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This biography is from Landmarks of Albany County, New York, edited by Amasa J. Parker of Albany, N. Y., Syracuse, N. Y.; D. Mason & Co. Publishers, 1897.

Amasa J. Parker

Amasa J. Parker was born at Sharon, parish of Ellsworth, Litchfield county, Conn., on the 3d of June, 1807, and died at Albany, N. Y., May 13, 1890. His father, the Rev. Daniel Parker, was a Congregational clergyman settled for twenty years in Watertown and Ellsworth, Conn. The subject of this memoir was descended, on both sides, from families distinguished in the history of New England, that had been settled there since the earliest days of pilgrim immigration, sharing in the perils of Indian warfare and, at a later day, in our Revolutionary struggle. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Fenn, who resided at Watertown, Conn., was for more than thirty sessions a representative in the Legislature of his State.

The Rev. Daniel Parker removed into this State with his family when the son was nine years of age, and the latter continued to reside in State of New York afterwards during his whole life.

Great pains was taken by his father with his education and under the care of his father and of other eminent teachers, and with very close study on his part, he had, at the age of sixteen, completed with great thoroughness a full collegiate course of study, but outside the walls of a college.

In June, 1823, when but sixteen years of age, though having the personal appearance of more advanced age, he was appointed principal of the Hudson Academy, located at the city of Hudson, an institution chartered by the Regents of the University of this State, and entered immediately upon the duties of the position. He remained there four years, and on the 1st of May, 1827, resigned his place to prosecute the study of the law and fit himself for admission to the bar. During the last year of his service in the academy, he had entered the office of Hon. John W. Edmunds, but his duties elsewhere gave him but little time for his legal studies.

He was eminently successful in his labors as principal of the academy. Under his charge the institution rose to distinction and was attended by students from different and distant parts of the country, many of whom were prepared for college at an advanced standing, and for the business of life under his instruction. He resigned his trust with the various departments of the academy full of students and in the height of its prosperity, because he felt that the time had come for him to devote his whole attention to the necessary preparation for his intended professon.

An incident occurred when he was in charge of the academy worthy of mention. A rival and successful institution existed in a distant town of the same county, to promote the interests of which its friends urged that the principal of the Hudson Academy was not himself a graduate of any college. To put such an objection at rest the subject of our notice in the summer of 1825 presented himself at Union College and submitted to an examination for the whole college course of study, and graduated with the clas of 1825. The singular fact occurred, that one of his own former students graduated with him in the same class.

On resigning his place at the academy in May, 1827, Mr. Parker proceeded at once to Delhi, Delaware county, in this State, and entered the office of his uncle, Amasa Parker, esq., an eminent lawyer, who had been established there many years, and continued as a student in that office till his admission to the bar in October, 1828. He then entered into copartnership with his uncle, and the firm of A. & A. J. Parker became well known to the profession throughout the State, and was not dissolved till Mr. Parker was appointed to the bench in March, 1844.

During all that time, Mr. Parker was engaged in a large professional business, perhaps more extensive and varied than that of any other country law office in the State. He soon acquired a professional standing that secured him a large practice as counsel in the highest courts of the State. He attended quite regularly the Circuits of Delaware, Greene, Ulster and Schoharie counties, and occasionally those held in Broome, Tioga and Tompkins counties, and sometimes in other counties more distant, as well as the stated terms of Chancery and of the Supreme Court, as the printed reports of those courts show. It has been said, by those acquainted with the subject, that at the time of his appointment to the bench he had tried more cases at the Circuit than any other lawyer of his age in the State.

Mr. Parker always insisted that his success in establishing a large practice as attorney and counsel was owing more to his promptness, system and method than to any other peculiar talent. It was the rule of his life never to fail to answer a business letter on the same day on which it was received — to send to his client a check for money collected by the first mail, and never to fail to keep an appointment at the precise time fixed for it; and this latter practice, he never omitted on the bench, having never failed to open his court at the precise hour appointed. In this way, he enforced the most punctual attendance of counsel, parties and witnesses, and by it he was enabled to accomplish much more business. An incident is related as having occurred, which illustrates how well this habit was understood and relied on by the profession. Judge Parker was engaged in holding, as vice-chancellor, a Court of Chancery at the Capitol, at Albany. The hour of opening was ten o'clock, and many counsel were assembled in the court room, seated round the circle of the bar, some minutes before the appointed time, occasionally looking at the clock, and as the hand came near to the hour of ten, watching to see what seemed to them almost certain, that the judge would, for once, be late. It was a matter of discussion, and as there was but a minute left, a bet was made by two prominent members of the bar, of whom the late Judge Peckham, then in full practice, was one, that the judge would be late. But the judge entered and took his seat as the clock was striking, and Judge Peckham won the bottle of wine.

During the fifteen years that Judge Parker was engaged in practice, before he was appointed to the bench, he mingled somewhat actively in the political contests of the day. He could not well do otherwise, in a county so famed as Delaware in the history of politics, and in which the people had been so long trained by Gen. Erastus Root, who was always an active partisan and leader. In the fall of 1833 he was elected by the Democratic party to the Assembly without any opposition, and served in 1834. In 1835 he was elected by the Legislature of this State a Regent of the University of the State. He was then twenty-seven years of age, and was the youngest person ever elected to that distinguished trust. He held it for nearly ten years, and resigned it when appointed to the bench. In November, 1836, he was elected to the Twenty-fifth Congress to represent the district then comprising the counties of Delaware and Broome. This time also he ran without opposition, no candidate being nominated by the opposite party. He entered upon the duties of the office at the extra session held in September, 1837, and served during the three sessions of that Congress. These were exciting and sometimes stormy sessions. The sub-treasury measure was proposed by Mr. Van Buren at the extra session of 1837 and was warmly advocated by Mr. Parker and others, but it did not secure the support of all the Democratic members. Upon it Congress was very nearly divided and questions were frequently decided by the casting vote of the speaker, Mr. Polk. It was not till at a later Congress, when the measure had become better understood, that it was passed into a law, and it still remains in force, its wisdom being now admitted by all parties.

During his service in Congress Mr. Parker was actively engaged in the duties it imposed, on committees and in the discussions in the House. His speeches on the Mississippi election case, on the sub treasury bill, on the public lands, on the Cilley and Graves duel and on other subjects are reported in the proceedings of that Congress. Hiram Gray, Richard P. Marvin, Henry A. Foster, Arphaxad Loomis, John T. Andrews and Amasa J. Parker were the last six survivors from this State of that memorable Congress.

Mr. Parker was not a candidate for re-election, and at the close of his term returned to the practice of his profession.

In the autumn of 1839 he was nominated as a candidate for the State Senate to represent the Senatorial district then corresponding nearly in boundary to the Third Judicial district of this State. There were two vacancies to be filled, in addition to the term then expiring. There were, therefore, three senators to be chosen. The year before, Alonzo C. Paige had been elected by less than fifty majority. But on this occasion the three Democratic candidates were all defeated by a majority little more than normal.

In the spring of 1834 Mr. Parker was appointed district attorney of Delaware county, which place he held for three years and till the expiration of his term, and was not a candidate for reappointment.

The later incidents of Judge Parker's life are more familiar to our readers. He was appointed by Governor Bouck circuit judge and vice-chancellor of the Third Circuit, on the 6th of March, 1844, and immediately removed to the city of Albany, where he resided till his death. He held that office till the spring of 1847, when it was terminated by the adoption of the constitution of 1846. He was then elected in the Third Judicial district a justice of the Supreme Court of this State for a term of eight years.

At no time in the history of this State have the judicial labors devolving upon a judge been more difficult and responsible than those he was called on to discharge during his twelve years of judicial service. It was during this time that the anti-rent excitement, which prevailed throughout a large portion of his judicial district, was at its height. It crowded the civil calendars with litigations and the criminal courts with indictments for acts of violence in resisting the collection of rents.

The trial of "Big Thunder" [Dr. Smith A. Boughton] before Judge Parker at Hudson, in the spring of 1845, lasted two weeks, and the jury failed to agree. When the next Court of Oyer and Terminer was held in that county. Judge Parker was engaged in holding the court in Delaware county, and Judge Edmonds was assigned to hold the Columbia Oyer and Terminer in his place. At that court "Big Thunder" was again tried and was convicted and sent to the State prison.

In the summer of 1845, Osman N. Steele, under sheriff of Delaware county, while engaged with a judge in his official duties in the collection of rent due from Moses Earle at Andes, in that county, was violently resisted by about 200 men, armed and disguised as Indians, and was shot and killed by them. Intense excitement prevailed in the county. A great struggle followed between those who resisted and those who sought to enforce the laws. On the 25th of August, 1845, Governor Wright declared the county of Delaware in a state of insurrection, and a battalion of light infantry was detailed to aid the civil authorities in the preservation of order and the making of arrests. At the inquest held on the body of Sheriff Steele and at a county General Sessions, the whole subject was fully investigated. Some indictments were found for murder, but most of them were for manslaughter and lesser offenses. Over two hundred and forty persons were indicted, most of whom were arrested and in custody awaiting trial at the then approaching Oyer and Terminer. The regular jail and two log jails, temporarily constructed for the purpose, were filled with prisoners. Under these discouraging circumstances and with armed men stationed in the court room and throughout the village to preserve order, Judge Parker opened the Oyer anfl Terminer at Delhi on the 22d of September, 1845. We find a brief statement of these proceedings and an extract from the charge of Judge Parker to the grand jury in the history of Delaware county, by Jay Gould, published in 1856, and dedicated to Judge Parker.

We have heard Judge Parker .say that, as the time for that court was approaching, he hesitated as to whether he should hold the court himself in the county with the citizens of which he had so long lived and been so intimately associated, or whether he should not rather ask the governar to assign some other judge to the duty who was an entire stranger to all concerned; and, in his doubt, he wrote for advice to his former student and life long friend, the Hon. Lucius Robinson. In answer, he was urged by all means to hold the court himself, and he was told that if some other judge held the court he might, perhaps, adjourn the court after two or three weeks of trials, leaving most of the cases untried and the jails still filled, which he was sure Judge Parker would not do. Judge Parker hesitated no longer, but proceeded at once to the discharge of the duty.

After charging the grand jury, he gave notice, fhat, whatever lime it might take, he should continue to hold the court till every case was tried and the jails were cleared.

The indictments were prosecuted by the district attorney appointed by John Van Buren, then attorney-general, and by Samuel Sherwood, a distinguished member of the bar, then of New York, but who formerly resided at Delhi, and the prisoners were defended by able counsel, among whom were Samuel Gordon, Mitchell Sanford and Samuel S. Bowne.

John Van Steenbergh was first tried and convicted of murder. Edward O'Connor was next tried with a like result. Both men sentenced to be executed on the 29th of November then next. Four others were convicted of felony and sent to the State prison for life, and thirteen men sent to the State prison for different terms of years. A large number who had been engaged in resisting the sheriff, but who had not been disguised, pleaded guilty of misdemeanors. Some of these were fined, but as to most of them, and as to some who pleaded guilty of manslaughter, sentence was suspended and they were told by the court they would be held responsible for the future preservation of the peace in their neighborhoods, and were warned that if any other instance should occur of resisting an officer, or of a violation of the statute which made it a felony to appear for such purpose, armed and disguised, they would at once be suspected and might be called up for sentence. Under this assurance, they were set at liberty, and it is but justice to them to say that they became the best possible conservators of the peace, and that no resistance of process by violence has ever sirrce occurred in that county.

At the close of the third week of the court all the cases had been disposed of. No prisoners were left in jail, except those awaiting execution or transportation to the State prisons. The military were soon after discharged and the log jails taken down, and peace and good order have since reigned in the county.

A report of the trial of Van Steenbergh, with a note referring to the business of that court, will be found in 1 Park. Cr. Rep., 39.

The sentences of Van Steenbergh and O'Connor were subsequently commuted by Governor Wright to imprisonment for life, and about a year later all those in the State prison were pardoned by the successor of Governor Wright.

Great credit was awarded to Judge Parker for his successful discharge of the delicate and difficult duties devolving upon him at the Delaware Oyer and Terminer, and the next commencement the degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred on him by Geneva College.

As has been stated, Judge Parker's services as circuit judge and vice-chancellor terminated in 1847 by the adoption of the new State Constitution of 1846, under which an elective judiciary succeeded to the exercise of the judicial power of the State. In all the counties of the Third judicial district meetings of the bar were held and complimentary addresses to Judge Parker were signed, approving his judicial course.

Judge Parker's term of service as a justice of the Supreme Court expired on the first of December, 1855. His opinions in cases pending in that court will be found in the first twenty-one volumes of Barbour's Supreme Court Reports. In the year 1854 Judge Parker served in the Court of Appeals and was there associated with Judges Gardner, Denio, Alexander S. Johnson, Allen and others. His opmions in that court are reported in the one and two volumes of Kernan's Reports. Among those most worthy of reference is the case of Snedeker vs. Warring, reported in 2 Kernan, 170, a case which attracted much attention at the time, for the reason that it presented a very nice question and one that had not been before decided either in this country or in England. It was finally decided on the authority of cases adjudged under the civil law on the continent of Europe. It involved the question whether a statue, colossal in size, erected as an ornament on the grounds in front of a country residence and securely attached to the earth by its weight, was real or personal property. The case was argued by very able counsel and it happened, by the practice of the court in turn to fall to Judges Johnson and Parker to write opinions. At the close of the argument, as the judges were separating for the day, in a few words of consultation that took place between the judges who were to write. Judge Johnson said he had an impression that the statue was real property. Judge Parker said his impression was that it was personal. A month later, after both the judges had spent much time at the State Library in examining the authorities, but without having again spoken together on the subject and after each had written his opinion ready to be read and discussed at the next meeting of all the judges, Judge Parker met Judge Johnson and said to him, " I have changed my opinion and have come to the conlusion that the statue is real property;" and Judge Johnson said in answer, "and I have changed my opinion and have concluded it is personal property."When the meeting of the judges was held for consultation soon afterwards both opinions were read and after discussion, the vote stood four and four, and thus it remained till near the end of the year when on further discussion and consideration, five voted with Judge Parker and two with Judge Johnson, and the case was decided.

Judge Parker was nominated by the Democratic convention for re-election in the autumn of 1835. Ambrose L. Jordan was the candidate of the Republican party, then newly organized, and George Gould was nominated by the "Know-Nothing" or American party. Prominent members of the last named party proposed to nominate Judge Parker, but he declined being a candidate for a nomination by that party. A very small vote was cast for Mr. Jordan, but Judge Gould was elected. That was the year when the American or "Know-Nothing" party, suddenly springing up, swept the State by large majorities. Judge Parker ran very largely ahead of his ticket, being beaten by the American candidate by only about a thousand votes, while the State officers on the American ticket in the same judicial district had a majority of several thousand.

Judge Parker then resumed the practice of his profession at Albany and he continued in it. He was repeatedly offered nominations afterwards for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, when the Democratic party, to which he belonged, was in the majority in his district and in the State, but he always declined, saying he had done his share of judicial service and preferred thereafter the independent practice of his profession.

In the fall of 1856 Judge Parker was nominated by the Democratic State Convention for the office of governor. The opposing Republican candidate was John A. King. Erastus Brooks was the "American" candidate. Though Judge Parker received several thousand majority in the judicial district where he was beaten the year before by about a thousand majority, he was defeated in the State and Governor King was elected in the State by a heavy majority. Mr. Buchanan, who was elected president that year by the votes of the other States and against whom the majority in the State of New York was nearly ten thousand votes more than the majority against Judge Parker, who ran largely ahead of his ticket, tendered to the latter offices of distinction, which the latter declined, and later in his administration he nominated him for United States district attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate, without reference, but Judge Parker refused to qualify, preferring his own private professional practice.

On Judge Parker's retirement from the bench, he engaged at once in the practice of tiis profession at Albany, taking into partnership, in 1865, his only son, Amasa J. Parker, Jr., and adding to the firm, in 1876, ex-Judge Edwin Countryman, under the name of Parker & Countryman. He devoted himself with great industry and success to his professional duties. He had a great love for his profession and for the principles upon which the law and its administrations are founded. He was engaged in a large professional practice and in many of the most important cases that have come into the courts, as is shown by the State and Federal Reports. Among the most notable litigations in civil cases was the question of the right to tax National Banks, which he argued before the Supreme Court of the United States, on the employment of the city of New York, reported in 4 Wallace Rep., 344, and in this State the title of Trinity church to property in the city of New York, the Levy will case, reported in 23 N. Y., 97, the famous controversy between the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company and the Pennsylvania Coal Company, and that of the boundary line between the States of New York and New Jersey, reported in 42, N. Y. Rep., 283. He early engaged in criminal cases and his defense of Cole for the murder of Hiscock, and his acting in two or three other murder cases were exceptional. He declined a retainer of $5,000, offered him to act as council in the defense of Tweed.

With the late Judge Ira Harris and Amos Dean, he engaged, in 1851, in the founding of the Albany Law School, which established a high reputation under their government and care, and he continued for about twenty years one of the professors of that institution, and resigned only because of the pressure of his professional practice. He had found time, while on the bench and afterwards, for preparing for the press some law books, which he thought needed, among which were six volumes of Reports of Criminal Cases. He also, assisted by two other gentlemen of the profession, edited the fifth edition of the Revised Statutes of the State.

He was an earnest advocate of the reforms inaugurated in the State Constitutional Convention of 1847, by which the Court of Chancery was abolished and law and equity powers were vested in the same tribunal, and the practice of the courts simplified. He visited Europe in 1853, while similar reforms where under consideration in England, and at the request of Lord Brougham, he addressed the Law Reform Club of England, at its annual meeting, and explained to its members the results of his experience on the bench in regard to the changes that had been made in this State, and especially as to the administering of law and equity in the same court.

In politics he was, throughout his whole life, a Democrat, and before he went on to the bench, and after he left it, an active member of the party. Believing thoroughly in the principles of that party, as founded by Jefferson, and that their success was indispensable to the welfare and prosperity of the country, he advocated them with earnestness, and always with due respect for the judgment of those who differed from him.

He labored strenuously to avert the catastrophy of civil war, and presided at the famous State Democratic Convention held at Tweddle Hall in Albany, in February, 1861. He always believed afterwards, as he believed then, that with temperate council on the part of the Republican leaders, then about entering upon the control of the Federal government, civil war could have been avoided; but when the first blow was struck at Fort Sumter, and the Rebellion was thus inaugurated, he did not hesitate to regard the die as cast and became at once an earnest advocate of a vigorous prosecution of the war on the part of the government, and freely contributed his own money and time to the raising of men and means for that purpose.

But while he did that he protested earnestly against what he deemed the gross abuse of power practiced for merely partisan purposes, by high Federal officials, in the making of unnecessary arbitrary arrests of northern men, whose only offense was an honest and independent difference of opinions and a free expression of it on subjects of mere party differences, in no way involved in the prosecution of the war to put down the Rebellion. This tyranical exercise of power and gross violations of the right af personal liberty he stoutly resisted and not only denounced it on the stump, at the hazard of his own personal liberty, but he freely gave his own professional services to obtain redress for such wrongs.

A notable instance of this character occurred in the case of Palrie vs. Murray, tried at the Greene Circuit in June, 1864, by Judge Parker as counsel for plaintiff, in which a jury, composed of men of both political parties, gave to the plaintiff for such an arrest and false imprisonment a verdict of $9,000 damages. An attempt was made to remove this case, after verdict and judgment, for retrial into the United States Circuit Court, under an act of Congress that had been conveniently passed for the purpose of defeating such recoveries. Judge Parker insisted that the act was unconstitutional, being in violation of the seventh article of the amendments of the United States Constitution, and under his advice the State authorities refused to make a return to the writ of error. Application was then made to the United States Circuit Court to compel the return, and on demurrer peremptory mandamus was adjudged. To review that judgment a writ of error was brought by Judge Parker and the case was removed into the United States Supreme Court, held at Washington. It was first argued in that court in February, 1869, by Judge Parker for the plaintiff in error, and Mr. Evarts, then attorney-general of the United States, for the defendant in error. The judges were divided upon the question and ordered a reargument, which took place in February, 1870, Attorney-General Hoar then appearing for the defendant in error. The judgment of the United States Circuit Court was then reversed and the unconstitutionality of the act of Congress was established. The case is reported in 9 Wallace, U. S. Rep., 274.

During a long life of professional labor Judge Parker never lost the tastes acquired early in life for classical study and literary pursuits, and he was in the habit of setting apart a stated portion of his time for such purposes He enjoyed an occasional return to the reading of the Greek and Roman authors and those, with the attention given to the current literature of the day, and a mingling in the duties of social life, afforded him an agreeable relaxation from the severer studies and a healthful change to the mind. These tastes brought him into connection with the educational institutions of the State, in several of which he served for many years as a trustee.

Among other duties of that character he was for many years president of the board of trustees of the Albany Female Academy, president of the board of trustees of the Albany Medical College, a trustee of Cornell University and one of the governors of Union University.

Judge Parker married, in 1834, Miss Harriet Langdon Roberts, of Portsmouth, N. H., and of a large family of children— Mrs. John V. L. Pruyn, Amasa J. Parker, Jr., Mrs. Erastus Corning and Mrs. Selden E. Marvin, all residents of Albany, still survive.

When a member of the assembly in 1834 Mr. Parker, as chairman of a select committee, made an elaborate report urging the establishment of a State hospital for the insane, which led to a more full consideration of the subject by the people, though it was not until several years afterwards that the first State hospital for the insane was established. Doubtless it was owing to the interest Mr. Parker had taken in the subject that he was afterward appointed by Governor Fenton in 1867 one of the managers of the Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane at Poughkeepsie, a trust which he held till 1881, when he resigned, and Governor Cornell appointed his son, Amasa J. Parker, Jr., in his place, who served until January 1, 1807, and he was then succeeded by his second son, Lewis R. Parker.

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