Biography of Hiram E. Sickels
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HIRAM E. SICKELS
A REPRESENTATIVE Albanian, a lawyer by profession and widely known state reporter, that is, as the reporter of the New York state court of appeals, is the Hon. Hiram E. Sickels. In the beautiful village of Albion, Orleans county, N. Y., he first saw the light on the 24th of June, 1827. He belongs to the old Holland Dutch extraction – a race that took such a leading part in the rise and progress of free institutions in the early history of our country. He is a son of Hiram Sickels, who was born in 1796 and who died in Albany in 1872. His mother was Lana (Lasher) Sickels, who was of German origin and of unusual strength of mind. His grandfather was Zachariah Sickels of Hoosick; and his great great-grandfather was the Hon. Zachariah Sickels of Troy, N. Y., member of assembly, county judge and supervisor. His ancestor who first reached this country was Zachariah Sickels, who came to Albany as corporal in the service of the West India Company as early as 1648. The family originally came from Austria, where the name was Zikkel; after their removal to Holland it was Zickelson, and finally the son was dropped leaving the present name.
Hiram E. Sickels, the subject of this sketch, was educated at the Albion academy and was there noted for his diligence in study and for the rapid progress he made in the general branches of knowledge. On leaving the academy it was his intention to enter college, but other and more pressing duties required his immediate attention. From his youth his aspirations appear to have been directed toward the study of the law; and at the early age of sixteen he became a student in the law office of Curtis & Stone at Albion. In 1848 he was admitted to the bar and began the practice of his profession at Medina, N. Y., where for about thirteen years we find him busily engaged in laying the foundation of a good legal reputation among the citizens of his native town and county. But his legal practice was to be temporarily relinquished by the breaking out of the civil war, which called to arms so many of our young men engaged in the peaceful occupations and professions of civil life. Inheriting the soldierly qualities of some of his ancestors the patriotic and martial spirit of young Sickels was thoroughly aroused, and early in 1862, he was heartily engaged in raising the 17th N. Y. volunteer battery of light artillery; and when on the 26th of August of the same year that dashing, spirited company of artillerists was ready to start for the seat of war to do effective service in a loyal cause our young lawyer was commissioned its first lieutenant. During all those subsequent days of alternate disaster and success he displayed invincible courage and lofty patriotism, and with his face set “like a flint” against the foe he remained on hostile fields until the final sound of battle had died away on the plains around Richmond. Some of the memorable military movements in which Lieutenant Sickels took an active part were in the capture of Fort Fisher, in nearly all the battles around Richmond, in the series of sharp conflicts in front of Petersburg, in the fierce battle of Five Forks – which resulted in the evacuation of that stronghold and the fall of Richmond, and, finally, in the pursuit of Lee until the famous surrender at Appomattox. When Lieutenant Sickels was mustered out of the army he was breveted captain for the gallant and efficient services he had rendered – services which his loyal countrymen will always gratefully remember.
The war ended. Captain Sickels, with the consciousness of having faithfully performed his duties as a patriot and soldier, returned to the home of his childhood and resumed the practice of law at Medina. It is scarcely necessary to say that his popularity was greatly increased, especially among the loyal citizens of his native county, for the noble part he had taken in the war for the Union.
Mr. Sickels was then a popular young war democrat; and soon after his return from sanguinary fields of strife to follow his loved profession in the arena of legal warfare he was nominated by the democratic party as its candidate for justice of the supreme court, his opponent being that distinguished and able lawyer and jurist, Hon. John Talcott. The district was strongly republican, but Mr. Sickels ran over 6,000 ahead of his ticket, carrying his own county by about 1,200 majority, while it went republican on the general ticket by about 1,500; and in his own village, which gave about 400 republican majority, only fourteen votes were cast against him. This was certainly a striking evidence of popular regard, of which any political candidate might well be proud.
In 1871, Mr. Sickels, in looking around for a wider field for legal practice than that afforded in a rural district, selected Albany as his permanent residence, and here he has ever since continued to live. He was not long in establishing a high reputation for professional abilities in the old Dutch city, which he has deeply loved for its varied attractions as well as for his forefathers’ sakes. In 1872 he was appointed state reporter, a position which he still holds with dignity and honor. He has labored earnestly, continuously, and successfully in this department of legal work, and his carefully edited reports, now numbering over seventy-six octavo volumes, are in the hands of every lawyer practicing in our higher courts. Besides his special duties connected with the court of appeals he has also been frequently engaged as referee in a large number of important litigations. His knowledge of the law in all its branches is thorough and extensive, his arguments are clear and convincing, and his decisions uniformly correct. He is a member of the faculty of the Albany Law School, and for fourteen years has lectured to the students there on the law of evidence. His lectures are replete with profound learning, elaborate research, and eminently suggestive statements, and are of great practical value to the young students.
Upon the organization of the civil service of the state, under the act of 1883, Mr. Sickels was appointed by the civil service commissioner’s chairman of the state board of examiners, which position he held until 1888. He is still a very close student and hard worker in whatever pertains to his chosen profession. He is a member of the Fort Orange club, the Holland society, the Masonic fraternity, etc. In 1852 he married Miss Caroline A. Fairman.
With a soldierly bearing, a tall, robust figure and sound constitution, a rather stern countenance, but at the same time possessed of a genial nature, courteous, companionable, and high-minded – Mr. Sickels has now reached the full maturity of his intellectual powers and enjoys the entire confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens.