Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/David J. Brewer


BREWER, DAVID JOSIAH, son of an American missionary in Asia Minor, student at Middletown, Connecticut, graduate of Yale, class of 1856, and of Albany law school, 1858; lawyer in Leavenworth, Kansas, United States commissioner, judge of the Probate and Criminal courts, of the District court, county attorney, justice of the Supreme court of the state, judge of the United States Circuit court for the eighth district, 1859-89, and justice of the United States Supreme court from December 18, 1889; president of the Board of Commissioners to investigate the boundary line dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, 1896; arbitrator on part of Venezuela in settlement of the dispute, 1899; was born in Smyrna, Turkey, Asia Minor, June 20, 1837. His father, the Reverend Josiah Brewer (1796-1872) was graduated from Yale college in 1821, was a missionary for the American Board of commissioners for Foreign Missions in Smyrna, Turkey, 1826-28; pioneer missionary sent by the New Haven Ladies’ Greek Association to establish schools for girls and women and to set up a printing press in Smyrna, Asia Minor, where he issued the first newspaper printed in the Greek language devoted to the propagation of the Christian religion in Asia Minor, 1830-38. He returned home in 1838 and was chaplain of the State Penitentiary, Wethersfield, Connecticut, 1839-41; lecturer, preacher and editor in the anti-slavery cause, 1841-44, Hartford, Connecticut; school teacher in New Haven, Connecticut, 1844-50, and in Middletown, Connecticut, 1850-57, and pastor of a Congregational church at Housatonic, Massachusetts, 1857-66. His mother, Emiha A. (Field) Brewer, was a daughter of the Reverend David Dudley and Submit (Dickinson) Field, and granddaughter of Captain Timothy Field and of Captain Noah Dickinson, both officers in the American Revolution. She with her younger brother, Stephen Johnson Field, then thirteen years of age, accompanied her husband to Smyrna, Turkey, as a missionary in 1830, and there her son David Josiah Brewer was born and from there he was brought to the United States in the autumn of 1838.
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He was educated in the schools of Wethersfield, Hartford, New Haven and Middletown; was graduated from Daniel H. Chase’s school in Middletown in 1851, was a student in Wesleyan university, Middletown, 1851-54, and was graduated from Yale college, A.B., 1856 (A.M., 1859), in the same class with Henry Billings Brown, his associate on the United States Supreme court bench. He then studied law in the office of his uncle, David Dudley Field, in New York city, 1856-57, and was graduated at the Albany (New York) law school in 1858. He began the practice of law in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1859. He there gained a high rank in his profession and was made United States Commissioner of the Circuit court for the district of Kansas by Judge Archibald Williams, in 1861; he was judge of the Probate and Criminal courts of the County of Leavenworth, 1863-64; judge of the first judicial district of Kansas, 1865-69; district attorney for Leavenworth county, 1869-70, and judge of the Supreme Court of Kansas, 1870-84. He was appointed by President Arthur judge of the United States Circuit court for the eighth district in 1884, serving 1884-89, and by President Harrison associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Mr. Justice Stanley Matthews. He was commissioned December 18, 1889, and took his seat on the Supreme bench, January 6, 1890.

While on the Supreme bench of the state of Kansas, he handed down the decision that made women in that state eligible to the office of county superintendent of public schools; another sustaining the right of married women to money possessed by them at the time of marriage and to all money earned by them after marriage. He also gave a dissenting opinion on the question of the power of a municipality to issue bonds to assist in building a railroad. As United States circuit judge he entered the decree sustaining the Maxwell land-grant, the largest private grant sustained in the United States. He took high rank as a jurist upon the United States Supreme bench and was also noted for his scholarly public addresses delivered on various occasions. While a resident of Leavenworth he was a member of the Library Association, of the City Board of Education, superintendent of the Public Schools of Leavenworth and president of the State Teachers’ Association. In 1892 he became lecturer on corporation law in the Columbian university law school, Washington, District of Columbia, and subsequently lecturer on Equity Jurisprudence and International Law. On January 1, 1896, he was appointed by President Cleveland a member of the Board of Commissioners to investigate the true divisional line between Venezuela and British Guiana, and on the organization of the board Mr. Justice Brewer was elected chairman. In November, 1896, before the commission reported. Great Britain yielded to the demands of the United States Government for arbitration, and in February, 1897, an agreement was reached and a treaty of arbitration was duly signed and Chief Justice Fuller and Associate Justice Brewer were appointed arbitrators on the part of Venezuela; Lord Chief Justice Russell and Sir Henry Henn Collins, acting on the part of Great Britain, and Professor Martens of Russia representing a neutral nation. The boundary commission sat in Paris from June 15, to October 3, 1899, when the agreement of the arbitrators was signed and the award (not entirely satisfactory to either nation) was accepted, and was generally considered a victory for Venezuela as the greater part of the territory claimed was awarded to the South American Republic.

He was editor-in-chief of The World’s Best Orations," a collection in ten volumes of the leading orations; and also of "The World's Best Essays," a like collection in ten volumes of the leading essays of all time. He was the orator at the Bicentennial Celebration of Yale university.

Justice Brewer received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Iowa college (Grinnell), in 1884; from Washburn college, Topeka, Kansas, in 1888; from Yale university in 1891; from the University of Wisconsin in 1900; from Wesleyan university, Connecticut, 1901, and from the University of Vermont, 1904. He was married October 3, 1861, to Louisa R. Landon, of Burlington, Vermont. Mrs. Brewer died April 3, 1898, leaving three daughters. Justice Brewer was married a second time June 5, 1901, to Emma Minor Mott, of Chateaugay, New York.

Justice Brewer has written and spoken at many important centers with a loyalty to Christian principles and a reverent and well-reasoned respect and love for the Bible which have won for him friends and admirers hardly less numerous than those who honor his attainments as a lawyer and a jurist.