A MAN of fine legal attainments and of high personal character, who has been a steady resident of Albany for the past twenty-two years is the Hon. Matthew Hale, On the 20th of June, 1829, in the little town of Chelsea, in the state of Vermont, this well-known jurist first saw the light of day. His ancestry is in every respect a notable one – including admirable combinations of intellectual, moral and religious principles. His father, Harry Hale, was a descendant of one Thomas Hale, an English yeoman, who immigrated to this country in 1638, and settled in Newbury, Mass. Harry Hale was a leading citizen in his day, and a man of great excellence of character. He was born in 1780, and when about twenty years of age formed a partnership with his brother Nathan, and became a country merchant, first at Windsor and afterward at West Windsor, Vt. He removed to Chelsea, Vt., where he still carried on a country store under the firm-name of Hale & Dickinson. A few years before the birth of his son Matthew, he retired from trade and devoted himself to the management of a grist mill and to farming. He was a captain of the militia, held various town offices; and in 1828, ’32, and ’36, represented Chelsea in the Vermont legislature. He was also for several years county clerk of Orange county, and about the year 1835, was elected by the legislature bank commissioner of the state. A memorial window of stained glass may be seen today in the rear of the pulpit of the Congregational church, in Chelsea, which not only gives the name and dates of birth and death of Harry Hale, but describes him as ” foremost among those who builded this house to the worship of God, 1810.”
Mr. Harry Hale was twice married. His first wife was Phebe Adams, by whom he had eleven children; his second wife was Lucinda Eddy, by whom he had seven more children, the youngest being the present distinguished Matthew Hale. The mother of our Mr. Hale was a direct descendant of Miles Standish and John Alden of Mayflower renown, through a son of Miles Standish who married a daughter of John Alden and Priscilla (Mullens) Alden.
Matthew spent his boyhood under the parental roof at Chelsea, engaged in the usual sports, labors and studies of a country boy. By this means his young constitution was greatly strengthened, and he became a strong and vigorous lad. It was his father’s delight to give him a generous education, as he did all his children, sending him to the best schools in his native town, and afterward to the academy at Bradford, Vt. In 1847 he entered the university of Vermont, at Burlington, where he bore the reputation of being a close and successful student, excelling especially in classical studies, in which he stood at the head of his class. He was deservedly popular with his classmates and instructors while at college, manifesting a cheerful and sunny disposition which in all the turmoil and conflict of professional life has never forsaken him. He was graduated with honor from the university of Vermont, in 1851, at the age of twenty-two. In 1854 he delivered a master’s oration at the commencement of that year.
His natural genius inclined him to the study of the law, and accordingly he entered as a student in the law office of Kellogg & Hale at Elizabethtown, Essex county, in this state. This firm was composed of Hon. Orlando Kellogg and Hon. Robert S. Hale, an older brother of Matthew, who represented his district in congress for two terms; and was for many years a regent of the university of the state of New York, but died in 1881.
After two years of legal study Matthew Hale was admitted to practice at the general term of the Supreme Court, held at Salem, Washington county, N. Y., in 1853. He first began to practice at Poughkeepsie, where he formed a partnership with his brother, Henry Hale, which lasted about two years. On his brother’s removal to St. Paul, Minn., he formed another partnership with Gen. A, B. Smith. The firm of Hale & Smith did a large amount of law business, and was well and favorably known far outside of Poughkeepsie.
Mr. Hale removed to New York city in 1859 and became a law partner of the late Lot C. Clark, a well-read lawyer and a gentleman of fine literary tastes. The law firm of Clark & Hale had offices in New York and on Staten Island, and had a large practice, not only in the metropolis but in Richmond county.
In December, 1863, Mr. Hale, for family reasons, returned to Elizabethtown, and became a member of the firm of Hand & Hale, which consisted of the late Hon. A. C. Hand (his father-in-law), Richard L. Hand and himself. Judge A. C. Hand, the senior member of this firm, we may remark, was one of the first justices of the Supreme Court of this state, elected under the constitution of 1846. The firm of Hand & Hale was noted alike for the deep legal learning and intellectual attainments of its members and the extensive practice it obtained. In 1867 Mr. Hale, indorsed by both political parties, was chosen a delegate from the Essex district to the constitutional convention, which first met at Albany on the 4th of June of that year, and served with distinction on the judiciary committee of that body, of which the late Hon. Charles J. Folger was chairman. Among other distinguished members of that committee were WilHam M. Evarts, Charles Andrews, now of the court of appeals, Amasa J. Parker, Francis Kernan and George F. Comstock. In the fall of the same year (1867) Mr. Hale was elected to the state senate for the term of 1868-9, where he was also a member of the judiciary committee.
On the death of Peter Cagger in 1868, by which the distinguished old firm of Cagger & Hand was dissolved, Mr. Hale came to Albany and entered into a copartnership with the late Samuel Hand and the late Nathan Swartz, under the firm-name of Hand, Hale & Swartz. This firm continued till 1872, when Mr. Charles S. Fairchild was added to the firm, which took the name of Hand, Hale, Swartz & Fairchild. The latter firm was dissolved when Mr. Fairchild became attorney-general in 1875. Mr. Swartz died in 1878, but Messrs. Hand & Hale continued together, with the exception of a few rnonths in 1878, when Mr. Hand was on the court of appeals bench, until January, 1881. They then separated. Judge Hand continuing practice by himself, and Mr. Alpheus T. Bulkley, who had been first a student and then a partner with Messrs. Hand &: Hale, joining Mr. Hale under the firm-name of Hale & Bulkley. In January, 1888, Hon. Esek Covven, formerly of Troy, joined them., and the present firm-name of Hale, Cowen & Bulkley was established, consisting of Matthew Hale, Esek Cowen and A. T. Bulkley.
Among the many important law cases in which Mr. Hale has been engaged since his residence in this city we would mention the following: In 1869-70 he was counsel for the Ramsey board of directors in the memorable contest with Fisk and Gould for the control of the Albany and Susquehanna railroad. Some of the ablest lawyers in the state were brought face to face in this sharp forensic conflict. Mr. Hale’s associates were Judge W. F. Allen, A. J. Vanderpool, Charles Tracey, George F. Danforth, Henry Smith and others; while the opposing counsel were David Dudley Field, William C. Barrett, Hon. Amasa J. Parker, General Martindale and others. In 1872 Mr. Hale was retained by the English stock owners of the Erie Railway Company in the contest with Fisk, Gould and others to obtain control of that corporation. He was counsel for defendant in the mayoralty suit of Judson against Thacher; counsel for the People in the canal suits instituted by Governor Tilden; counsel for the People in the trial of John F. Smyth before the senate in 1878 – where his closing argument before that body is said to have been an effort of extraordinary ability and learning, being listened to with profound interest – and counsel for Dr. Swinburne in the case of the People against M. N. Nolan.
In suits now or very recently pending, Mr. Hale is counsel for the Central National bank of Boston, holder of receiver’s certificates of the Lebanon Springs Railroad Company to the amount of $250,000; for General Burt’s estate, in suits to recover $1,500,000 from the Continental Construction and Improvement Company and others, growing out of the attempted construction of the consolidated Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad Company; for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, in several important suits brought in New York city, and also for the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company in suits pending in the court of appeals. He has also been engaged in several important criminal trials, and has defended a great number of actions brought for injuries alleged to have resulted from negligence against the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company and other corporations. He was counsel in the famous bank tax litigation in a number of suits and proceedings in the state and federal courts, some of which went to the Supreme Court of the United States, and were there argued by him. He was associated with Hon. Wager Swayne, as counsel for the Western Union Telegraph Company, in the litigation with the state respecting its taxation under the corporation tax law. He has frequently been counsel for various parties in legislative investigations and proceedings. During his residence in Albany he has tried a large number of cases in various parts of the state, as well as at home, in which he has had a fair share of success.
Thus it will be clearly seen from this summary that the experience of Mr. Hale as a counselor has been exceedingly varied, including the trial of cases of both local and general interest, and that the legal duties he has already performed have often been of the most complicated, difficult and laborious nature.
In 1883 Mr. Hale was the republican candidate for justice of the Supreme Court, running ahead of his ticket, but was defeated by Hon. Rufus W. Peckham. In 1884 he was commissioner of appraisement of Niagara Falls reservation; and in 1887 was on the commission with Hon. Elbridge T. Gerry of New York and Dr. Southwick of Buffalo, to report the most humane and practical method of capital punishment, whose report in favor of the present system of execution by electricity was adopted by the legislature of 1888.
As a writer his style with comparatively little indulgence in flights of fancy, is perspicuous, strong and vigorous. It is founded more on the classical model, the outlines of which he chiefly formed while in college poring over the old Greek and Latin authors. His arguments are strong and weighty, commanding the close attention of thoughtful, cultivated minds.
Mr. Hale has read several papers before the State Bar association. In March, 1888, he delivered an address at the commencement of the Albany Medical college; and in June of the same year addressed the alumni of the university of Vermont, taking for his subject, ” Civilization in the United States” – his address being to some extent a commentary on the article of Matthew Arnold on that subject in the Nineteenth Century. He has also on many occasions delivered addresses before societies and public assemblies. Besides his extensive law library, Mr. Hale has a large and choice private collection of books, embracing the standard authors, both ancient and modern, on almost all subjects within the range of human learning, and many a passing hour does he pleasantly and profitably spend while free from professional work, in poring over this intellectual wealth, and in enriching his own mind with the choicest sentiments of the master spirits of the present and bygone ages.
As one of the most scholarly of our citizens, as well as a man of strict integrity, Mr. Hale’s abilities have been duly recognized by literary societies here and elsewhere. He has been a member and trustee of the Fort Orange club since its organization. He is also a trustee and vice-president of the old Albany Savings bank; a member of the Reform club of New York, and the University club of the same city. He is vice-president of the Commonwealth club of New York city, and has been president of the united chapters of the Phi Beta Kappa society, in which he is cosenator with George William Curtis, Edward Everett Hale, Justin Winsor, Colonel T. W. Higginson, James Russell Lowell, Joseph H. Choate and others. He has been an active member of the New York State Bar association from the time of its organization, and is now president of that association. In 1883 he received the degree of LL.D. from the university of Vermont.
In politics Mr. Hale, at first a whig, espoused the principles of the republican party at its formation. He cast his first presidential vote in 1856 for General Fremont. He has, however, manifested an independence of spirit rising above party considerations, creating no little adverse criticism in a portion of the republican ranks. On the proposed third term nomination of General Grant in 1880, he used his pen and his voice against the measure. He addressed public meetings in Albany on the subject, and was president of an anti-third term club in Albany. On the 26th of April, 1880, he delivered a lecture in Stein way hall. New York, before a large audience, on ” The Conditions and Limits of Party Fealty.” About the same time he wrote an elaborate article on the third term question, which was published in the National Quarterly Review and copied in newspapers throughout the country. From personal convictions he favored the election of Grover Cleveland for the presidency in 1884 and supported him for re-election in 1888.
Mr. Hale has for several years acted on the conviction that independence of party is the highest duty of the citizen – that no nomination by any party should be considered binding by an intelligent voter merely because he may be known as a member of that party; and that at every election it is the duty of the elector to cast his vote for the candidates whose election in his judgment will most promote the interests of the nation, state, county or city, without reference to the party by which such candidates may have been nominated.
Mr. Hale’s personal appearance is impressive. He is of a rather broad, robust frame, with a bold, large forehead of classical mould. His countenance, while beaming with a high order of intelligence, indicates that he is also possessed of a genial, playful humor, and a feeling of good will toward all classes of citizens. When fully aroused to action in public debate he is bold and defiant, and altogether a strong, undaunted foeman for any antagonist to meet on any forensic battlefield.
Mr. Hale, in 1856, married Ellen S. Hand (daughter of Hon. A. C. Hand), who died in 1867. In 1877 he married his present wife, Mary, daughter of Colonel Francis L. Lee, of Boston, and now has five children, three daughters and two sons, the eldest of whom was born in January, 1879.