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was very thorough ; and his learning, acuteness, diligence, and fidelity gave him very soon a good position at the bar, and a profitable practice.
His first appearance as counsel in the reports is peculiar and characteristic. While a law student, he had taken a class in the Sunday school of the State prison. At that time, the system of imposing additional and severe sentences upon " second and third comers to that institution was established by law. On inquiring into the history of members of his class, whose confidence he had gained by his Christian sympathy and faithful labors for their welfare, he learned that some of them were undergoing imprisonments for long terms of years, or for life, for offences comparatively trivial; and, considering what remedy could be found for this injustice, he became satisfied that some of the original sentences, upon which the accumulations of punishment were based, were themselves erroneous. He thereupon brought writs of error (defraying the whole expense of the process himself), which were argued before the Supreme Court and sustained ; by which a considerable number of prisoners were released. Some alarm was expressed at the letting loose of these convicts upon technical grounds, and warnings and remunstrances were addressed to Mr. Bemis, intimating that his course would be prejudicial to his prospect of success in his profession. But he was resolute and persistent in adhering to his own views of duty, and only ceased his efforts when he was satisfied that the substantial ends of justice did not further require his interference. The result was a marked increase of care by the courts in the imposition of sentences for crime, and the abolition in Massachusetts of the whole system of cumulative punishments.
He was associated with Mr. Bigelow (afterward Chief Justice), in 1843, in conducting the defence of Abner Rogers, a convict in the State prison, who had killed the warden. The case was twice tried, and is a leading American authority upon insanity, and especially that form of it defined as uncontrollable impulse, as an excuse for homicide. The defence was maintained with great gallantry in the face of a public opinion at first extremely hostile ; was at last successful; and subsequent events proved it to have been well founded.
He was also associated with Attorney-General Clifford in conducting the prosecution of Dr. Webster, in the year 1850, for the murder of Dr. Parkman, and did no small part of the labor which that celebrated case required. Each of these trials was fully reported in a published volume, with Mr. Bemis as the editor.
He was engaged for some time in the earlier part of his professional life in assisting the late Judge Willard Phillips in preparing a codification of the criminal law, which, however, failed of adoption by the legislature. But he made the subjects of crimes and punishments the object of profound and philosophical study, and in the course of it maintained a correspondence with some foreign jurists, among whom was the eminent professor of jurisprudence at Heidelberg, Mittemeyer.
In 1858, when in the possession of a lucrative private practice, from which he had already acquired a competency, his delicate constitution received a severe shock, which changed the whole course of his subsequent life. He was employed upon a railroad case before a committee of the legislature, and after a hearing which had continued many hours he made his argument at a late hour of the night. The next day, he suffered a severe hemorrhage from the lungs. A large part of the rest of his life was spent in Europe, the winters in Italy or the south of France ; using the precautions of an invalid, but enjoying thereby a very considerable amount of strength and capacity for labor. His favorite pursuit during these twenty years was the study of public law, and the law of nations. When the war of the Rebellion brought into new prominence questions of neutral and belligerent rights and obligations, Mr. Bemis entered with great vigor into the discussion on the American side of the controversy. He contributed numerous articles to newspapers, and exposed unfounded pretences of the British government with a thoroughness of research and closeness of reasoning which could hardly have been surpassed. Between 1864 and 1869, he published in succession four considerable pamphlets.
1. Precedents of American Neutrality, in Reply to the Speech of Sir Roundell Palmer, Attorney-General of England, in the British House of Commons, May 13, 1864.
2. Hasty Recognition of Rebel Belligerency, and Our Right to Complain of It.
3. American Neutrality : Its Honorable Past, its Expedient Future. A protest against the proposed repeal of the neutrality laws, and a plea for their improvement and consolidation.
4. Mr. Reverdy Johnson: The Alabama Negotiations, and their just Repudiation by the Senate of the United States.
These contained substantial, and in many cases absolutely conclusive, replies to the position taken by the British ministry, and supported on their behalf by the eminent publicist, Sir William Vernon Harcourt, the present member of Parliament for Oxford, who wrote for the London Times over the signature - Historicus."
Mr. Bemis rendered important service to the State Department in the investigations necessary in preparing for the settlement of the Alabama claims. He was a warm and valued friend of Charles Sumner, who had the highest respect for his character and acquirements; and he left Mr. Sumner a large legacy in his will, which, however, lapsed by the death of the distinguished legatee.
Mr. Bemis became a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society on the 13th of July, 1865, and by his will has left to the Society $1,000. The same clause in the will bequeaths a like amount to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, with this modest statement appended, " of each of which societies I have been for some years a negligent member.”
Mr. Bemis was a man of singular purity and refinement of character. His professional reputation was rather that of an acute and subtle lawyer than that of a specially successful advocate. Though never holding or desiring public office, he was warmly interested in public affairs, intensely American and patriotic, and a Yankee of the best Massachusetts type. With profound religious convictions, he was fond of theological speculation, attended all the lectures of Mr. Emerson, and, as his pastor and friend, the Rev. Dr. Clarke (of whose society in Boston he was an original and valued member), said at his funeral, “was always regarded as the critical member of the parish committee.”
He was never married ; but was social, friendly, and hospitable, affectionate and sincere. Frugal in personal expenditure, his private charities were constant and ample, and his public spirit was ready and unfailing. He was strongly attached to his classmates, and a dutiful son of Harvard College. I think he carried the heart of the boy into the life and labors of the man more completely than is often to be found.
In addition to the bequests already mentioned, beside a provision for his kindred, and legacies of friendship and charity, his will contains a gift of some magnitude to the Boston Athenæum, a provision for completing the purchase of Mr. Story's statue of President Quincy for the alumni of Harvard College, and the munificent endowment of a professorship in the law department of the University, the precise terms of which I have copied and append to this Memoir. It is a generous recognition of " the debt which a man owes to his profession,” a debt which in other ways he had never failed to acknowledge, and is the crown of his diligent, thoughtful, liberal, upright, and honorable life.
Extract from the Will of George Bemis, dated October 23d, 1872.
8. I devise and bequeath to the President and Fellows of Harvard College the sum of fifty (50) thousand dollars, subject to the life use of my sister Sarah, as hereinbefore specifically set apart; said legacy to become absolute in case of my sister's death before my own. To have and to hold to said President and Fellows, and their successors in. office, in trust for the establishment and maintenance of a professorship of public or international law in the Dane Law School of said University.
I have no restrictions or conditions to lay upon the Corporation in regard to the organization and management of said professorship, other than that I desire that it may be filled by some able and upright publicist and jurist, who shall bring to the office a competent fitness for that special department of study and practice, and of sufficient ability to discuss the current questions of national interest connected with it in such a way as to instruct and aid the popular and professional understanding of them. In that sense,
I should desire him to be not merely a professor of the science, but a practical co-operator in the work of advancing knowledge and good-will among nations and governments. For that object, I should prefer, if practicable, that the incumbent should have had some official connection with public or diplomatic life, or, at least, have had an opportunity, by foreign travel or residence, to look at the United States from a foreign point of view, and so to estimate it as only one of the family of nations.
I will add that I make this bequest to my Alma Mater largely through the impulse of gratitude for her valued teachings; but more especially for the instruction which I derived from the legal department of her schools through the lips of the late Judge Story, whose memory I cherish as one of the best guides to study whom I ever had the good fortune to meet, and whose friendly stimulus to exertion I shall always gratefully remember. I may also add the expression of my hope that this bequest will in some degree aid the promotion of the science of public law in the United States, particularly on the part of my brother lawyers, who, I have thought, have been hardly alert enough in coming to the aid of the national government on the great questions of belligerent and neutral rights, which have of late years so exercised our country and England. May it be the continuing pre-eminence of my country to know and practise a just and Christian neutrality, while other nations are cultivating the arts and prerogatives of war.
WILL OF THE LATE GEORGE BEMIS. The will of the late George Bemis 01 Newton has been offered for probate. His brothers, Jonathan and Seth Bemis, are named as executors, and to them are bequeathed all his factory and railroad stocks, bords and securities and other personal property; to his brother Jonathan Wheeler Beinis, for his sole use, $30,000; to Seth Bemis all his real estate and all debts and personat choses in action due and belonging to him and his personal effects; to his sister, Sarah Wheeler Bemis, for her life use, $50,000; to the said sister his pictures and other objects of art; to the pzesident and fellows of Harvard College the sum of money set apart for tbe life use of his sister Sarab, to be held for the establishment and maintenance of a professorship of public or international law in the Dane law school of said university. The sum of $50,000 is to be kept entire in the bands of the executors for
the benefit of the children of Jonatban Wheeler Bemis; $5000 to pay for the compilation and publication of his articles on public aw and the Alabama claims; to the department of State of the United States his annotated volumes of American and British diplomatic correspondence, including the public documents connected with the Geneva arbitration; to bis executors, ibe sum of $5000, to be applied toward the full completion of the subscription of the story statue of President Quincy, long since ordered on behalf of the alumni of Harvard College; to Fitz William Sargent of Philadelpbia, physician, $10,000; to the Boston Children's Aid Society, $1000; to the Massachusetts Historical So. ciety and the American Academy of Arts and Scis ences, each $1000; to Samuel Willard and Ferdinand White, each $500; to Lydia Underwood of Såzonyflle, $100 per annum as long as she shall live; to his pephew. Frederick G. Bemis, his share in the Boston Athenænm; to the Massachusetts Historical Society, all bis Mss. and printed material for the preparation of the Webster-trial reports; to the Boston Athenæum, $20,000, for the purchase of books for the reading-room, and all the rest of his property to his brother, Seth Bemis. The will is dated October 23, 1872.