To William Cox Cochran

16 January 1872


[Autograph signed letter in the possession of Mrs. Ellen Speers, 3915 Sierra Drive, Austin, Texas 78731.]



Addressed to:


William C. Cochran Esqr

Care of Hon \ Cincinnati

J.D. Cox. \ Ohio.



Stamp: has been cut out

Postmark: OBERLIN O JAN 16




Oberlin 16th Jan. 1872.

My Dear Willey.

Your letter of the 27th of

Nov. has, I fear, not been

answered. I let Ange take

it up stairs & until just now

I have not seen it since. Not

appearing amongst my un-

answered letters I had for

gotten that I had not replied

to it. We all love you dearly.

This you know. You know also

what an extensive correspon

dence I have & therefore will

not att[r]ibute any delay to

answer your letters to

any want of interest in you

or your letters.

We are rejoiced that you are

getting on so pleasantly with

your studies. You say nothing

of Blackstone. I read him

through seven or eight times during

[page 2]

my law studies. After reading

other works for several months

I would reread Blackstone.

I found that he contained in

the briefest form all, or nearly all

that I found spread out on

the multitudinous pages of all

the writers on Common Law.

The more I read him & other

writers the more I was amazed

at the extent of his legal erudition.

One does not at first nor until

repeated reading realize the

compactness of his thoughts, nor

how much he has crowded into

his four volumes. I should like

to read it again. It sounds

strange to me to hear of a law

student being examined for

admission to the bar after

one or two years study.

I am sure that the young lawyers

in this country with whom I

[page 3]


have been acquainted

know but little of law.

I do not believe that any one

of them could have been

admitted in New York

under the old Judges that

were when I studied law,

such as Kent, Thompson

Platt, Spencer &c. They held

office not "durante bene placito"

but during good behavior. Or

until they were 60 years of

age unless impeached for


I presume you have facilities

for learning which are enjoyed

but by few. If I were you I would

take a pretty wide course of

study such as will fit you

to be a federal chief justice

if need be. I should want

to understand special pleading.

[page 4]

Although this has become

obsolete, still I think it

an unwisdom to suffer

it to become so. It makes law

yers more labor, but it saves

a great deal of time for

courts, Jurors, & witnesses.

When the pleadings are thorough

& the issues fully & squarely

joined but few points are

left for the court & jury to

traverse & but few witnesses

needed, & more than all the

court & jury & counsel are

not muddled & confounded

by a loose wandering helter

skelter, tiresome & unintell

igible trial. I find in church

trials that I can reduce the

length of a trial from a week

to a few hours by getting the

parties together & hearing their

cases stated on both sides. Noting

[page 5]


wherein they agree & wherein

exactly they differ. Let

each explain & reply &

take the course of special

pleading, though not by that

name. I find I can narrow

down the litigated points to

very few, & can try the cause

in a very short time.

I do not think the profession

or the practice of law has

gained any thing by dispen

sing with special pleading.

The practice has been simplified

they say. But so far as I have

had opportunity to observe

I should rather say the

practice has been stultified.

Have you read Vattell on the

law of Nations. If you have

time you will find Starkie

more learned on the laws of

[page 6]

evidence than Greenfield.

But your Father will advise

you better than I can.

You need to look deeper

than cases, into the great

canons & principles upon

which cases are decided.

Dolly was out here a short

time since. We want to hear more

about that girl baby & its mother.

How are you all. We rejoice

that Kenny is doing so well.

We are all well at present

All unite in much

love to you all.

God bless you


C. G. Finney.

P.S. When you come to die

will you be glad that you

spent your life as a lawyer.

That may be well, but is there

not something infinitely better?



This letter is not in the Finney Papers

Commentaries on the Laws of England, by Sir William Blackstone (1713-1780) was first published in 1765.

There is record of Finney borrowing 2 volumes of Blackstone's Commentaries from the College Library at some point.

James Kent (1763-1847), Smith Thompson (1768-1843), Jonas Platt (1769-1834), and Ambrose Spencer (1765-1848), were all judges of the Supreme Court of New York. Kent, Thompson and Spencer were also Chief Justices (see entries in Dictionary of American Biography, and A Biographical Congressional Directory, 1774 to 1903. 57th Congress, 2nd Session, House of Representatives Document No. 458 [Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903]). Finney was particularly friendly with the Platt family and with Spencer's son, Theodore.

In English law this meant "during the pleasure of the crown" (Earl Jowitt, Jowitt's Dictionary of English Law (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1977).


The Law of Nations by Emer or Emmerich de Vattel (1714-1767), was first published as Le Droit des Gens in 1758. It "modernized the whole of international law, bringing it down from the realms of speculation into the sphere of natural relations and problems, and became a classic, particularly in England and USA." (See David M. Walter, The Oxford Companion to Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.) It was first published as The Law of Nations in London in 1760, and in New York in 1787.

Neither of these books had been studied by Finney while he was a law student, as they were not published until later. A Practical Treatise on the Law of Evidence by Thomas Starkie (1782-1849) was first published in London in 1824. The first American edition came out in 1826, and was frequently republished and revised.

The other author--called "Greenfield" by Finney--is no doubt Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853). When the first volume of his Treatise on the Law of Evidence appeared in 1842 "the profession at once hailed it as the ablest extant work on the subject, distinguished alike for its deep learning, clarity of style, and practical utility." Further volumes were added in 1846 and 1853. "In its completed form it came to be regarded as the foremost American authority, and passed through numerous editions under successive editors" (Dictionary of American Biography).

This was Cochran's stepbrother, Jacob Dolson Cox Jr. The 20-year-old Dolson was at that time working as an apprentice with the Cleveland Iron Company. He described his visits to Oberlin when he was a boy, and his impressions of his grandfather, in his autobiography, published in 1951 under the title, Building an American Industry: The Story of the Cleveland Twist Drill Company and Its Founder.

Finney's daughter, Helen--William Cochran's mother--had just given birth to Charlotte Hope Cox on 11 December 1871. Hope was Cochran's youngest stepsister.

This was Cochran's 15-year-old stepbrother, Kenyon Cox. He had suffered considerable ill health as a child and had been virtually bedridden for several years. The growth of a tumor on the jaw had nearly caused his death. But after surgery, when he was thirteen, he recovered, and was attending the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati where he aspired to become a painter. See H. Wayne Morgan, Kenyon Cox 1856-1919: A Life in American Art (Kent and London: The Kent State University Press, 1994).