Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/Rufus W. Peckham

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RUFUS WILLIAM PECKHAM

 

RUFUS WILLIAM PECKHAM, justice of the United States Supreme court, was born at Albany, New York, November 8, 1838, the son of Honorable Rufus Wheeler Peckham, of high distinction in his day as a lawyer and jurist. After serving as justice in the Supreme Court of New York, the latter was (at the time of his death in the shipwreck of the Ville de Havre, November 22, 1873), a justice of the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court of that state. His example had much to do with the notable career of his sons, one of whom, Wheeler Hazard Peckham, became prominent at the New York bar, and was associated with Charles O’Conor in the prosecution of the members of the “Tweed Ring.” The more distinguished son, Rufus William, was educated at the Albany boys’ academy, and later in a Philadelphia school, and followed the family tradition by engaging in the study of law, entering in 1857 the office of his father, then practising law in partnership with Lyman Tremaine, attorney-general of the state of New York. He was admitted to the bar in 1859. In 1860 he entered into partnership with Mr. Tremaine, succeeding his father who in that year was elevated to the Supreme bench. The influence and example of his distinguished father had a strong effect on the young lawyer, who had prepared himself carefully for his profession and rose rapidly into prominence. In 1868 he was elected district attorney for Albany county, in which position he showed especial ability and executive energy in the notable trial of a party of express car robbers. He was subsequently one of the counsel for the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad Company, in its contest with the Erie, then under the control of Jay Gould and James Fisk ; and he also represented the attorney-general with success in several important cases.

A Democrat in political opinion, Justice Peckham was a member of the National committee at St. Louis, in 1876, where he actively supported Tilden for the presidency. He was a supporter of Hancock in 1880. Elected corporation counsel for Albany in 1881, his legal knowledge and ability were recognized in 1883 in his elevation to the bench of the Supreme court of the state, and in 1886 by his election as justice of the Court of Appeals of New York. He thus succeeded to the two judicial positions held by his father. He married Harriette M. Arnold, daughter of D. H. Arnold, president of the Mercantile Bank of New York. They have two sons. His final judicial honor came on December 3, 1895, when President Cleveland appointed him associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Peckham's eminence in his profession has been recognized by the honorary degree of LL.D. from several institutions. Union college in 1894, Yale university in 1896, and Columbia university in 1901.