Biography of Lucius H. Perkins
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Lucius H. Perkins, who resided at Lawrence from 1877 until his accidental death on June 1, 1907, contributed much more to the life of Kansas than the achievements of an able lawyer, great as those were and much as they distinguished him in professional circles. By his varied attainments and accomplishments, by his interest in literature and the broader humanities, he singularly enriched the thought and public opinions of his times. In a generation when the thoughts and energies of the people of Kansas were necessarily concentrated upon the fundamental problems of existence and constructive business, he exemplified that better balance between the practical business man and the thoughtful idealist and scholar. He proved that the successful lawyer could also have time for pure literature. He gained financial independence if not wealth by a large legal practice, and at the same time was one of the leaders of the literary life and affairs of the state.
The ordinary facts of biography can be briefly told. He was born on a farm in Racine County, Wisconsin, March 5, 1855. His parents were both natives of Onondaga County, New York, and were among the pioneers of Southeastern Wisconsin. His father, Otis G. Perkins, was a farmer, was rated as successful and well to do, and in addition possessed the virtues of sterling integrity, thrift and energy. The later Mr. Perkins was also possessed of a long and honorable lineage. The Perkinses appeared in English history as early as the tenth century and were at that time an old and powerful and rich family. They possessed large estates surrounding Ufton Court, the ancestral stronghold in Berkshire. Some of the descendants still own that estate. The first American of the name was John W. Perkins, who came to America in the ship Lion in 1631, and became a member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Ipswich. The family later removed to Norwich, Connecticut, and the Perkins had their family seat there for nearly 200 years. From Connecticut they moved to Northern New York and from there this branch came to Southern Wisconsin. In the long line of American and English ancestry there were soldiers, sailors, lawyers, judges and statesmen.
Lucius H. Perkins had a farm training, was taught the virtues of industry and energy, and at the same time was given a liberal education. In 1877 he graduated in the classical course from Beloit College of Wisconsin. Then aspiring to a place in the world befitting his talents he came from Wisconsin to Lawrence, Kansas. He soon articled as a student of law in the office of Judge Solon O. Thacher. After two years of diligent study he was admitted to the bar in 1879, and in the following year was graduated with the first class of the law school of the state university. He was president of the State Bar Association for a period. Perhaps he attained his lasting fame by reason of his connection with the state university. He was one of the first to be appointed on the State Board of Law Examiners connected with the university and was retained in that position until his death.
With all the burdens and demands imposed upon him as a successful attorney he was throughout his life a scholar and a student. He devoted a great amount of time and energy to general literature, philosophy, and the science of government and constitutional and international law. He never put off the role of a student. In 1897 he entered upon a course of post-graduate study and after three years was awarded the degree Doctor of Civil Laws by the University of Chicago. Mr. Perkins was entrusted with a volume of important litigation, not only in Kansas but in other states. His practice afforded him a liberal income, and he used it wisely in forwarding the many movements with which he was identified at different times.
What had been called his greatest service to his profession was the work he did to bring about a uniform system of examination for admission to the bar throughout the United States. As chairman of the national committee, composed of representative lawyers from different states, he did more than any one else to reduce the system of bar examinations to a science. Again and again he was quoted as the highest authority on the subject by the leading universities and by eminent lawyers.
From his youth up he was a devout Christian and long a member of the First Congregational Church of Lawrence. For over twenty years he was one of the active workers in the republican party. His logical mind, his gift as a debater and speaker, and his insight into economic questions enabled him to perform a notable service for his party and for the country when the free silver craze was at its height in 1896. He not only saw the fallacies in the financial arguments that were so common at the time, but had the better ability to explain and expound these fallacies and show the better side of a sounder monetary system. Under the direction and at the request of the county central committee he prepared and delivered four subjects on financial topics and was a speaker in much demand during that presidential campaign.
While he was a member of several fraternal orders he was especially zealous in the Masonic Order. From 1883, when he was made a Mastor Mason, until the day of his death he devoted his time, his talents and his money to the upbuilding of the order, which to him stood for all that is purest and noblest in the life of man. His genial manners, his kindly smile, his keen intellect and warm heart endeared him to all who came under their spell. He meant much to Masonry in Kansas. He was at his best in the Scottish Rite, and his zeal and marked ability in its work brought him the highest honor within the gift of the Rite, that of Sovereign Grand Inspector, with the honorary thirty-third degree.
On May 15, 1882, Mr. Perkins married Miss Clara L. Morris, daughter of Dr. Richard Morris, a physician who located in Lawrence shortly after the close of the Civil war. Mrs. Perkins was a graduate of the University of Kansas and at the time of her marriage a member of the university faculty. She possessed the culture that made her a companion in study and aims as well as the helpmate of a home. Mr. and Mrs. Perkins had four children: Bertram Allan, born April 14, 1883, and died when four years old; Clement Dudley, born August 2, 1885, and now a resident of San Bernardino, California; Rollin Morris, born March 15, 1889, is at present an assistant professor in the law department of the Iowa State University, and Lucius Junius, born March 11, 1897, is now a student at Kansas University.
Mr. Perkins was fond of travel, gave his family many advantages in that direction and at one time he and his wife and children spent three years abroad. Much of that time he spent in the British Museum pursuing special study along his favorite lines. Devotedly attached to his home, loving the companionship of his fellow men, it naturally followed that his geniality at home was at its best. He could be and was dignified, but at times he acted as a boy again. He played ball with his own boys, and the home was a rendezvous for all the neighboring boys.
Considering the breadth of his culture and attainments, it is not strange that he was often thought of in connection with some of the larger honors of the profession. At one time his name was prominently suggested for appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court, and his elevation to such a position would have been as creditable to the state as a personal honor to himself.
To those who did not know Mr. Perkins personally, and to future Kansans who may wish to understand more of his life and purpose the preceding statements are inadequate as a complete picture. One of his old friends was Hon. Charles F. Scott, president of the Kansas Historical Society and editor of the Iola Daily Register. Mr. Scott in an editorial appearing in the Register after the death of Mr. Perkins expressed a tribute sympathetic but just, and supplying much that had been left unsaid above. This editorial in part is quoted as follows:
“Lucius H. Perkins had good fortune, the best of all good fortunes, to be well born. For 200 years or more the family from which he sprang had been important people in the communities in which they happened to live. Not rich, but thrifty. Not geniuses, but strong in character and common sense. From this sterling sturdy stock Lucius Perkins came into the world endowed with a robust and athletic body, with a keen and vigorous mind, and with a character that instinctively rejected and despised the things that were mean and base and degrading. Born to neither poverty nor riches, he reached in a large measure the advantages of both those conditions. Poverty was not so far away but that the boy was bred to work and to learn by earning it the value of a dollar. And riches were not so far away but that books and music and a college education were within reach. And so the young man when he came of age fronted the world well armed for the battle.
“And the victories came. Not easily always, for the world does not surrender even to the boldest and most fortunate without a blow, without many blows given and taken. There were many long years when it was hard to tell which way the balance would turn, years of tireless toil and unremitting vigilance and relentless persistence. The sturdy body was tested to the utmost and the keen-edged intellect must parry and thrust in ceaseless fencing with adroit opponents and adverse conditions. But in the end the victories came. Victories which brought an assured and honorable professional position, the opportunity, gladly embraced, for notable and important public work, and wealth enough to assure the spacious home for which his hospitable soul thirsted and the comfort and maintenance of the family which was his soul’s delight.
“And as the struggle had not embittered him, the victories did not destroy the sweet and simple kindliness and modesty that made men love him. In the tiny cottage that for so many years was his home he received his friends with the same warmth of hospitality which in later years he greeted them in the stately mansion which he had builded with such loving care and in which he had looked forward to keeping ‘open house’ through the golden years of the slowly declining afternoon of life; and he welcomed his friends by the hundred in the new home with its rich and luxurious appointments with the same modesty and lack of affectation which marked his manner in the small beginning days.
“And the reason he could do this was because by his nature his mind was large and broad, while by training and culture his soul had attained to the full stature of unselfish and noble manhood. All of his life he was a student, not of his law books only, but of the world’s best literature, not forgetting the old classics with which, in their original tongues, he was as familiar on the day of his death as he was at the end of his college course. He was not only a student of books all his life, but he was a lover of nature and a lover of men. He loved the growing things, and on his home lawn were innumerable trees, shrubs and vines that he had set out or planted with his own hands and had tended as lovingly as if they were living souls. He enjoyed far beyond the capacity of most men the society of his friends, and he was lavish in his entertainment of them. During the past winter alone, the first winter in the new home, a thousand or more of his friends had at one time or another been welcomed under his roof with a hospitality which had no limit except that of time and opportunity. And this lavish hospitality had in it no hint or suggestion of mere vanity or self exploitation. It sprang from a kindly, sympathetic, loving nature to which the society of family and friends was as natural and as necessary as sunlight.”