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Hon. Prescott Smith
THE passing of any human life, however humble and unknown, is sure to give rise to a pang of anguish in some
heart, but when the "fell destroyer" knocks at the
door of the useful and great and removes from earthly scenes the man of honor and influence, it not only means bereavement to kindred and friends, but a public calamity as well. In the largest and best sense of the term, the late Judge Prescott Smith was distinctively one of the notable men of his day and generation, and as such his life record is entitled to a conspicuous place in the annals of the State of Ohio. As a citizen he was public-spirited and enterprising to an unwonted degree; as a friend and neighbor, he combined the qualities of head and heart that commanded respect and won confidence; as an attorney, who had a comprehensive grasp upon the philosophy of jurisprudence and brought honor and dignity to the public positions he filled with such distinguished success, he was easily the peer of his professional brethren of the Ohio bar, and as a servant of the people in places of honor he had no superiors. It is scarce less than supererogation in outlining the leading facts in his life to refer to him as a lawyer in the ordinary phraseology which meets requirements when dealing with the average member of the legal profession. He was indeed much more than eminently successful in his legal career, as was indicated by his long, praiseworthy record at the bar. He was a master of his profession, a leader among men distinguished for the high order of their legal ability, and his eminent attainments and ripe judgment made him an authority on all matters involving a profound knowledge of jurisprudence.
Prescott Smith was born in Oakland, Clinton County, Ohio, August 26, 1856, and his death occurred at his home in "The Auburndale," Cincinnati, on April 8, 1912. Mr. Smith was descended from a line of sterling ancestors, through whom were transmitted to him those elements of character which made him a leader of men. His great-grandfather, Rev. James Smith, who was one of Ohio's most prominent early pioneers, was a native of Virginia, where he had been a slave-holder, but, becoming convinced that human slavery was wrong in principle, he set his slaves free and came to Ohio to live, making the trip on horseback. During that journey he wrote a "journal," faithfully recording not only current events, but also his views and opinions on happenings and customs of the day. This diary has been preserved by the Ohio State Historical Society, and a copy of it is also in the Congressional Library at Washington. James Smith was an ardent member of the Methodist Church and after his coming to Ohio he was one of the first to preach the Word of God in the then western frontier. He took up a large tract of uncleared land
along the banks of the Miami River, but while a comparatively young man, was called to close his earthly accounts, his death being caused by the dreaded malaria which was so prevalent in the pioneer days. He left a widow and seven small children, and the story of this heroic woman's unselfish struggle to rear her family is worthy of record. She was a "high-born" lady, a member of one of Virginia's best families, but who had bravely accompanied her husband into a strange community, where soon afterwards she was deprived of his support and protection, her only home being a rude log cabin. However, single-handed and alone, she kept her little flock together and reared her children to honorable and respected manhood and womanhood. Among these children was Joseph, who, as soon as large enough, gave his mother his assistance in getting the home land cleared and in cultivation. Eventually he married a Miss Whitehill and purchased a farm in Warren County, Ohio, where he and his wife spent the remainder of their days, farming being their main vocation. Among their children was John Quincy Smith, who was born on the Warren County farm and who was reared as were the average farm boys of that early day. His services being required in the operation of the home farm, his early schooling was somewhat limited, but his father was a firm believer in the advantages of an education, so that later John Quincy was able to spend a short time at Miami College. He was a man of vigorous mentality and sound judgment, an omnivorous reader and a keen observer, so that he became a man of wide and accurate information. He early impressed himself on the community and while still a young man he was elected to the State legislature. While in Columbus, during the sessions of that body, Mr. Smith's room-mate was James A. Garfield, who was just starting out on his public career, and other intimate acquaintances were John Sherman and U. S. Grant. John Quincy Smith became a prominent figure in the politics of his State, was a member of President Grant's Cabinet, a member of Congress, and was appointed by President Hayes consul general to Canada. He remained an ardent Republican until President Cleveland's first administration, when he allied himself with the Democratic party because of his views on tariff reform, and thereafter he remained a Democrat. His published articles on tariff in the New York Evening Post attracted wide attention throughout the country and were extensively quoted by the press and on the stump. During this period Mr. Smith maintained his home on the farm, and indeed, always called himself a farmer, a vocation for which he had a genuine love. Though he retired from active public life he was frequently called upon to serve the people in public capacities. He was one of the committee in charge of the building of the State Reformatory at Mansfield, Ohio, and was afterwards made a trustee of that institution. His death occurred at his home in December, 1901, at the age of seventy-eight years, his widow surviving him about five years. His wife, whose maiden name was Emeline Evans, was a native of Warren County, Ohio, and a sister of the late Judge Charles Evans. To Mr. and Mrs. Smith were born five children, namely, Horace W., who lives on the old home farm;
Prescott, who is the immediate subject of this memoir; Jennie, Mrs. McCune, of Kokomo, Indiana; Charles, deceased; Miss Nellie, of Wilmington, Ohio.
Prescott Smith spent his boyhood days on the paternal farmstead, his elementary education being received in the district schools of the neighborhood. He later entered the Ohio Wesleyan College, at Delaware, where he was graduated in 1878. His father at that time being located officially at Montreal, Canada, young Prescott joined his parents there and at once began the study of law. Later he returned to Ohio and continued his studies under his uncle, James M. Smith, at Lebanon, this State. In 1880, he was admitted to the bar at Columbus, and at once came to Cincinnati and entered upon the active practice of his profession. During the following thirty years he was generally recognized as one of the most active and successful lawyers in southern Ohio, standing in the very front rank and being connected, on one side or the other, with most of the important litigation in the local courts. His first law partner was Thomas H. McConica, a relation which was dissolved when Mr. McConica moved to Findlay. From 1887 to 1900, Mr. Smith was associated with Oscar W. Kuhn, a legal firm which was widely recognized as one of the strongest in the State, but after the latter date Mr. Smith was alone in the practice. He was, during his earlier years, a Republican; but later became a Democrat, in the councils of which party he was long a familiar figure and an active and effective worker. He was never a seeker after office for himself, believing that the office should seek the man, but he also felt that no man had a right to refuse to hold office when there appeared to be a demand for him, and therefore he was several times the nominee of his party for judicial honors, even when defeat was certain. In 1911 Mr. Smith was elected Judge of the Superior Court by a handsome majority, and was the honored incumbent of that position at the time of his death. At that election he was given the largest vote ever given a Democratic candicate in Cincinnati Those of his friends who predicted that he would honor the bench over which he was chosen to preside were not disappointed in him, and his career, all too brief, was one which reflected the greatest honor on him.
The law was Mr. Smith's supreme mistress. To him the law was a science; he reveled in its philosophy. it was never a trade, nor a mere art. There were slight avocations, but, in truth, between the practice of his profession and his home and the members of his family, each of whom was always affectionately and indulgently remembered and cared for by him, he swung like a pendulum, until he stopped and trembled to the final stillness, among his own, in that ideal lawyer's home.
No man ever questioned his fealty to clients, or their causes, or his fairness to adversaries, or his integrity, when measured by the finest rules of professional ethics. His was by nature and culture a well-balanced, conservative, acute, and powerful mind, having quickness of perception, great susceptibility to suggestions, impressions, and ideas with a capacity, possessed by few men, for their instant and proper classification, assimilation, and effective expression and use in presentation to courts or juries. Jumping to a conclusion was not one of Mr. Smith's characteristics, therefore he made no mistakes in his premises. His power of analysis was great and was equalled by his power of synthesis. As a speaker Mr. Smith was not only pleasing in his personal style, but he used the most perfect diction and he was always listened to with the most profound attention, regardless of where he was or his theme.
Throughout his long career Mr. Smith maintained the most pleasant relations with his professional associates, and treated every court before whom he practiced with a candor and courtesy that commanded its respect. He engaged in no intrigues. He had friends to reward, but no enemies to punish. He was a man of the people in the best sense, hence as far as removed as possible from the demagogue. Upon men and their motives he placed a just value. Whether addressing courts or juries, he appealed not to their prejudices, but to their intellects and their sense of justice. He was a modest man and sought by merit only to earn the esteem and good will of his fellowmen.
In the civic affairs of his community Judge Smith always took the keenest interest and gave his support unreservedly to every worthy movement. For twelve years he rendered effective and appreciated service as a trustee of the City Hospital Board, and in that capacity he formed very close relations with many members of the medical profession, who in turn regarded him with feelings of the greatest respect and esteem, an esteem which was evidenced in his being made an honorary member of the various medical associations of this city. He was also an active member of the Business Men's Club, and, of course, was identified with the legal societies, including the Bar Association and others, all of which passed appropriate resolutions on his death. Fraternally, Judge Smith was a member of the Free and Accepted Masons, and of the Greek-letter society, Phi Kappa Psi. Religiously he was an active member of the Mt. Auburn Methodist Church, serving on the Board of Trustees up to the time of his death.
On December 22, 1881, Prescott Smith was united in marriage with Jessie Edgerton, a daughter of Marvin and Ellen (Riley) Edgerton, of Delaware, Ohio, and to this union was born one child, Margaret, who is now the wife of Cecil Mackey, of New York City.
In closing this memoir, no more appropriate words could be chosen than those uttered by Judge Smith's long-time friend, Elliott Pendleton, in an editorial in the Citizen's Bulletin, as follows:
"The death of Prescott Smith, on Monday last, brought pain and sorrow into many hearts. At his sudden demise heads were bowed in grief. Few men had a wider circle of friends. He was beloved by all who knew him. But his intimates are by no means
the only ones who have suffered a loss in his decease. Prescott -Smith's removal from among the living is a distinct loss to the entire community. He was a man of noble character; a broadminded man; a man of ability and sterling worth; a genial soul, and yet withal a forceful man; a man who possessed opinions and a will; a man of courage; a man who was never afraid to give utterance to his convictions; a man who never hesitated to support a principle or cause which was good and true; a man who was ever ready to sacrifice his personal interests in response to duty's call. All this and more was Prescott Smith. He was a good citizen; a public-spirited citizen. Many and valuable were the services he rendered to Cincinnati. That the community is to be deprived of them in the future is deplored by all. Prescott Smith is dead, but imperishable is the record of his honorable life."
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