Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BINNEY, Horace, lawyer, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4 January 1780" died there, 12 August 1875. He was of English and Scotch descent. His father was a surgeon in the revolutionary army. In 1788, the year after his father's death, he was placed in a classical school at Bordentown, New Jersey, where he continued three years, and distinguished himself especially by his attainments in Greek. In July 1793, he entered the freshman class of Harvard, and at graduation in 1797 he divided the highest honor with a single classmate. He had acquired the art and habit of study, and a love for it, which never abated until the close of his life. This art he ever regarded as his most valued acquisition. He began the study of law in November 1797, in the office of Jared Ingersoll, and was called to the bar in March 1800, when he was little more than twenty years of age. His clientage for some years was meager, but his industry continued unflagging, and gradually, in the face of a competition with eminent lawyers, such as no other bar in the country then exhibited, he became an acknowledged leader. In 1806 he was sent to the legislature of the state, in which he served one year, declining a re-election. So early as 1807 his professional engagements had become extremely large, and before 1815 he was in the enjoyment of all that the legal profession could give, whether of reputation or emolument. Between 1807 and 1814 he prepared and published the six volumes of reported decisions of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that bear his name. They are among the earliest of American reports, and are regarded as almost perfect models of legal reporting. Soon after 1830 Mr. Binney's health began to be impaired, and he desired to withdraw from the courts and throw off the business that oppressed him. It was this, in part, that made him willing to accept a nomination for congress" but there was doubtless another reason that influenced him the hostility of President Jackson to the United States bank. The veto of the bill for its re-charter aroused the deepest feeling of almost the entire business community of Philadelphia, and with that community Mr. Binney was closely associated, while his ability, combined with his well-known knowledge of the condition and operations of the bank, pointed him out as the fittest man to defend the institution in congress, lie accepted a nomination, and was elected to the 23d congress. In the consideration of great subjects, notably that of the removal of the public deposits from the United States bank, he proved himself to be a statesman of high rank and an accomplished debater. But official life was distasteful to him, and he declined a re-election. On his return to Philadelphia he refused all professional engagements in the courts, though he continued to give written opinions upon legal questions until 1850. Many of these opinions are still preserved. They relate to titles to real estate, to commercial questions, to trusts, and to the most abstruse sub-jeers in every department of the law. They are model exhibitions of profound and accurate knowledge, of extensive research, of nice discrimination, and wise conclusion, and they were generally accepted as of almost equal authority with judicial decision. Once only after 1836 did Mr. Binney appear in the courts. In 1844, by appointment of the city councils of Philadelphia, he argued in the Supreme Court of the United States the case of Bidal vs. Girard's executors, in which was involved the validity of the trust created by Mr. Girard's will for the establishment and maintenance of a College for orphans. The argument is in print, and it is still the subject of admiration by the legal profession in this country, and almost equally so by the profession in Great Britain. It lifted the law of charities out of the depths of confusion and obscurity that had covered it, and while the fullness of its research and the vigor of its reasoning were masterly, it was clothed with a precision and a beauty of language never surpassed. The argument was a fitting close to a long and illustrious professional life. Mr. Binney had a fine, commanding person, an uncommonly handsome face, a dignified and graceful manner, and a most melodious voice, perfectly under his control, and modulated with unusual skill. In fine, he was in all particulars a most accomplished lawyer. No words can better describe him than those which he applied to a great man, the friend of his early manhood: "He was an advocate of great power; a master of every question in his causes ; a wary tactician in the management of them ; highly accomplished in language; a faultless logician; a man of the purest integrity and the highest honor; fluent without the least volubility; concise to a degree that left every one's patience and attention unimpaired, and perspicuous to almost the lowest order of understanding, while he was dealing with almost the highest topics." If it be added to this that his mental power was equal to the comprehension of any legal subject, that his mode of presentation was the best possible, that his rhetoric was faultless, that he had an aptness of illustration that illuminated the most abstruse subjects, and a personal character without a visible flaw, it will be seen that he must have been, as he was, a most persuasive and convincing advocate. In 1827, by invitation of the bar of Philadelphia, he delivered an address on the life and character of Chief-Justice Tilghman; and in 1835, complying with a request of the select and common councils of the City, an address on the life and character of Chief-Justice Marshall. Until the close of his life he was a constant reader and an indefatigable student. He kept himself well informed of current events, and in regard to all public questions he not only sought information, but matured settled opinions. In 1858 he published a sketch of the life and character of Justice Bushrod Washington, in which he delineated the qualities that make up a perfect nisi prius judge, with singular acuteness. In the same year he published sketches of three leaders of the old Philadelphia bar, which were greatly admired. He also in 1858 gave to the press a more extended discussion, entitled "An Inquiry into the Formation of Washington's Farewell Address," strikingly illustrative of the character of his own mind, and of his habits of investigation and reasoning. And in 1862 and in 1863 he published three pamphlets in support of the power claimed by President Lincoln to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. His argument was not less remarkable than the best of his earlier efforts. Throughout his life Mr. Binney manifested a deep interest in many literary, scientific, and art institutions of Philadelphia, and in many of the noblest charities. He was also an earnest Christian, a de-rout member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and often a leading member of its conventions. The activity of his mind remained undiminished until his death. This occurred forty years after the age when most men are at the zenith of their reputation, forty years after he had substantially retired from public view and from participation in all matters that attract public notice, and at the end of a period when public recollection of most lawyers has faded into indistinctness. *His son, Horace, Jr., lawyer, born in Philadelphia, 21 January 1809: died there, 3 February 1870, was graduated at Yale in 1828, studied law with his father, and practiced his profession in his native city from his admission to the bar in 1831, confining himself mostly to chamber consultations. In early life he took a deep interest in municipal politics. He was president of the Philadelphia associates of the sanitary commission, founder of the union league of that City, and president of the association at the time of his death. A memoir of Mr. Binney, read before the American philosophical society, 6 May 1870, by Charles J. Still5, has been published.
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