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office he held until, in 1865, he was appointed to succeed Judge Collamer in the United States Senate, and by the succeeding Legislature was elected to serve out the unexpired term of that distinguished statesman. He entered the Senate at the time the problems of reconstruction were vexing Congress and the nation, and was at once placed upon the Committee of Elections. His strong sense of justice and habit of judicial fairness, brought him into collision with the leaders of his own party, and provoked the censure of the more partisan of the leading Republican journals. But this very independence and tenacity for the right gave him the reputation which, later, when that series of investigations was begun, all of which had collaterally a partisan bearing, suggested him as the man best fitted to conduct them.
While a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Thirty-ninth Congress, he secured the passage of a bill for the revision and consolidation of the United States Statutes, which had been allowed to accumulate for nearly a century without codification. Upon the expiration of his term in the Senate, he was elected to represent the Second District in the lower branch of Congress, and was made Chairman of the Committee upon the Revision of the Laws, which position he held until this stupendous work was completed and became law, in June, 1874. It is a monument more enduring than marble to his tireless industry as a legislator, his great ability as a lawyer, and passed, as it was, without change or amendment, to the implicit confidence both branches of Congress reposed in his faithfulness and capacity for the great trust.
In 1870 President Grant offered him the position of Chief Justice of the Court of Claims. It was a position to his taste, and would have been accepted but for the responsibility he felt for the completion of this work.
While this laborious task was in progress, in addition to his ordinary duties, Judge Poland, as chairman of the committee appointed for that purpose, conducted the investigation of the Ku-Klux Klan outrages, the evidence in which filled
thirteen large printed volumes. The exposures resulting from this investigation effectually broke up this organization, whose deeds were scarcely rivaled in atrocity by “The Assassins" of earlier and more barbarous times. He was also chairman of the committee which investigated the transactions of the Credit Mobilier Company. This work occupied some months, and the result was the relegation of several distinguished gentlemen to private life, who were never again able to rehabilitate themselves with the public.
He also conducted the investigation into the state of affairs in Arkansas, which was had at the capital of that state, and resulted in the prevention of all further attempts at interference of Federal authority in the affairs of the several states, with its co-inhabiting mischief. The Boston Herald said truly that “this investigation was conducted in defiance of the most persistent blandishments of the Administration and with a Federal judgeship in Vermont awaiting the President's appointment.” It is true that Judge Poland was looking with anticipation toward this appointment. For his loyalty to justice and the principles of self-government the people of Arkansas hold his memory in grateful remembrance. One county in the state bears his name. The leading state journal paid him this terse tribute: “He investigated for the truth, found the truth, and told the truth, like the plain, blunt old man that he was.”
There was a bitter fight in the House over this measure, General Butler conducting the opposition, backed by the influence of the Administration. Judge Poland had unbounded faith in the inherent capacity of truth for prevailing and in the terrible potency of right, and his courage never failed him. He snatched a splendid victory from a hostile House. Here many learned for the first time that that certain calmness of demeanor but ill expressed the keen ardor of his soul.
He was elected to the Fortieth, Forty-first, Forty-second, Forth-third, and Forty-eighth Congresses, and during this
period, no member of either body was so intimately identified with so many important measures. He secured the passage of the Bankrupt Law, which had been committed to his keeping by the Judiciary Committee. He took active part in the discussion of the Geneva Award. He hotly opposed the passage of the act known as the “Salary Grab." He was one of the committee sent by Congress to Prince Edward's Island to consider the matter of commercial relations with its citizens. He was also made one of the Regents of the Smithsonian Institute.
He declined to be a candidate for re-election to the Fortyninth Congress, and retired from active public life, still wearing his advanced manhood, hale and green, leaving a magnificent record behind him, the record of a life still echoing on. But when called upon by his townsmen to represent St. Johnsbury in the State Legislature of 1878, he cheerfully responded to the call, and later, having removed his residence to his farm in Waterville, the home of his boyhood, he consented to represent that town (whose first representative had been his father) in the Legislature of 1886.
He continued the practice of his profession in the higher state and the Federal courts, and his power of abridging and getting at once at the sum total of things, together with the capacity for forcing language to convey thought with intensity and perfect exactness, endowed him with the "gift of prevailing with the court.”
As a nisi prius judge he was eminent, and never had a superior in Vermont. His knowledge of practical affairs, his capacity to analyze cases and eliminate all that was irrelevant, his freedom from technicality, his sound and discriminating judgment, his ability to make his rulings rapidly, but with such solid basis of fundamental principles and such clearness of expression as to be convincing to the hearer, enabled him to transact the business of his courts with expedition and dignity, and to the satisfaction of litigants and the bar. In the Supreme Court, the same qualities rendered him eminent.
His opinions were not characterized by extended citations of authorities, but by strong logic, lucid exposition of the vital principles that underlie the cause in hand, and apt and practical illustration. They are models as discussions of law based upon solid reason.
His associate for many years upon the bench, Hon. James Barrett, writes concerning him : “Some of the cases in which he drew the opinion of the court stand forth as leading cases, and his treatment of the subject involved ranks with the best specimens of judicial disquisition."
His life-work was one of unusual disinterestedness. He had great faith in the people, labored for their welfare, and enjoyed their approval; but he cared more for the approval of his own conscience. With him, politics was the science of human justice, and its end, to subserve human happiness.
That he should have achieved so much, and acquitted himself so well, was due to the wealth of his natural endowments, supplemented by that genius which Buffon defines as “a protracted patience,” and which Carlyle called the “transcendent capacity for taking pains.” Behind all this was that sterling integrity which displayed itself in an almost fierceness-the “ire of truth.” His unexampled career seems to set limits to the laws of heredity. Without ancestors of specially marked gifts, there was no cumulative intelligence of several generations to account for his large endowment, Doubtless God does sometimes bestow His favors without asking who was a man's father.
Altogether, more than any other man, he was the distinctive product of Vermont institutions and Vermont civilization, Senators Phelps, Collamer, Edmunds, and others of his peers might have been the outgrowth of another state. Judge Poland, such as he was, could only have emanated from Vermont, and was one of her sons, of whom she has not few, who have saved the state from becoming to the outside world a mere geographical expression,
The multiplicity of his political and professional duties did
not abridge his capacity for other work. He was for twentytwo years President of the First National Bank of St. Johnsbury; was one of the Trustees of the University of Vermont, which institution conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws; was among those who secured the organization of the American Bar Association, and was Chairman of its Executive Committee from its organization till his death ; took an active interest in the State Bar Association, and, when at home, always attended State, District, and County Conventions, and town meetings, and into whatever he touched he poured a distinct personal power.
The most admirable qualities of the man were displayed in his private life and in his family relations. To him the most fitting close of his day of toil with great and grave matters was a romp with the elder, or the lullaby song to the younger of his grandchildren. It was his uniform practice, when at home, to rock the baby to sleep. In his relations to his fellow-men he was urbane and affable, except to bores. Toward this kind he knew how to preserve a “monosyllabic aloofness.” Conventional education had not destroyed his individuality, nor had nature been driven out by culture, and he always displayed a lively sympathy with those occupying the lower walks of life, from which he had sprung.