GEORGE B. SMITH


From History of Dane County, Wisconsin, publ. by Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1880, page 549-551

GEORGE B. SMITH was born at Parma Corners, Monroe County, N.Y., May 22, 1823. His father, Reuben SMITH, was a native of Rhode Island. His mother's maiden name was Betsey PAGE. She died when the subject of this sketch was but ten weeks old. Both father and mother possessed much strength of character, and the father filled many places of honor and trust, discharging faithfully every duty. In 1825, the family removed to Cleveland, Ohio; and in 1827 took up their residence in Medina, Ohio. It was in this place that George received a few years' schooling, and entered upon the study of the profession of law, with H. W. FLOYD, of Medina. In about a year thereafter he entered the office of ANDREWS, FOOT & HOYT, of Cleveland, where he pursued his studies with great diligence for about one year. Being a young man possessing much self-reliance - a characteristic that never left him in after life - his mind naturally turned to the great West, which was then attracting attention in all parts of the country, and, with his father, came to Wisconsin, locating first at Kenosha (then Southport), and there pursued his studies in the office of the late O. S. HEAD. He was admitted to practice at the bar of the United State Court, A. G. MILLER presiding, on the 4th of July 1843. Spending a short time in Kenosha after his admission, he returned to Ohio, and united himself in marriage with Miss Eugenia WEED, of Medina. Then, with resolute courage, he again turned westward, and in the fall of 1845 located in Madison, the capital of the Territory of Wisconsin. It was here that he literally fulfilled the Greeley advice of growing up with the country. Wisconsin then contained but a small population; Madison was a village of three or four hundred souls. The young attorney at once took a leading position in his new home, and rapid as was the growth of the West, he kept pace with it, and in all after life was found in the front rank of its citizens. He at once entered upon the practice of his chosen profession, and one which he dearly loved, in the several courts of the then Territory, and continued a prominent member of the Wisconsin bar to the time of his death.

In January 1846, Mr. SMITH was appointed District Attorney for Dane County, and for six years held this position, giving to the discharge of its duties rare ability, close attention and thought, and a fidelity to the trust reposed in him. He was prompt and efficient in the discharge of every duty, and rendered the county and State valuable service. He soon became marked as a young man of more than ordinary ability. This was shown in his being selected by his fellow-citizens, when he was less than twenty-four years of age, to represent them in the Constitutional Convention that assembled in Madison in October 1846. He was the youngest man there was in that distinguished body. Young as he was, Mr. SMITH was able to sustain himself with great credit in contests with these brilliant minds, and was acknowledged to have been one of the most active members of that convention. He was Chairman of the Committee on a Bill of Rights, and performed much labor on other committees. He favored liberal exemption laws, and to him, perhaps, more than to any other man, are the people indebted for the liberal laws that now exist on that subject. He urged with great vigor that the matter be engrafted into the constitution, and the instrument produced by that convention contained advanced views on this subject. The principles were so advanced, and carried out so much in detail, that this feature was strongly objected to in the discussions of the constitution before the people, and afforded one of the strongest reasons for its rejection, not so much on account of the principle involved as in the details.

In the fall of 1853, Mr. SMITH was elected Attorney General of the state, and served for a term of two years, declining a re-election.

Mr. SMITH served as Mayor of the city of Madison in the years 1858, 1859, 1860 and 1878. In the years 1864 and 1869, he represented the Madison district in the Assembly, and was deemed one of the ablest men there, both as a worker on committees and as a debater on the floor of the house. He occupied the position of party leader on all political questions. His ability and experience fully entitled him to that distinction. The interests of his constituents never suffered in his hands.

In 1864, and again in 1872, Mr. SMITH was the Democratic candidate for Congress in his district. In both instances, he canvassed the district with much ability and thoroughness, but met with defeat on both occasions, not on account of his own unpopularity, but from the fact that his party was in the minority. In 1869, he received the Democratic vote for United States Senator, in opposition to Matt. H. CARPENTER, the successful candidate.

He was a candidate for Presidential Elector in 1868 and in 1872. In the latter campaign, he took an active part in favor of the election of Horace Greeley to the Presidency. He represented his State twice in national conventions of his party. At St. Louis, in 1876, he made a speech, deemed the greatest political effort of his life, which gave him much national reputation, and would doubtless have been followed with distinguished preferment had the candidates there nominated been successful before the people. The only other public position of prominence that Mr. SMITH has occupied was in 1876, when he was designated as one of the distinguished visitors to Louisiana to supervise the canvass of the vote of that State for Presidential Electors.

Having been an early pioneer of the State and a conspicuous member of the first Constitutional Convention, Mr. SMITH naturally took a deep interest in the affairs of the Wisconsin Pioneer Association, and in the meetings of the surviving members of the two Constitutional Conventions. In July 1879 he delivered an address before these two organizations, in Madison, a duty he performed faithfully and ably, not only giving the history of these conventions, but furnishing also a very interesting and valuable sketch of the early history of Wisconsin.

Mr. SMITH has not occupied the high positions in public life which his talents would have commanded had his party been in the majority. He had the ability and acquirements to make his mark in any position. This has been shown in his practice at the bar, which has been very extensive and where he has maintained a high standing, ranking among the ablest lawyers in the Northwest, as an orator, as an advocate, and as a political speaker, he has had few superiors in the country. He had a fine presence, a splendid voice, a forcible manner of speaking, that rendered his oratorical efforts fascinating and effective. His private life was without spot or blemish. He has been a great reader of the general literature of the day, and his mind was richly stored with its treasures. Socially, he was one of the most engaging and entertaining of men; instructive in conversation, quick at repartee, bright and witty, pleasant in manners, he endeared himself to all who met him in the social circle.

As a politician, Mr. SMITH belonged to the Democratic party. He was positive in his opinions and bold and uncompressing in advocating them. As a strong partisan, he was always armed, ready to defend his own party and attack the opposition. Few men in the State performed more effective work for his party. His labors upon the stump were great, and acceptable to his friends.

On the 29th of August 1844, Mr. SMITH was married to Miss Eugenia WEED, of Medina, Ohio, and estimable lady, worthy of him, and one to whom he was devotedly attached in all the relations of life. They were blessed with five children, two of whom, James S. and Anna, now Mrs. Robert J. McCONNELL, survive, and the other three preceded the father to the grave, and it is hoped they are now joined with him in the life of the blessed.

In his family relations Mr. SMITH was peculiarly happy, and it was at his home where his real character shone out most brightly. As a son, he was dutiful, affectionate and considerate; as a husband, father and grandfather, he was kind, loving, patient, and tender, and doted with the strongest affection upon his wife, his children and his grandchildren. It is in these sacred relations of life that the true and noble character of the real man is shown; and herein our friend stood pre-eminent, and beautifully illustrated the truth of the words of the poet, in the lines:

"Domestic happiness, thou only bliss
Of Paradise, that has survived the fall!
Those art the muse of virtue; in thine arms
She smiles, appearing, as in truth she is,
Heaven-born, and destined to the skies again."

As a citizen, Mr. SMITH was generous, and labored earnestly and zealously for the development of the material interests of his own beautiful city, the State of his adoption, and of the whole country.

Mr. SMITH stood eminent in his chosen profession. For many years he was a prominent member of the Dane County bar, and the senior in the years of practice. In the State, most of the associates of his early years in practice before the several courts, preceded him to the grave. He died on the 18th day of September 1879.


Transcribed and contributed to this site by Carol

 

 

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