|Posted on Sunday, October 11, 2009 - 1:10 pm: |
George K. Drake, Supreme Court Justice – New Jersey
GEORGE K. DRAKE was the son of Colonel Jacob Drake, his mother being a sister of the father of Mahlon Dickerson. He was born in Morris County, in the year 1788, and after having had the instruction during several years of the Rev. Dr. Amzi Armstrong at Mendham, he entered Princeton College, and graduated in 1808, in a class of which Bishop Meade of Virginia, Judge Wayne of the supreme court of the United States, and George Wood, were members. He studied law with Sylvester Russell at Morristown, was admitted as an attorney in 1812, as a counselor in 1815, and as a sergeant at law in 1834.
After his admission to the bar, he opened an office at Morristown, and continued to practice law there, until he was made a judge. In 1823 he was elected a member of the house of Assembly, and I had then the privilege of becoming well acquainted with him; nor did I esteem him the less because he voted for my opponent as speaker, he being a fellow-member from his own county. The contest, indeed, was a friendly one, each candidate voting for the other, as was then the usual custom. He was reflected for the succeeding three years, and the two last years of his service was the Speaker. At a joint meeting held in December, 1826, he was chosen justice of the supreme court, vice Justice Rossell. It often occurred that members of the legislature were chosen judges, as was natural, and, indeed, generally commendable, because, in such cases, the members had thus some knowledge of the fitness of the person voted for.
Not long after his appointment, Judge Drake removed his residence to Burlington, to meet the wishes of the bar in West Jersey, no other judge having his residence in that part of the State. In a few years he removed to Trenton.
Judge Drake was not a man of brilliant talents; but what was more important, he was of excellent disposition and character, whose integrity and fairness were never impeached. His opinion in the case of Hendrickson vs. Decow (Saxt. K. 577), which prevented his reappointment, is a fair test of his ability. It is well expressed and fairly reasoned, and is in all respects correct. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church and a sincere Christian, and was led by his zeal for the truth to put his decision on principles which, inasmuch as the case did not necessarily require them to be assumed, it might have been wiser to avoid.
At the fall election in 1833, the losing party, most of whom had previously been opposed to Jackson, cast their votes very generally with the Democrats, and this, with other causes, gave to that party a large majority, in both branches of the legislature. It soon appeared that their great object was to strike at Drake; and the result was that his reelection was defeated, although he had the support of several Democrats, and among others, of the man selected to supplant him, who very reluctantly accepted the office when he became satisfied that at all events there must be a change. Improper as such a short term of office as seven years is, this is, I believe, the only case where the reappointment of a generally acceptable judge has been defeated by a single obnoxious decision.
Upon the termination of his office, Judge Drake returned to Morristown, and resumed his practice as a lawyer. He lived, however, but a short time, having been seized with an attack of pleurisy while on a visit to his brother-in-law, Dr. Woodruff, at Drakesville, in 1837, which terminated his life before he had reached the age of fifty.
The Constitution and Government of the Province and State of New Jersey: With Biographical Sketches of the Governors from 1776 to 1845 and Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar During More Than Half a Century; Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus Elmer, Late One of the Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey; Martin R. Dennis and Company, 1872, Newark, New Jersey