John Hatch George by H. H. Metcalf

The man who makes his way to the front rank at the bar and in politics, and holds his position without dispute for more than a quarter of a century, must be a person of ability, energy, and sagacity. Especially is this true in New Hampshire, which, from the earliest period of our national history, has produced some of the ablest lawyers and the keenest politicians known to the country. Such a man is Col. John Hatch George, of Concord, whose name has long been a household word at every Democratic fireside in the state, and whose eminent legal position is recognized throughout New England.

Born in Concord, where he has ever since resided, November 20, 1824, Col. George is now fifty-seven years of age. His parents were John and Mary (Hatch) George, the former a prominent, respected, and energetic citizen, who, though a native of Hopkinton, located in Concord in early manhood; the latter, a daughter of Samuel Hatch, a leading citizen of the town of Greenland, among whose grandchildren are included the Hon. Albert R. Hatch and John S. H. Frink, Esq., both also known as eminent lawyers and leading Democrats.

Gaining his preliminary education in the excellent public schools of his native town and in the old Concord Academy, Col. George entered Dartmouth College in 1840, being then fifteen years of age, where he diligently pursued his studies for about three years, until the death of his father compelled his return home and the non-completion of his college course. The faculty subsequently conferred upon him his graduating degree, which was followed by that of Master of Arts. Among his classmates at Dartmouth were several who became prominent at the bar and in public life, including the late Hon. Harvey Jewell, and Hons. A. A. Ranney and Horatio G. Parker, of Boston, and the present governor of this state, Hon. Charles H. Bell.

If young George was unfortunate in the loss of his father, and in the failure to complete the college course consequent thereon, he was especially fortunate in being favored with the kindly regard of that brilliant son of New Hampshire, Gen. Franklin Pierce, who, as a friend of the family, had become conversant with his qualities and characteristics, and readily discerned the line of action best calculated for the development and successful exercise of his powers. Fortunate as he was, however, in the enjoyment of the friendship of Gen. Pierce at this time, it may safely be assumed that he never would have been the recipient of such favor had he not given evidence of the possession of abilities above the common order. The really great lawyer has a lofty regard for his profession, and will never be found influencing any one to enter upon its pursuit who is not likely to honor the profession and bring credit to himself. When, therefore, upon the invitation of Gen. Pierce, young George entered upon the study of the law in the office of the former,—as he did soon after leaving college, and at the time when that distinguished man was in active practice,—it was under circumstances every way propitious to that ultimate success creditable alike to each. During his three years of legal study under such tutelage, he made that rapid progress which characterizes the advance of the ambitious and enthusiastic young man, well equipped, mentally and physically, for the work in hand, thoroughly in love therewith, guided by wise counsel and inspired by brilliant example; and when, in 1846, he was admitted to the bar, and entered upon the practice of his profession in his native city, it was with unusual thoroughness of preparation.

At the opening of his professional career, Col. George was again particularly fortunate. Gen. Charles H. Peaslee had long ranked among the most careful lawyers of the state, and had acquired an extensive practice. He was a warm friend of Gen. Pierce, professionally and politically, and, like him, an intimate friend of the George family. Entering largely into public life, its engrossing duties withdrew his attention more and more from professional engagements, rendering desirable a partnership alliance with some active and competent young man. Such alliance was offered to and promptly accepted by young George, who thus auspiciously commenced his professional career.

The limits of this sketch will not permit a detailed account of the progress and success of its subject; but it may be stated, that from his entrance upon legal practice to the present time all his energies and faculties have been heartily devoted to the labors and duties of his profession, in whose performance he has won a high measure of fame, as well as a fair amount of that substantial reward which the world largely regards as the prime object of human effort. His connection with Gen. Peaslee continued about five years, and was followed by a professional alliance of a similar character with Sidney Webster, Esq., then a young lawyer of fine abilities and brilliant promise, who has since become distinguished in legal and diplomatic circles. This partnership continued till Mr. Webster left Concord to become private secretary to Gen. Pierce, upon the accession of the latter to the presidency in 1853. Soon afterward, Col. George formed partnership relations with Hon. William L. Foster, who subsequently became and long remained a judge of the supreme court of the state, and with them Hon. Charles P. Sanborn was also for a time associated. Since the recent resignation of Judge Foster, his connection with Col. George has been resumed.

Not only in behalf of an extensive private clientage have the professional services of Col. George been employed, but for many years, also, in behalf of the public,—he having been appointed solicitor for Merrimack county in 1849, and re-appointed in 1854, discharging the duties of the office until 1856, when he was removed for partisan reasons, the Republican party signalizing its ascendency by a clean sweep of all Democratic officials. From 1853 to 1858, he was U. S. attorney for the district of New Hampshire, appointed by President Pierce.

There are, undoubtedly, many men at the bar, in this and other states, as well grounded in legal principles as Col. George, and even more familiar with the text-books, who have fallen far short of the success he has attained. It is one thing to be able to state abstract legal principles, and quite another correctly to apply those principles to the facts in any given case. It has ever been the habit of Col. George, in the conduct of a cause, to thoroughly familiarize himself with all the facts and circumstances connected therewith. The mastery of the cause itself leaves little difficulty in the determination of the law bearing thereon, and is the strongest guaranty of success in its management before a jury; and it is in the conduct of jury causes that Col. George has won the greater measure of his success. Gifted with great perceptive powers and a ready knowledge of men, and familiar as he ever is with the cause in hand, in all its bearings, he is never taken at a disadvantage, no matter how able or alert the opposing counsel. In handling witnesses, and especially in cross-examination, he has shown unusual tact and ability. He reads the mind of a witness almost intuitively, and understands how to bring out the essential facts even from the most reluctant, and to do so in the manner best calculated to make the desired impression upon the minds of the jury. As an advocate, he is equaled by few and excelled by none of our New Hampshire lawyers; yet his power in this regard consists in the systematic, logical, and intensely earnest presentation of all the facts which go to make up and strengthen his cause, and to destroy or weaken that of his opponents, rather than in the oratory which abounds in eloquently rounded periods and impassioned appeals. In this connection may well be quoted the words of one who, knowing Col. George from youth, has written of him as follows:—

"Intense earnestness, and a faculty of an immediate and powerful concentration of all his mental faculties on any subject which interested him, were the predominant peculiarities of the early manhood of Mr. George. When he came to the bar, he manifested a power of felicitous language, and a largeness of vocabulary, which were rarely to be seen even in the most practiced speakers. He never prepared beforehand the words of his spoken utterances, either at the bar, in the committee-room, or on the stump. Whatever he could see and understand at all, he saw and understood clearly. The strength of his feelings, the enormous power and range of his vocabulary, added to this clearness of vision, made mere verbal preparation unnecessary for him. His speaking was made up of a clear perception of the turning-point of his case, and then of pungent epigram, sparkling paradox, rattling attack, vivid repartee, hearty humor, and, when occasion called for, of a fearlessness of denunciation of what he believed to be wrong or unjust or unfair, which made him, even at the outset of his brilliant career, a dangerous antagonist for the most practiced and powerful members of the New Hampshire bar."

Though not retiring from general practice, Col. George has devoted his attention largely to railroad law for many years past, having accepted, in 1867, the position of solicitor for the Boston & Lowell Railroad, and established an office in Boston for the transaction of business in connection with that position. For nearly twenty years previous to that date he had served as clerk and counsel of the Concord Railroad corporation, and had already become familiar with the law of railways and their general relations to the public. To-day there is no higher living authority upon railroad law in New England than Col. George,—no man who understands more thoroughly or can state more clearly the respective rights, duties, and obligations of railroad corporations and the people, in relation to each other, a general understanding of which is becoming more and more essential to the fullest measure of our national prosperity. His public addresses upon the subject, his arguments before legislative committees, courts, and juries, are models of clearness and cogency, admirable in construction and convincing in effect.

Notwithstanding his uninterrupted devotion to the law, Col. George is no less generally known in politics than at the bar. Well grounded in the faith of the Democratic party in his youthful years, his intimate association with Pierce, Peaslee, and other distinguished leaders of that organization in his early manhood served to intensify his feelings and convictions in that regard, so he has ever been a ready and zealous exponent of Democratic principles and a champion of the Democratic cause, contributing his services without stint in conventions, in committee work, and upon the stump, doing able and brilliant service in the latter direction in all parts of the state, and in almost every campaign for the past thirty-five years. He long since came to be regarded as one of the most powerful and effective political debaters in the state. His efforts upon the stump are characterized by the same earnestness, the same sledge-hammer logic, and the same comprehensive array of facts, as at the bar. His mode of warfare, political as well as legal, is of the Napoleonic order. He never assumes the defensive, and if placed in such position by any combination of circumstances he soon transforms it into one of active aggression.

From 1851 to 1853, inclusive, Col. George served as chairman of the Democratic state committee, and again in 1856. In 1852 he was also selected as the New Hampshire member of the Democratic national committee, and he was especially active in the campaign, both in the state and the country at large, which resulted in the election of his friend, Gen. Pierce, to the presidency. His service upon the national committee continued until 1860. He was a member of the Democratic national convention in 1856, and chairman of the state delegation in the national convention at Cincinnati, in 1880. At the state convention of his party, in September of that year, he presided, delivering, upon assuming the chair, one of the ablest addresses ever heard upon a similar occasion.

His party having been in the minority in New Hampshire for the past twenty-five years, he has been comparatively little in public office. Aside from the non-partisan positions heretofore mentioned, he was for three years—in 1847, 1848, and again in 1850—clerk of the state senate. In 1853 he was chosen a member of the legislature, but resigned his seat to accept the office of United States attorney. In this connection it may be mentioned that in 1855 he was tendered, by President Pierce, the office of secretary of the territory of Minnesota, which he at first was inclined to accept, but, after deliberation, determined to forego the chances for political promotion ordinarily involved in an appointment of that character, and remain with his friends and his law practice in his own state. In 1850, Col. George received the Democratic nomination for congress in the second district, and again in 1863, when he made a vigorous canvass, and was defeated by a very close vote. In 1866 he received the votes of the Democratic members of the legislature as their candidate for United States senator. Had he deserted his party and allied himself with the majority when the Republicans came into ascendency, he might readily have commanded the highest honors in the gift of the state, as others less able than himself have done; but his position in the honest regard of the people, irrespective of party, is far higher to-day for having remained true to his convictions and steadfast and active in their maintenance.

His military title comes from his service as chief of the staff of Gov. Dinsmoor from 1848 to 1850. He was also for several years commander in the brilliant and popular organization known as the "Governor's Horse-Guards." As a popular orator, outside the domain of law and politics, Col. George also takes high rank. His oration upon Daniel Webster, at the recent centennial celebration of the birth of that most illustrious son of New Hampshire, under the auspices of the Webster club of Concord, is surpassed in power and felicity of expression by none which the event anywhere called forth.

Col. George was united in marriage, in September, 1849, with Miss Susan Ann Brigham, daughter of Capt. Levi Brigham, of Boston, who died May 10, 1862, leaving five children, three sons and two daughters. In July, 1864, he married Miss Salvadora Meade Graham, daughter of Col. James D. Graham of the United States engineers, by whom he has one child, a daughter. His eldest son, John Paul, graduated at Dartmouth College in 1878, entered the Harvard Law School, and is now a student-at-law in the office of George & Foster. His second son, Charles Peaslee, graduated in June, 1881, at the naval school at Annapolis, and is now a midshipman in the U. S. navy. His third son, Benjamin Pierce, is a member of the sophomore class in Dartmouth College. His eldest daughter, Jane Appleton, is the wife of Mr. Henry E. Bacon, and resides in Portland, Me.; his second daughter, Anne Brigham, is at home; while the youngest daughter, Charlotte Graham, is at school in Washington, D. C.

The family residence of Col. George is the old paternal mansion on North Main street, in Concord, wherein he was born. He has also an excellent farm a few miles out of the city, in Hopkinton, where he makes his summer home, and where, in his little leisure from professional labor, he indulges a fondness for rural pursuits, and especially for the breeding and care of domestic animals, which was one of the characteristics of his boyhood. Incidental as this may be, his farm is known as one of the most highly cultivated in the section where it is located, and his horses and Jersey cattle are the admiration of all lovers of good stock.

As a citizen, Col. George is public-spirited, and freely devotes his time and energies to the furtherance of every movement and the advocacy of every measure which he believes calculated to promote the material or educational welfare of the community. No man in Concord has done more than he to advance the prosperity of the city in every essential regard. The efficiency of the public schools has ever been an object of deep interest to him; and as a private citizen, as a member of building committees, and in the board of education, he has given his services freely in perfecting the admirably equipped public-school system, which is far from the least of the attractions which render our capital city one of the most desirable places of residence in New England.

The general extension of the railway system of the state, to which most that has been accomplished in the development of its material resources for the last twenty-five years is due, has ever found an enthusiastic supporter in Col. George, who has been and still is directly connected with several railroad enterprises in different sections, which have proved of great local and general advantage.

Few men have more or warmer friends than Col. George. A man of positive opinions, frankly and honestly declared, he commands the sincere respect of those with whom he comes in contact in all the relations of life, private, social, public, and professional. Formidable as an opponent, he is nevertheless fair and honorable, as he is true and faithful as a friend and ally. He is a prominent member of the Masonic order, having attained the rank of sovereign grand inspector-general of the 33d degree, and a member of the "Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States."

This brief sketch can perhaps be no more appropriately concluded than in the following language of the gentleman (Sidney Webster, Esq.,) heretofore quoted:

"Years of incessant toil, while they have diminished somewhat the energetic temperament and the exuberant animal spirits of Col. George's youth, and have naturally softened his once blunt and almost brusque manner in debate, have not diminished the real force and strength of his genuine character, for character is just what Col. George has always had. As the ripples of his experience spread over a wider and wider area, he may have less and less confidence in the infallibility of any man's opinions, and less belief in the importance to society of any one man's action; but Col. George has reached and passed his half century with his mental faculties and his moral faculties improving and strengthening, year by year. New Hampshire has to-day very few among her living sons better equipped to do triumphant battle for her in the high places of the world."