An attempt has been lately made to destroy the reputation of the Chancellor--on a full investigation of facts, there is no doubt that you will retain that opinion, which his public and private conduct for two and twenty years has impressed on your minds. But as very few who have heard the slander, have either the inclination, leisure or opportunity to make the investigation, and as unhappily there is a disposition in mankind to believe the most improbable calumnies against men in exalted stations, the following agreement, or submission, filed in the court of chancery, in the cause of Johnson against Wallace and Muir, is submitted to your perusal.
"Joshua Johnson "vs. "Charles Wallace and John Muir,} In Chancery, October term, 1799.
"IT is agreed to submit this case to the chancellor for decree, on the bill, answer and exhibits, filed. Either party at liberty to file notes in writing, to be lodged with the register in chancery, on or before the 10th of November next, after which day, the chancellor is respectfully solicited to [make] as early a decision, as his engagements will permit. If the peculiarity of the chancellor's situation with respect to the parties, places him in a delicate situation they will chearfully [sic] abide by any decision he may cause to be made in the premises; and they could wish if any assistance or aid is required, that it might be from one of the judges.
"ROBERT G. HARPER, for complainant. "P. B. KEY, for defendants."
This is the only submission or agreement relative to the decision filed in the case; let now any impartial man of common sense say, whether or not in his opinion it amounts to a reference to an arbitrator, or to a clear positive agreement, that the decision of the cause be delegated by the chancellor to any person whatever.
In consequence however of this submission, the chancellor applied to the chief judge of the general court for his opinion, and obtained it--but conceiving on a second and more attentive examination, that it did not authorize him to decide agreeably to Mr. Chase's opinion, against his own judgement [sic], he determined before either opinion should be known, to require an explicit declaration from the parties; if they should concur in declaring it to have been their intent that the decision of the cause be referred from him to another person, the declaration would be equivalent to an original agreement--but if either of the parties should deny that intention, nothing to his mind was more clear, than that the cause, like every other, must be decided by the constitutional judge.
The chancellor accordingly applied for the declaration by a note to the defendants' counsel; the complainant's counsel not being then in Annapolis The declaration was such as might have been expected--it positively disavowed the intention of substituting any person whatever for the chancellor. It became then in the chancellor's opinion wholly unnecessary and improper, to wait for a declaration on the part of the complainant, or his counsel; and to prevent a contest from which no possible good could arise, the chancellor proceeded to decree according to his own judgement [sic]. In the decree he stated Mr. Chase's opinion, and (as usual) assigned reasons at large in support of his own.
In fact, the chancellor ought either to have wholly disregarded such a vague, indefinite, frivolous submission, or to have demanded the declaration, before he applied to Mr. Chase. His inadvertence or error (if any shall chuse [sic] to call it so) he has freely acknowledged in his decree; and surely it cannot be pretended, that Mr. Johnson has been injured by that inadvertence. He goes to the court of appeals with Mr. Chase's opinion. Now supposing the chancellor to have decided in his favor, either with, or without that opinion, what was there to deprive the defendants of the right of appealing? and would not the court of appeals have had to determine, as it now has, which opinion was right? in short, Mr. Johnson has not the smallest ground of complaint, except that the chancellor did not think favorably of his cause. Of the merits however of the chancellor's opinion, it is not proper here to speak.
By honest, liberal minds it may easily be conceived, that no cause ever came before the chancellor which rendered the discharge of his duty more irksome and painful than the cause of Johnson against Wallace and Muir, and that, if he could have so done with propriety, he would most gladly have declined the decision. Consider the situation in which he was placed--Suppose then, that, sacrificing his judgement [sic] and conscience to the safety of his reputation, he had decreed according to Mr. Chase's opinion, with an avowal (which he certainly must have made) that his decree was contrary to his own judgement [sic]; how great, and how much more reasonable might have been the clamor of the defendants, claiming as they did, the decision of the constitutional judge. But it is not impossible, that, in such a case, the defendants acting with prudence and candor, might have contented themselves with an appeal, the result of which, they might know, would be precisely the same, whether the decree was agreeable to Mr. Chase's opinion or otherwise.
To many minds mere empty victory, of whatever kind, is grateful. The complainant might have been gratified by success in the court below: He has been disappointed, and the integrity of an ancient, well tried judge is therefore to be impeached!
It has been said that an agreement between the parties, which had long since been rescinded, has been handed about, as an agreement filed in chancery, by which their dispute was to be referred to Mr. Chase. I repeat that there is no reference or paper of submission filed in the cause, or agreement relative to the decision, except that, of which I have given a copy; and it requires very little knowledge, or reflection, to be convinced by that copy, that there cannot be such an agreement in force between the parties. Is the chancellor to be blamed if the paper of submission did not suit the complainant's purpose, or express the true meaning of the parties? He knew nothing of the arrangement between them, or of their disputes, otherwise than from the papers in the cause, or from common report; and no person who knows him will believe, that whilst the cause was depending, he would have listened to the defendants, even if they could have been indelicate, unjust, or presumptuous enough to address him privately on the subject.
It is with much reluctance that he appears on this occasion in public print; he flatters himself, that his fellow-citizens will not charge him with yielding to an excessive irritability. He has not mentioned all the circumstances which have impelled him thus to defend himself; it is not his wish to expose the characters of other men; but they may be assured, that he will omit nothing which shall appear necessary, in the honest defence [sic] of his good name.
A. C. Hanson, Chancellor.
Annapolis, March 31st, 1800.
(Baltimore: Printed by Thomas and George Dobbin.)
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