United States vs. Osborne et al., is one of the most masterly arguments on record. This argument, before its delivery, he submitted for inspection and perusal to Thomas Jefferson, who read it carefully and returned it with his approval to this effect: "Your position is impregnable. Your arguments cannot be answered. But the case will go against you, notwithstanding". And it did. In speaking of this argument to William Wirt, Chief Justice Marshall said to him, that "Charles Hammond had produced in that case the most remarkable paper that had been placed on file in any court since the days of Lord Mansfield. That it had persuaded him that wrong was right in the case." This from such a source was certainly high praise. "He died in Cincinnati in the sixty-first year of his age, a worn-out and overworked man."

Copyright 2006 Danice Ryan. All rights reserved.

This site may be freely linked to but not duplicated
in any fashion without my consent.