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George NICHOLAS 7094, Jefferson Co.

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George NICHOLAS 7094, Jefferson Co.

Posted: 1022503484000
Classification: Query
Surnames: Nicholas, Smith, Hawes, Prather, Catron, Denny
NOTE: I have no connection and no further information.

Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky, by H. Levin, editor, 1897. Published by Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago. Reprinted by Southern Historical Press. p. 215. Jefferson County.

GEORGE NICHOLAS, lawyer, soldier and jurist, was probably born in James City county, Virginia, about 1743, and died at Lexington in 1799. His father, Robert Carter Nicholas, was a distinguished lawyer of that state, was treasurer of the colony of Virginia, a member of its council and of the house of burgesses. George Nicholas commanded a company of Virginian troops in the Revolutionary war, subsequently practiced law in Charlottesville, Albemarle county, was a leading member of the Virginia convention, assembled for the consideration and adoption of the constitution of the federal Union; was a member of the Virginia legislature from Albemarle county and had taken rank among the first men of that state long prior to his removal to Kentucky, in 1787; he settled in Mercer county, near Danville in 1792 and framed the constitution under which Kentucky was admitted to the Union. Although that convention was composed of the best and most able men then living in the state, it has been claimed that he was the leader and brightest luminary of all. The first constitution of the state was largely his own suggestion, indeed he was reputed to be its author. He had, in Virginia, figured conspicuously in a similar convention, associated with such men as Madison, Randolph and Patrick Henry, and was soon established in the confidence of the people of Kentucky. He was the first attorney general of Kentucky, appointed June 15, 1792, but served only about half a year. He spent the last years of his life in Lexington and became the first law professor in Transylvania University. He was preceptor of many illustrious men in the legal profession, Martin D. Hardin, Wm. T. Barry, Robert Wickliffe and others having been his pupils. Nicholas county was named in his honor. He was a man of great virtue and many noble traits of character, was universally beloved throughout the state and was one of the most distinguished men and lawyers in the early history of Kentucky. His wife was Mary Smith, of Baltimore, Maryland, sister of Brigadier General Samuel Smith, of the Revolutionary army, and many times elected to both houses of congress; and also of Robert Smith, secretary of the navy under President Jefferson, and secretary of state under President Madison. Their youngest daughter became the wife of Richard Hawes, a lawyer and jurist of some celebrity in Bourbon county. Samuel Smith Nicholas, the youngest son, was born in Lexington, April 6, 1797, and was the youngest one of the family of thirteen children. His father's large estate was dissipated by the executors and in the payment of security debts, and of what was supposed to be a handsome fortune nothing remained for the widow and her children. His father died when he was but two years of age and his mother when he was ten. In his early boyhood he attended school near Danville for three or four years, which constituted his entire educational training. At the age of twelve he went to Baltimore, Maryland, to enter the employ of his uncle, General Samuel Smith, a wealthy shipping merchant of that city, and began work in the counting-house at the lowest round of the ladder. His fidelity and ability, however, secured him rapid advancement, and at the age of sixteen he was appointed supercargo of one of his uncle's merchant vessels, making a voyage to Peru and also to China, six years being consumed in the two trips. In the meantime he had improved in Latin and studied French, and while on these voyages he mastered the Spanish language. By the use of the different tongues and by the perusal of books written in those languages he retained his acquaintance with them through life. His voyaging over, he embarked in commercial pursuits in New Orleans. He was unsuited for mercantile business and returned to Kentucky, where he began the study of law under the direction of Chancellor George M. Bibb. After his admission to the bar, Mr. Nicholas remained for a short time in Frankfort, and in 1825 removed to Louisville, where he practiced his profession as a partner of James W. Denny, who was attorney-general of Kentucky from 1825 to 1831. His success was marked and immediate, and he was appointed attorney of the United States Bank, then at the full meridian of its glory. In 1829 he married Matilda Prather, daughter of Thomas Prather, a rich merchant and prominent citizen of Louisville, the marriage proving doubly fortunate, as it brought him at the same time domestic happiness and pecuniary independence. Being thus left free to follow his own inclinations, and having a mind thoroughly judicial, he accepted, in 1831, the appointment of judge and of the court of appeals, serving until 1836, when he resigned. The following year Judge Nicholas was elected to the state legislature and the succeeding year was re-nominated, but was defeated, after which he would never again become a candidate before the people. The Judge was not a popular man. His manner, save with his most intimate friends, and they were few, was ever reserved and austere. He was a sincere lover of people, but it was collectively, not individually; he desired the advancement of the general welfare and public improvement, but would not use flattery or favor to obtain his ends. He spoke the truth as he believed it and the utterance was abrupt, but just. He was perfectly fair, but unimpassioned and cold; yet it is worthy to note that his manners were as attractive on the bench as repellent off. As a judge he was the mirror of courtesy and patience. The secret of this contradiction lies in the perfect obedience to the sense of duty that was the crown of his character. On the bench he was the sworn servant of justice; off the bench he was his own master. The difference between his deportment in the two stations measured, in fact, the strength of his integrity. In 1844 Judge Nicholas was appointed by Governor Letcher chancellor of the Louisville chancery court and served until 1850, when the new constitution of that year made the judiciary elective, and he accordingly resigned. No jurist of Kentucky was probably ever better fitted for judicial duties, his freedom from strong personal feeling, his unimpassioned attitude toward people and things and his calm judgment fitting him peculiarly for the discharge of his duties, unbiased by any personal views or motives. His intellect was at once intuitive and logical, quick in thinking and patient in thinking out; his knowledge of the constitution was exact and thorough, and his respect for that instrument both as a law and as the law, profound almost to reverence; his powers of legal exposition were broad, keen and lucid; his integrity was absolutely incorruptible; his judgment, strong and clear, was impartial to a degree reached by few men of all that have lived, and his independence, alike of character and of intellect, was complete and fearless. He at one time said that there was only one office that that he had ever permitted himself to covet, and that was a place on the United State supreme bench. President Johnson did offer him the nomination to a judgeship of the supreme court on the death of Judge John Catron, of Tennessee, but, believing that the Republican majority in the senate, ruffled by his unsparing criticism of certain measures of their party, would refuse to confirm the selection, and not caring in his old age to figure as the recipient of a barren honor, he declined it. One other service, and a signal one, he rendered to his profession, under the sanction of the state, before retiring finally from the bar, namely, the revision and arrangement of the statute laws of Kentucky, ordered by the new constitution of 1850, and in which, under the appointment of Governor John J. Crittenden, he was associated with Charles A. Wickliffe and Squire Turner. The commission made some very radical changes in the statute law of the state, particularly in the chapter on contracts and in that on husband and wife, both of which Judge Nicholas prepared; and, though neither was adopted exactly as he had prepared it, many of the most salutary features in these important branches of the code, not to speak of other branches, are the offspring of his bold and clear intelligence. That service closed his professional career. Judge Nicholas afterward devoted his time and talents to literary work. He wrote on questions of public interest, especially as regarded state-craft and the national policy. They were essays so just and cogent, informed by so pure and warm a love of country and of liberty, and discussing themes so vital to the public welfare, that they cannot fail to prove of immense benefit, though they were often no appreciated nor understood at the time written. While thus engaged he gave to the nation what has become famous as the "Nicholas presidential plan," for the election of the president, which has been discussed at length in congress and through the periodicals and press. Judge Nicholas rarely exercised his right of franchise, and regretted the few times that he did so, for neither party platform entirely embodied his views and oft times contained measures to which he was strongly opposed. When he agreed with one party more than the other, he would advocate the doctrines he believed, keeping silent concerning the things he could not endorse, but at the polls voting for neither party. He was a close student of the public situation, and his foresight was phenomenal. In slavery he had long perceived the source of direful woes to the republic, and he advocated emancipation when the advocacy called for courage as well as sagacity, striving with equal zeal after the framing of the new constitution of Kentucky for and "open clause" that would authorize the legislature, under certain restrictions, to provide for gradual emancipation, and taking a controlling part in the convention held at Frankfort in 1849 to promote the insertion of such a clause in the organic law. Penetrating the folds of the slavery question, he saw the fruitage in the bud, and early fore-told the civil war, with many of its political incidents, its issue, and some of its ulterior consequences, but his warnings were unheard or unheeded by his countrymen. Although he was not a favorite with the multitude, the few who knew him intimately liked him as a man; and with good reason, for, notwithstanding his formidable manner, he had the chief qualities that adorn manhood, inflexible uprightness, stainless honor, courage, magnanimity, charity, humanity and purity. He died November 27, 1869, leaving behind him a record without a tarnish, a name without a blot. His first wife died in 1844, and in 1849 he married Miss Mary Smith, his cousin, who survived him.

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