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You have asked me to prepare a brief biographical sketch of Lucius B. Peck, to be read at this, our first meeting, and I cheerfully comply with your request. I studied law in his office. I was subsequently his partner. He was my friend always. It is not my design to speak of him in the language of extravagant eulogy ; but rather to portray him as he seemed to me. Mr. Peck died on the 28th day of December, 1866, at Lowell, in the state of Massachusetts, and under circumstances peculiarly affecting. He had been in Boston about the 12th of December on a business engagement. He stopped at Lowell on his way home. The morning after his arrival he was found in his room at the hotel upon the floor, where he had fallen from an attack of apoplexy, unable to speak or move ; he lingered until the 28th, when the light went out. The expression of sorrow and sympathy throughout the state and wherever he was known was universal. His remains were accompanied to Vermont by a committee of the Lowell bar, and his funeral was largely attended by people from abroad as well as at home.
After the lapse of nearly thirteen years my recollections of personal incidents and characteristics are not so fresh as could be wished; but generally I have him in mind as vividly as when he died.
Lucius B. Peck was the son of General John Peck, and was born in October, 1802, at Waterbury, in this county. He lived there until he was nineteen years of age, when, having finished a preparatory course, he was admitted as a cadet to the military academy at West Point, July 1, 1822, where he stayed one year. Although he was studious and scholarly, and took a high rank in his class, he was compelled to resign on account of ill-health. His resignation was accepted August 15, 1823. The following year, having regained his health, he entered the office of Hon. Samuel Prentiss as a student-at-law.
From those who were his fellow students, I learn that here he first began to develope those powers of clear discrimination and accurate judgment for which he was afterwards so much distinguished.
After about one year spent in the office of Judge Prentiss, he went into the office of Ilon. Denison Smith, of Barre, where he completed his studies, and was admitted to the bar in this county at the September term, 1825.
He immediately formed a partnership with Mr. Smith, who at this time was adv:uced in years, and with a large practice. The duties that this connection imposed upon Mr. Peck were arduous, but exceedingly beneficial. He felt these responsibilities and labored like a Hercules to be equal to them. His modesty of manner excited sympathy, and his clearness of mind challenged attention. While the old clients of Mr. Smith at first naturally doubted his untried hand, acquaintance soon begot familiarity, and familiarity confidence, and in a few years we find Mr. Peck in the full tide of successful practice in Orange and Washington counties.
So great was the confidence of the public in him, that at this early age, soon after he commenced practice, he was sent to the legislature as the representative of Barre. Though he talked little, he always talked well. His deference to the opinion of others was always marked, and generally he found greater pleasure in being an attentive listener than a noisy debater.
About 1827 Mr. Smith died, and soon afterwards Mr. Peck removed to Montpelier, and continued the practice of law here from that time till the time of his death. From the time Mr. Peck removed to Montpelier his practice was constantly increasing. He began to be generally known over the state. In Orange county he was engaged in almost every case.
Dillingham, Upham and Tracy also practiced there,—all men of superior ability. Pitted against each other, their wits were sharpened, and the traces always kept tight. The sharp retort, the fiery sarcasm, the nervous energy of Mr. Tracy, found its match in the cool, deliberate, mental power of Mr. Peck. They were generally matched against each other.
It should be remembered that courts are not now what they were then. There were no railroads then ; local attachments and feeling were stronger than now. The county seat was to the county a center to which all eyes were turned on court day. The hotels were filled, the court house jammed with an interested and partisan audience, who were keen to sympathize with and applaud any happy hit which came from the lawyer who vindicated the cause in which they happeneduto believe. Thus emulation was created. Each lawyer knew what was expected of him. He stood not in representation of his client alone, but he stood to vindicate a just cause, and hurl back all anathemas that trenched upon the rectitude of the intentions of his client, his witnesses and friends.
Mr. Tracy was the senior of Mr. Peck, but he had for him a profound respect. After the battle was over they were the best of friends. They were wholly dissimilar. Mr. Tracy was fiery, impetuous and magnetic. Mr. Peck was slow, deliberate and argumentative, but as he proceeded the hearers felt that a strong mental power was operating to instruct the understanding and convince the mind.
Mr. Tracy's power lay in his extreme earnestness, his biting denunciations, and often his eloquent appeals to the passions or prejudices of his hearers.
Mr. Peck's lay in the candor and fairness of his statement, and the matchless elimination of truth from falsehood.
These very dissimilarities in their characters contributed to make them friends, and the more that each recognized in the other what was wanting in himself.
There was Dillingham, too, the last of them now living, whose emotional countenance and musical voice, notwithstanding the fire of Mr. Tracy and the candor of Mr. Peck, were very apt to snatch the verdict from both if he could only get the close of the case.
It was with such men and amid such surroundings that Mr. Peck practiced from the time he came to Montpelier down to about 1845. To hold any position of equality with them, he was obliged to labor incessantly. But this he always did cheerfully, for he loved his profession.
About 1830 he married the daughter of Ira Day, Esq., of Barre, who was then one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the state. For a few years they boarded, and then he went into the house which he continued to occupy up to the time of his wife's death, in 1854. After his marriage the charms of domestic life added to his happiness, and the years flew swiftly by.
I have it from his own lips that these years from 1830 to 1845 were the pleasantest of his life. And his old friends remember with great pleasure the generous hospitalities which were so gracefully dispensed by him and his accomplished wife during these years. Happy in his home, and successful in his profession, Mr. Peck was content, though still aspiring.
About this time he was retained as general counsel for the Vermont Central railroad, through the influence of Governor Paine, who had a thorough appreciation of his safe and reliable legal advice, and from that time to the time of his death he continued their counsel. But though overwhelmed with professional business, Mr. Peck after 1845 mingled to some extent in politics. From 1847 to 1851 he represented this district in congress. While there he formed many valuable acquaintances, and among those of whom he was most accustomed to speak were Daniel S. Dickinson and Governor Marcy, for with them in particular he was on intimate and familiar terms.
His congressional career was satisfactory to his constituents. He was respected and honored by all who knew him, and in all the speeches which he made there is the same precision and accuracy for which he was noted at home. But I think political life was distasteful to him.
He was essentially a man of habit. His profession was the profession of law. He had become habituated to the routine of that kind of labor, and when he stepped into a new arena he felt that he had strayed from home, and I think his mind ever turned from the dissipations of the fashionable life of Washington with fond regret to his quiet home among his friends and the green hills of Vermont. Indeed, he has told me this in substance, many times, and that the greatest mistake of his life was in going to Washington at all. Probably, however, when he resumed the practice of law on his return from Washington in 1852, his reputation received additional lustre by reason of his congressional life. After 1852 there were few large suits in the state in which he was not retained.
Mr. Peck's personal appearance was not commanding, in the ordinary sense of the term. He was about five feet and ten inches in height, and weighed about one hundred and forty pounds. Ilis carriage was very erect, and his movement slow and dignified. His face was rather long, with high cheek bones, and with a high and prominent forehead, indicative of fine intellectual development. He was fastidious in his style of dress and mode of living, and his manners showed good breeding and familiar acquaintance with the best usages of society. No coarseness in language or manner was ever observed.
Mr. Peck was United States district attorney under President Pierce, and was once or twice nominated by his party for governor of this state. He was urged on numerous occasions to become a candidate for judge of the supreme court, which he uniformly declined, on account of ill health. From 1859 to his death he was president of the Vermont and Canada railroad.
But his fame rests in his professional life. And here it was that he desired to have it rest. It was to this that he bent his