Augustus Carpenter Baldwin
There is in the anxious and laborious acquisition of an honorable competence and the solid career of the business or professional man, fighting the everyday battle of life, but little to attract the idle reader in search of a sensational chapter. But for a mind thoroughly awake to the reality and meaning of human existence, there are noble and immortal lessons in the life of the man who, without other means than a clear head, a strong arm and a true heart, conquers adversity, and toiling on through the work-a-day years of a long and arduous career, sits down at the evening of his life with a good name. Such a man is the subject of this sketch, and it is to those who appreciate the value and would emulate the excellence of such lives, that the writer addresses the remarks which here follow.
Augustus Carpenter Baldwin was born at Salina, Onondaga County, N. Y., December 24, 1817. He is the seventh in lineal descent from Henry Baldwin, of Woburn, Mass., who, according to the earliest records of the family, came from Devonshire, England, and settled in Woburn shortly before 1650. The father of Augustus C. was Jonathan Baldwin, born in Canterbury, Conn., and his mother was Mary Carpenter, whose family name he bears. He was the eldest child and only son in a family of three children-Augustus C., Pamelia and Mary. His father was engaged in the mercantile business, but, like many of the pioneer settlers of Western New York, possessed slender capital, so that at his death, which occurred in Salina in 1822, his family were left in somewhat straitened circumstances the children being all young, and the husband and father their only stay and provider.
Thus left an orphan in his fifth year, the boy Augustus was committed to the care of an uncle, a former partner with his father. From the time of the death of his father he resided with his paternal relatives until 1828, when he went to Lancaster, N. Y., to live with his mother's relatives. After that he had to care for himself, and devoted his time to the performance of such duties as offered to a boy, attending school and pursuing such elementary studies as his age and means permitted, and rapidly acquiring the fundamental principles of an English education. In the fall of 1836 he went from Erie County, N. Y., to visit his father's relatives in Connecticut, where he taught school during the ensuing winter. For a short time he attended the Academy at Plainfield, Conn. The limited advantages offered to young men of energy in the Eastern States, caused him to turn his eyes toward new and wider fields. In the fall of 1837 he set out for the great West. On November 12, of that year, he arrived in Oakland County, in the then newly admitted State of Michigan, and during the ensuing winter taught a public school in Southfield. For the next five years he taught and studied by turns, delving all the while as deeply into history and standard literature as the time and books at his command would allow.
Having determined upon the law as his profession, our subject began reading under the tuition of John P. Richardson, Esq., of Pontiac, Mich., in 1839. During this time he took advantage also, of the facilities afforded by the branch of the State University, then located at Pontiac, for higher advancement in his academic studies. Subsequently he entered the law office of the Hon. O. D. Richardson, at Pontiac, and there continued until his admission to the bar in 1842. In June, 1842, he settled and began practice at Milford, in Oakland County, Mich. It was during his nearly seven years' residence here that he won to himself that solid business confidence, and established those habits of close application, temperance and strict economy, which lie at the foundation of his exceptional success. It was at Milford that he faced and overcame those two mighty obstacles which lie in the pathway of almost every young lawyer poverty and obscurity-and there he made the proverbial first thousand.
But the demands of his growing practice made his presence at the county seat more and more necessary, and in 1849 lie removed to Pontiac, where with the exception of two years' residence upon a farm which he owned in Commerce, his home has ever since been. Since this, his last and permanent location, his career has been that of a busy and successful lawyer-eminent, trusted and honored-with such interspersions of official station and public duty as naturally fall to a man of superior intelligence and high character. He has participated in many of the capital cases that have been tried in Oakland, Lapeer and other counties since he came to the bar, and the records of the courts bear his name as counsel through a greater variety and extent of litigation than, probably, any other attorney of Oakland County. For the last thirty-five years Judge Baldwin has not only been an acknowledged leader at the bar, but has also stood his own of the ablest counselors and most courageous champions of the great Democratic party, of which he has from the attainment of his majority been an active member. He has been an efficient and influential coadjutor with the best men of Michigan in improving and perfecting the government of the State in all of its institutions and departments; as well as in the up-building of his profession and the strengthening of his party, as great instruments of justice and of good within the commonwealth.
A brief outline of his official and public record, aside from his professional and private employments, will serve to show the esteem in which he has been and is still held by his compeers, and in some degree the extent of his services and usefulness. The first public office ever held by him was that of School Inspector for Bloomfield Township, Oakland County, to which he was elected in 1840. He was elected to the House of Representatives in the Michigan legislature in 1843 and 1845, serving during the sessions of 1844 and 1846. He was appointed Brigadier-General of the Fifth Brigade of the State militia in 1846, and continued such until 1862, when the militia system as then existing was abrogated by law. He was Prosecuting Attorney of Oakland County during 1853 and 1854.
In 1862 Judge Baldwin was elected a member of the Thirty-eighth Congress from the Fifth District of Michigan over R. E. Trowbridge, Republican, serving on the Committee on Agriculture, and Expenditures in the Interior Department. In the issue which arose during this Congress concerning the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, abolishing slavery, he voted in support of the amendment, i. e., in favor of its submission to the States for their approval. He was nominated for re election by his party in 1864 with Mr. Trowbridge again as his opponent. The State had in the meantime enacted a statute authorizing Michigan soldiers in the army to vote in the field. The Supreme Court of the State, upon a test case, declared the statute unconstitutional. Judge Baldwin received a clear majority of the lawful home vote. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives, upon a strictly party contest, gave the seat in Congress to Mr. Trowbridge, in direct defiance of the decision of Michigan's own Supreme Court.
Judge Baldwin was Mayor of Pontiac in 1874, and for eighteen years-1868 to 1886-he was a member of the Board of Education of that city. During this period very important improvements in the local school system have been made, largely through his influence, and the present fine school buildings have been erected. He was active in securing the location of the Eastern Asylum for the Insane at Pontiac, and has been for many years and still is one of its Board of Trustees-a State appointment. That noble institution, the Michigan Military Academy, at Orchard Lake, four miles from Pontiac, also owes much to him for its remarkable success. He has for several years been one of its Trustees, and is now its President. He was for many years President of the Oakland County Agricultural Society, and is now President of the Pioneer Association of the County. In 1875 he was elected Judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Michigan for the ensuing full term of six years. He presided upon the bench over four years of his term with the ability which his eminent legal attainments would indicate, when the utter inadequacy of the salary (which the State refused to increase by the requisite constitutional amendment) caused him to resign the ermine and return to the regular practice at the bar.
Besides having been during the past forty years a frequent member and officer of State and local political conventions, Judge Baldwin was a delegate to the National Democratic Conventions at Charleston and Baltimore in 1860; delegate at large to the National Convention at Chicago in 1864; delegate to the National Peace Convention at Philadelphia in 1866, and at different times a member of the National and State Central Committees. From early manhood he has been a member of the Masonic fraternity, and is Past Eminent Commander of Pontiac Commandery, No. 2, of Knights Templar.
The Judge is slightly above medium stature, standing five feet eleven inches, tips the scales at about one hundred and eighty-five pounds, and is naturally of a strong constitution and robust physical frame. The fine portrait which accompanies this sketch, is a life-like presentment of his earnest, thoughtful face. By temperate and prudent habits of life his powers have been well preserved, and lie is still active and strong for one of his years. He still applies himself diligently to his business, being at the present time solicitor for the Pontiac, Oxford & Northern Railroad.
This record would he incomplete, especially for those by whom its subject is held personally in highest esteem, if some reference were not made to the individual qualities of mind and heart, and the modes of life and action, belonging to the man who for more than a generation has been so intimately identified with the affairs of his city, county and State.
The most prominent traits in Judge Baldwin's character are industry, strong common sense, and that kind of moral courage which people call decision of character. In financial affairs he is prudent and cautious, but just; thrifty, but not miserly. When he gives he gives generously, but not to every petitioner. His industry is unceasing. He is never idle except when asleep, and then he is very busy resting. His mind is clear and accurate, rather than brilliant. He does not reach a conclusion at a flash. He acquires with deliberation, but a subject once mastered is mastered forever. His power as an advocate lies in clear, straightforward reasoning upon the facts of his case. His arguments are severely practical. He is not magnetic as an orator, nor classically brilliant, but he drives home facts and figures with merciless force. He loves poetry but deals in hard, plain prose. Persons who do not know him thoroughly sometimes accuse him of a lack of warm, human sympathy, but this is unjust. He is positive in his resentments; he cannot tolerate a mean action; he is sometimes harsh in his denunciation of wrong and wrongdoers; but his heart is warm, and he is true in his attachments. He is a steadfast friend, though the act which betokens his friendship may be performed with few words.
His style of living, dress, etc., is characterized by a plain, rich abundance-nothing for mere display, but a generous regard for comfort and good taste. Having amassed a comfortable fortune, he has invested quite extensively in farming lands, and indulges a natural fancy for nice stock, poultry, fruits, flowers and rare plants. But his ruling taste is for books; and his especial delight, apart from devotion to the learning and literature of his profession, is his private library of general literature and miscellaneous works. This collection comprises many thousand volumes, and is kept at his residence. It has steadily grown under his fostering care through all the years of a long and laborious life-his pet, his entertainer, his counselor, his philosopher and friend-until it has become part of his being. He turns to it when the day's tasks are completed, as to a sort of soul's rest. In the departments of history, poetry and the drama, Judge Baldwin's library is probably unsurpassed by any in the State, except, perhaps, the State library at Lansing and that of the University at Ann Arbor. So constantly has lie associated with these thousands of silent friends, that each one has become to him a personal and familiar acquaintance. He loves pictures and has some fine ones; but they by no means equal his literary treasures. His wife, whom he married in 1842, and who is still living, was Isabella Churchill, of Pontiac, Mich. They have one daughter.
While another of a different mind, peculiarly endowed. might bear a vast assembly upon the loftiest wave of impassioned eloquence, or weave over millions of hearts the raptures of an immortal poem, yet in all that goes to benefit practically the common mass of men, and to bear society forward in all that is meant by that expressive term civilization, but few men in Michigan, thus far, can with justice be assigned a place co-equal with Augustus C. Baldwin.
Source: History of Oakland County, Michigan by Durant, Samuel W. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & co., 1877.