Biography of William A. Sackett

T-Saratoga County, New York Wills, 1796-1805



EMERSON has said that “biography is the only true history,” and it is manifest that that history is most worthy of preservation which embodies the biographies of men who have left the world better than they found it. For this grand reason the history of the fruitful life of Hon. William A. Sackett is eminently worthy of the most conscientious record and most careful preservation, for the memory of his sterling character remains vividly in the minds of all who knew him and his splendid public services are inscribed in the chronicles of the nation whose civilization he helped to elevate to a higher plane.

William A. Sackett was born near Auburn, Cayuga county, N. Y., November 18, 1811, and was educated in private schools and at Aurora Academy. He selected law for his profession and studied first in the office of Judge Luther F. Stevens of Seneca Falls, and later with Sanford & Kellogg of Skaneateles. He was admitted to the bar in 1831 and for the following seventeen years was actively engaged in the practice of his profession at Seneca Falls. In 1848 he was elected to Congress from the district composed of Seneca and Wayne counties, New York. He represented his district in Congress until 1853 and was a member of the committee on revolutionary pensions. But while in Congress he distinguished himself most, and identified himself conspicuously with the great march of American sentiment and civilization by his speeches against the extension of slavery into the territories of the United States, and also by his support of the bill to admit California into the Union.

At the expiration of his Congressional term he removed to Saratoga Springs, which he made his permanent residence, and resumed the practice of his profession. Here he at once achieved distinction by his masterly defense of Corning & Co., defendants in the celebrated “Spike case.” This case had come into the courts in 1848 and was a suit against Erastus Corning and others by the Troy Iron and Nail Factory, to recover eleven hundred thousand dollars for alleged infringement of patents. Mr. Sackett conducted the case for the defense and with such ability that only a nominal amount of damages was awarded.

Previous to the organization of the Republican party in 1855 Mr. Sackett had been a Whig, but went with that party into the Republican ranks, as its platform embraced the prominent principles he had always advocated, particularly the abolition of slavery. After the enactment of the United States Bankrupt law he was appointed Register in Bankruptcy under President Lincoln and from this office acquired the title of judge because of the judicial character of the register’s office.

He was always active and zealous in support of the Republican party and was indefatigable in his efforts to promote the best interests of Saratoga Springs. In 1884 he was a member of the ëommittee of twenty-one citizens who were appointed by the taxpayers to revise the village charter and to propose amendments which would render the charter better adapted to the requirements of the municipality. To this task he gave a great deal of care and spent much time in studying the existing charter and planning new provisions. The report of the committee suggested some radical changes and a distinct enlargement of the village government. Although the public mind was unable at the time to realize the advantages of the proposed legislation, Judge Sackett finally saw his wise propositions embodied in the village charter.

In 1876 Judge Sackett married Miss Mary Louise Marvin, daughter of the late Judge Thomas J. Marvin, and in the same year they began a trip abroad which extended over a period of three years.

The letters written by Judge Sackett during his travels reveal the man of culture, penetration and broadly philosophical mind. These letters were published in different American journals and are valuable reminiscences of the observations and reflections of a bright intellect on subjects of world-wide interest. In this tour all the principal cities of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales were visited, as well as those of Continental Europe, while the famous cathedrals and old castles received particular attention. Russia, Turkey, Greece, Tunis and Algiers were visited, also Egypt and the Holy Land. These latter countries. hallowed by the charm of Scripture story, had for him a peculiar interest and his visit to them was greatly enjoyed. The ruins of Egyptian civilization, which perished before Christendom began, and the habits of the people of to-day were closely studied. A trip of one thousand miles was made up the Nile and then the ever interesting land of Palestine was traversed and dwelt upon with an earnestness that is vividly reflected in the able letters already mentioned.

Judge Sackett was always a sincere Christian and in his early life attended the Presbyterian church. Later in life he became a member of the Episcopal church, serving for many years as vestryman and church warden in Bethesda Parish, Saratoga Springs, N. Y. He often represented this parish in the Archdeaconry of Troy and in the conventions of the Diocese of Albany, and was universally esteemed by clergy and laity.

Although he took great interest in public affairs, Judge Sackett was essentially a home man. He was the father of seven children through his first and second marriages. Of these three are living, namely, Edward S. Sackett, a lawyer of Seneca Falls, N. Y., and Mrs. Charles L. Stone, wife of a prominent lawyer of Syracuse, N.Y., and Mrs. Charles H. Duell, whose husband is the present Commissioner of Patents, Washington, D. C.

The deceased children were John Sackett, who died in infancy; Mrs. J. A. Lighthall, who died in 1880 at Geneva, N. Y.; Frederick A. Sackett, who died in California in 1887, and the gallant Colonel William A. Sackett, who fell at the head of his regiment in a charge at Trevilian’s Station, Va., in June, 1864. He was colonel of the Ninth New York Cavalry and fought in many of the famous battles of the Army of the Potomac. He was selected by General Philip Sheridan to lead the charge at Trevilian’s Station, where he fell gloriously.

Judge Sackett was an agreeable and entertaining visitor and companion. His flow of spirits was unusual and unflagging. His manner was genial and his conversation sparkled with anecdotes and reminiscences drawn from his varied experiences. He never ceased to enjoy and enliven the social gatherings of his friends, to which he was always welcome and at which he was always a centre of interest and attention.

The influences of Judge Sackett’s life were far-reaching and beneficent. As a public man his abilities were enhanced by his sterling integrity. As an advocate he was far-seeing, forcible and brilliant, and as a man he was just, yet generous. Living himself on the lofty plane of truth and rectitude, he nourished in his heart a kindly charity for all his fellowmen.

Judge Sackett died at Saratoga Springs on September 6, 1895.

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