The Eminent Lawyers of The New York Bar 1869 O'Conor-Evart

Charles O'Conor

First and foremost in the profession a rank conceded to him by the universal suffrage of the bar and of the community stands Charles O'Conor, who wears his laurels with a grace and gentleness that command unbounded respect and confidence. The Forrest divorce trial first brought Mr. O'Conor into national prominence, and made known to the whole country, what was then only known' to the bench and the bar of this city, that he who could in such a forensic grapple utterly overthrow such an adversary as John Van Buren, must be a lawyer of the very highest talents and attainments. Mr. O'Conor's peculiar characteristic is great common sense, which enables him to apply his prodigious legal learning in so clear a manner as to make his points equally apparent to the unlettered juryman and to the profound jurist. He has no claptrap, no straining for dramatic effects.

His quiet, almost cold manner, his inexorable logic, his piercing, and at times almost stridulous voice, his sharp, glittering eye, that holds a witness or an opponent with a charm equal to the fascination of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, all bespeak a man of no common mould. His industry and application are wonderful, almost beyond belief. He is always calm and collected, never losing his temper or thrown from his balance. He relies on the strong points of his case, and never lumbers it with useless rubbish or foreign immaterial issues. He holds the useless rubbish or foreign or immaterial issues. He holds the ear of corn up before you, strips off the husks, always from the top, and never beginning at the bottom, until he reveals the core, and this he holds before the judge and jury with a plain, straightforward directness that makes his hearer oblivious of the husks, remembering only the ear, the strong point upon which he relies to carry his case. He has been successful beyond measure, although he has always been careless and capricious in the matter of fees, being governed by circumstances of the case and of the party, and by his own whims, and not guided by any fixed rule. For many years past he could make his professional income just what he pleased, increasing it to a fabulous amount had he been so disposed. He has confined himself very closely to his profession, rarely mingling in public questions, political controversies, or post-prandial speeches ; and yet, in private and social life he is one of the most genial men imaginable. He is said to have replied to an admirer, who complimented him on his professional success as compared with that of John Van Buren, u Perhaps had he devoted himself as assiduously to his profession as I have done for the past twenty-five years, and not given so much of his time to public life and private entertainment, the result would have been far different."

Mr. O'Conor is a Democrat in politics, a Catholic in religion, but quiet and unobtrusive in both. He has argued many cases involving the gravest public questions, and it is said that in preparing for the defense of Jefferson Davis, he has subordinated all the learning and statesmanship extant that bears upon the case, and that he designed to make this the crowning professional effort of his life.

William M. Evarts

In this connection we will introduce William M.Evarts, perhaps the only man at the New York bar who can be justly called Mr. O'Conor's peer. He, too, has argued many most important public cases, and has been fittingly selected by the government to prosecute Jefferson Davis. Each of these lawyers feels and knows that in the other he has an opponent who will call forth all his skill and power, and doubtless experiences, in anticipation of this conflict, 

That stern joy which warriors feel
In foemen worthy of their steel."

Should this trial ever take place, it will have something more than the historic interest involved in its momentous issues, in the sharp and fierce play of steel between these opposing champions. It will be artistic cutting and thrusting with Milan blades, no coarse work with butchers' cleavers. Mr. Evarts is a great Common Law lawyer. Gifted with extraordinary natural talent, he has labored with untiring zeal and industry, until he has accumulated an amount of legal learning, even to attempt the acquisition of which would appall a man of less ability and perseverance. Born and reared in New England, he early acquired habits of industry and
self-reliance that have made him not only a great lawyer but a great man. He is one of the clearest and deepest thinkers on public affairs in the country, and has one of the most original minds.

In the trying times of our great civil conflict, when new Alabamas were launched and fitting out in England to destroy our commerce, this man, of slender frame but giant mint], was sent by the government to England to prevent this flagitious national wrong. By the sheer force of his superior intellect and knowledge of international law he accomplished more than whole navies he stopped this outrage. After reasoning the matter with the best publicists of the English cabinet, he had such assurances from them that he wrote to Mr. Seward, in, effect, that he need have no further apprehension, for these piratical craft would not be permitted to go to Sea and they did not sail. This was in the darkest hours of the strife, when, perhaps, another Alabama or two would have been " the last pound that broke the camel's back." For this signal service he deserves the lasting gratitude of the nation.

Mr. Evarts presents the singular anomaly of a man eminently fitted by nature, training, and habits to hold a place in the councils of the nation, and yet who finds the post of honor in private life. His voice would be potential in the Senate, and yet the great State of New York is often, practically, represented there by empty chairs. In England the state would be sure to have the services of such a man in some public position at any cost. Mr. Evarts has a clear, ringing voice, of great penetration and power, a pleasing delivery, that often rises to earnestness and eloquence, and a comprehensive grasp of the question or case under consideration that generally carries conviction to the reason and judgment of the auditor. His manner is somewhat peculiar at times. He has a large blue eye, which often seems to look, not at out-ward objects, but which is introspective, as if the speaker were seeking the thought in the depths of his own mind, and was oblivious of everything around him. As a pleasant orator, an after-dinner speaker, full of playful wit, and quiet, dry humor, he stands almost without a rival, in or out of the profession. Mr. Evarts has, perhaps, the best clientage in New York, and represents the " heavy respectability" of the best classes and highest toned merchants, bankers, and insurance offices in and about Wall and South Streets. He is among the safest of counselors and the best of lawyers.


Website: The History
Article Name: Eminent Lawyers of the New York Bar 1869 Conor-Evart
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Sunshine and Shadow in New York By Matthew Hale Smith; J.B. Burr and Company 1869
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