Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/Henry B. Brown

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BROWN, HENRY BILLINGS, LL.D., associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is a brilliant illustration of the wonderful opportunities for advancement and the vast possibilities for achievement which are open to the young men of our land. In the record of his life we see how by means of close application and earnest and well directed effort, reinforced by a strong moral character, the village youth may make his way to a place in the most important judicial tribunal in the world.

He was born at South Lee, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, March 2, 1836. He was the son of Billings and Mary A. (Tyler) Brown. He was married July 13, 1864, to Caroline Pitts, who died July 11, 1901. They had no children. He was married June 25, 1904, to Josephine E. Tyler, widow of Lieutenant F. H. Tyler, United States navy.

The father of Mr. Brown was a manufacturer. He was self-educated, a man of high intelligence, fond of reading and efficient in business. He was a member of the Connecticut legislature and was held in high esteem by his fellow citizens. His wife was a woman of clear and vigorous intellect and earnest piety. Mr. Brown traces his ancestry back to Edward Brown of Ipswich, Massachusetts.

The subject of this biography passed his childhood and youth in small villages. His health was good and he had no regular tasks which involved manual labor. Besides a great desire to read he had a strong liking for mechanical pursuits. In preparing for college there were no special difficulties to overcome. He attended the academies at Stockbridge and Monson (Massachusetts), and was graduated from Yale college in 1856, after which he studied in the law schools of Yale and Harvard until 1859.

The active work of life was commenced as a clerk in a lawyer’s office at Detroit, Michigan, in 1859, and soon developed into regular practice in the courts. In 1863-64 Mr. Brown was assistant United States attorney in Detroit. In 1868 he was appointed judge of the Wayne County Circuit court, to fill a vacancy, serving but five months. From 1875 to 1890 he was judge of the District Court of the United States for the eastern district of Michigan, and in the year last named he was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Justice Brown received the degree of LL.D. from Michigan and Yale universities. He is a member of the Cosmos and Chevy Chase clubs of Washington, and of the University club of New York. He has not adopted any system of physical culture or given special attention to athletics. His principal relaxation has been found in traveling. His reading has been wide and varied but he does not attempt to specify the books which have had the strongest influence upon his life and character. He has never been closely identified with any political party. As an author he is known as the compiler of “Brown’s Admiralty Reports,” and as the writer of several articles upon legal topics.

His own preference governed in the choice of a profession. The influences of home and school, of private study, and of the companions of his early and later life have all been strong, but it is impossible for him to state which of them has been the most powerful in its effect upon his work and his success.

The views of Justice Brown regarding the influence of inheritance and early surroundings, and the means upon which the young should depend for success in life, can best be stated in his own words, which we quote as follows :

“I am a strong believer in heredity. I believe there are certain children who are bound to make their way in the world. Their success is usually dependent upon circumstances of birth, moral training, education, and is sometimes independent of all these circumstances except inherited ability and ambition. Others are born who under no possible circumstances can achieve anything like success, and who in spite of the most favorable surroundings are doomed to failure. I regard inherited wealth, or the expectation of it, as one of the most serious obstacles to success, though there are a few brilliant examples of those who have managed to surmount it. With fair inherited talents, industry and ambition, success in one’s chosen field is most probable and almost certain, provided bad habits are eschewed.”