Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 15, No. 2
JUDGE CHARLES B. STUART1
By J. R. Keaton2
This is indeed, a memorable occasion for the bar of the Eastern Federal District of Oklahoma.3 No more fitting or worthy service could be performed by the surviving members of the bar of this district than to assemble
and collectively pay proper tribute to the work and character of two such outstanding lawyers as Charles B. Stuart and James
B. Gordon. This, notwithstanding the fact that their splendid services to our profession and nobility of spirit are indelibly
enshrined in the memories of all who knew them well.
As per previous assignment, my remarks shall be directed to certain phases of the career of Honorable Charles B. Stuart as
lawyer, judge, and scholar. The Resolutions just read and adopted give such a complete, though succinct, history of his life
and achievements, including the high esteem in which he was held, as to leave little more to be said thereon without duplication.
I was honored by an invitation from the executive officers of the Oklahoma Memorial Association to deliver a memorial address
on the life and services of Judge Stuart, at the annual meeting of that association held on November 16, 1936, which I gladly
accepted. For use on this occasion, I have revised that address by eliminating certain portions thereof and adding some new
It was not my good fortune to know Judge Stuart personally during the period he occupied the bench of the district and appellate
courts of the Indian Territory, hence have no personal knowledge of the character of work performed by him in those positions;
but, from information which I regard as reliable, I am justified in saying that his accomplishments therein were outstanding,
if not remarkable. With practically no code of procedure, and but few precedents, he had to hew his own trial in interpreting
and declaring the law on many new, varied, and complicated questions of paramount importance. He performed this judicial service
in such manner as to command the respect and approval of all law-abiding citizens within the jurisdiction of his court.
So, having first-hand knowledge of his career as a practitioner for more than a quarter of a century, I shall devote most
of this address to a delineation of his skill, ability, and achievements as a lawyer. His work was largely that of an advocate,
which gave full opportunity for the display of his abundant resources. In the arena, leading the fight for the success of
his clients' cause, he had few, if any, peers.
Though thoroughly versed in both the science and mechanics of law; familiar with the rules of practice and procedure; a counselor
in whose judgment clients could safely rely; equal in fact to all demands of the profession; yet, he shrank from the drudgeries
these accomplishments required. In a trial, either to court or jury, he was the embodiment of vibrant, nervous action; alert
to every opportunity; quick to seize upon every advantage. It was his capacity to present the broad, underlying principles
of the law as a science, "his philosophical insight into the original principles, and his passion for analytical investigation"
that made him a truly great lawyer.
One element of his great force as a lawyer was his power of coordination, his capacity to unravel and make plain complicated
statements of fact, to detect and present only the main or controlling principles. In his legal arguments, he presented few
authorities, but every one so cited was directly in point. Thus, did the secret of his success lie in his endeavor to simplify
and never to confuse, whether addressing a trial judge or the judges of the Supreme, or other appellate, court.
As aids to his powerful mentality, he was large of stature, near perfect in physique, had a strong, far-reaching, yet well-modu-
lated voice—in fact possessed a commanding presence and a most impressive personality.
He was a persistent reader of the classics, both ancient and modern, especially during the later years of his life. Judge
Stuart spent many pleasant and profitable hours alone in the library of his home in Oklahoma City, communing with the masters
of science, fiction, and philosophy. As do most hard-working men with well-trained minds, he particularly enjoyed reading
the better class of detective stories.
Upon his oratorical powers, perhaps more than any other of his many gifts, will his reputation as a lawyer finally rest. His
eloquence, however, had none of the flowery, sophomoric flavor but, as before stated, was wholly of the analytical, philosophical,
and argumentative character. As an advocate before either court or jury with a cause in which he was thoroughly interested,
he was well nigh invincible.
In an article prepared by Judge Robert L. Williams, while Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, and published in
the Medico-Legal Journal, December 1908 (Vol. 26, Issue No. 3, page 218) it is said of Judge Stuart:
"Whilst his career on the bench was creditable, marked with integrity and characterized by ability yet if we were called upon
to say in what field he signally excels, we would say that it was in the forum, rather than on the bench. In the realm of
thought, in incisive, logical and concise discrimination, with such a magnetic and persuasive power as to overwhelm others
and induce them to agree with him, he has no superior and but few equals." In the concluding paragraph thereof, it is further
"Courteous, logical, concise, forceful, discrimination, masterful and eloquent, possessing not only a comprehensive knowledge
of all its branches, but with a wonderful perception also of the probative force of testimony, he stands in the forum like
Saul of old, commanding the admiration of all."
No lawyer had a higher appreciation of the relation of attorney and client than Judge Stuart. He made the cause of his client
his cause. Having established that relation, neither the size of the fee nor the amount involved diminished his zeal. Absolute
fidelity to every trust was the dominating passion of his life. He was a past-master at repartee and sarcasm and on rare occasion,
called into service a form of the latter that scorched everything it touched.
As other great lawyers, he regarded the Constitution of the United States as the "Ark of the Covenant" of our American system
of government. With a devotion unsurpassed, he openly and unwaveringly sustained those great principles therein enunciated,
guaranteeing the liberties of the citizens and the sovereign rights of the states. He fully agreed with Francis Lieber who,
in his great work on Civil Liberty and Self Government, said:
"Man is too feeble to wield unlimited power, and too noble to submit to it."
With equal devotion, he believed in upholding the final decrees of our courts, especially those of the United States Supreme
Court, knowing full well that any other attitude on the part of our people would inevitably result in chaos and revolution.
As illustrative of his position on this question, I well remember his masterful speech before a joint meeting of the Senate
and House of the Sixth Oklahoma Legislature, answering an argument by United States Senator Robert L. Owen. The subject of
the debate was. "Shall the Federal Courts be deprived of their power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional?" (See S.
L. 1917, Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 8, page 338) The Senator supported the affirmative thereof, and Judge Stuart opposed
same. At the close of the arguments pro and con, the members of both houses voted nearly unanimously in the negative.
Hon. Harry H. Rogers, now of the law firm of Rogers & Stephenson of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a member of the House of Representatives
of that (6th) Legislature and his recollection is,
that the question discussed by Senator Owen and Judge Stuart was the "Recall of Judicial Opinion." In a letter to me, dated
April 22, 1937, he says, in part:
"Replying to your favor of April 15, in regard to the address of Judge C. P. Stuart, beg to state that my recollection is
that Senator Robert L. Owen had addressed the Legislature, asking it to pass a resolution requesting Congress to pass a law
authorizing the recall of judicial opinions. After he had made his talk Judge Stuart was then asked to answer this argument—This
he did in an able manner; in fact, I think it was the greatest address I ever heard Judge Stuart make, and I heard him make
While always deeply interested in the more important political questions and policies, Judge Stuart, as stated in the resolutions,
never sought public office.
In this connection, I unhesitatingly assert that, during his generation, the country never needed men of his type—possessing
such courage, character, ability, and devotion to duty—so much as at the present time. In nothing was he greater than in his
absolute independence of thought and action and in adhering to his convictions regardless of consequences.
It will always be a source of deepest regret that so few of Judge Stuart's speeches have been preserved. This misfortune arises
from the fact that, so far as I have been able to ascertain, he never wrote a speech. Only those few that were taken by shorthand
reporters are now accessible.
Gifted by Nature with a remarkable memory, he improved it almost daily by memorizing some forceful, elevating maxim.
The following eulogy recently pronounced on a great Kentucky lawyer, is equally applicable to Judge Stuart:
"Like a magnet he drew and like a sponge he absorbed information from every source. The humblest workman supplied his mind
with information he could not acquire
from the highly educated. From the whole scheme of Nature he extracted the philosophy of life. He loved the flowers because
they typified the pure and beautiful; he loved the vine because its fruit was typical of our invisible being; he loved to
sit alone and muse on the myriad hosts of the sky, because they typified the force of sublime silence. In the trees he heard
the tongue that spoke no evil; in the murmuring brook he read the story of ceaseless action; in the stones he found sermons
unmarred by cant or dogma."
In a toast delivered at the Charleston Bar Dinner on May 10, 1747, Daniel Webster gave expression to the following pregnant
"The Law: It has honored us, may we honor it."
Throughout Judge Stuart's long professional career, his every word and act gave vindication to this epigram.
When the history of the bench and bar of Oklahoma's pioneer days shall have been written, I predict that Charles B. Stuart
will head the list of those indomitable souls who blazed the trails that have since become the legal highways of this great
Commonwealth. We of today profit, not only from what those stalwart pioneers wrought in the all-important matter of righteously
construing, applying, and enforcing the law, but also because we treasure the lives of those who have ennobled our profession
as "Sceptered sovereigns that continue to rule our spirits from their urns."
At last, on October 30, 1936, after a most useful and eventful life and when approaching the age of four score years, he was
called to the Great Beyond; and, for aught we know, he may there meet and commune with such kindred and congenial spirits
of former comrades at the bar as those of Joseph W. Bailey, Yancy Lews, James H. Gordon, A. C. Cruce, and John F. Sharp. By
his passing, the bar of Oklahoma, and the bar of America, have lost a most valued and inspiring member.
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