April 28, 1927
REMINISCENCE No. 8
by W.T. Foster
Smithville was always renowned for its bar. Some of the ablest lawyers of Tennessee practiced in her courts.
A great deal of litigation followed the Civil War. Manson Brien who once lived in Smithville and later removed
to Nashville, was a fre quent visitor to the courts of Dekalb. He was one of the outstanding lawyers of the State.
It would be safe to say, however, that the two most distinguished lawyers from abroad attending Dekalb's courts
and connected with almost every important case and usually on opposing sides, were Col. Jn. H. Savage of Mcminnville
and Col. Robt. Cantrell of Lebanon. These men were almost antipodal in style, temperament, dispostion, method,
yet both were giants in their profession. People in serious trouble raced t o get one or the other. They knew the
law, they could present it with power and conviction. They had the confidence of the people for they never descended
to the methods of the pettigogger. They were fighters, but they fought decently.
- That old courthouse with the half-round cupola, which stood north of the Sparta road resounded many a time
to the titanic struggle of these master pleaders. When either of these men arose to speak, an immediate calm fell
over the court room. It was much the same when examination of witnesses was in progress. The people had come to
apotheosize these two legal antagonists of the upcountry courts, unconsciously awarding them places in public esteem
which reminded one very strongly of the homage p aid demigods and heroes of the olden days. Never were advocates
more unlike, never two who more profoundly respected each other. If Savage was brusque, Cantrell was suave. If
Savage was given to epigram, Cantrell was given to lucidity, if the former ar bitrary, the latter was concessionary.
If the former was irritant, the latter was conciliatory, if the one indulged in dogmatism, the other practiced
liberalism, if one was radical, the other was conservative, if Savage smote with rapier of vitroil, Cantr ell with
emollient touch applied the balm of Cilead. The were the eipitome of antithesis, legal Titans of the seventies,
twin luminaries, full-orbed and resplendent in the very zenith of Smithville's judiciary sky, suffering not a whit
by comparison with those who came before or may come after.
- All great men in any calling have their mannerisms and I should consider this paper incomplete with out mention
of the mannerisms and characteristics of these distinguished men. Col. Cantrell was the soul of affability with
nothing of undue fami liarity indulged in or permitted. He was a center of attraction without any attempt to be
seen. He was grace personified, dignified in carriage and mien, stately with the least bit of stoop, fine liquid
blue eyes as I recall, a smile like that of Mona L isa, face clean shaven Chesterfieldian manners without any affectation,
and a voice of velvet softness and finesse, beautifully flexible and modulating, captivating and pleasing to the
last degree. I can in imagination see Col. Savage coming hurriedly ou t of his office east of the courthouse and
moving rapidly toward that building. He is wearing a neat-fitting, country-woven suit of blur-jeans, the finest
boots elegantly polished, is carrying on his arm bent at right angle a country-made bow-basket fill ed with papers
and books. He walks rapidly with head a little to the ground, while between his teeth is held a white linen handkerchief
dangling at some length in front of him. He trips up to the massive, lime-stone steps, enters the courthouse bar,
pil es papers and lawbooks on a table, glances around the court-room, speaks hurriedly and quietly with assisting
counsel, draws a chair, chews upon his handkerchief rather vigorously. The jury files in. The case is one of divorce
asked for by the wife whom Col. Savage represents as attorney. The husband files a cross bill. The evidence shows
brutal treatment at the hands of the husband. The frail little wife's pitiful recital of her marital woes has visibly
wrought upon the jury. Col. Savage was the m aster of invective and courageous to use it without mercy upon the
luckless victim who deserved it. In the name of outraged decency he let fly the cat-o-nine-tails of wrath in case,
marched straight up to the bestial husband, put his dancing, trembling, index finger almost against his face and
in the most scathing, consuming, blasting epithets, denounced him as unfit to live, a brute, a beast that should
be scourged out of a decent world. Of course the divorce was granted. Did this really occur? It ce rtainly did.
I should not have been there, I confess, but I certainly enjoyed the Colonel's powerful speech. In another paper
I expect to speak at some length of the members of the bar residing in Smithville in the seventies.
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May 5, 1927
REMINISCENCE No. 9
by W.T. Foster
I purpose here to set down something of short, remarkable speeches, or excerpts from speeches heard in Dekalb in
the early seventies, amusing or otherwise
- A number of your readers will, I know, recall E. T. Foster, my bachelor uncle, universally known as Ted. He
was a very small man, scarcely five feet in height, wonderfully well informed, widely read, and a speaker of good
ability, as his campaig n for register, opposing the incumbent, Jack Kennedy, revealed. I shall never forget his
plea for a recognition of the sense of proportion. It must be remembered that Mr. Kennedy was a tall man and a
rather large man, that he had constructed for his off icial use a diminutive office -- a doll-house as it were,
and had located it in the most cramped and congested spot in town, visible only from the Tyree House in good weather.
After a humorous introduction bespeaking a kindly attitude of his hearers, he said: "Why, fellow citizens,
have you reflected upon the embarrassing position you will occupy by voting for Mr. Kennedy? Why, Sirs, he has
the astonishing effrontery, the amazing impudence to ask you to violate your respect for the sense of proportion
is god-given, you can not insult high heaven by violating it! Look at the little office that he has built round
there, gentlemen, a mere goods-box, and besides, sirs, you have to consult a map of the town to find it. It is
entirely to low for Mr. Kenned y. He can not let himself out in it, he should lie down to be comfortable, and there
are those who avow he enters it edgewise! On the other hand, gentleman, look at me! That office fits me exactly,
indeed, it is like I had drawn the plan myself. I ask you, fellow citizens, to maintain your respect for the sense
of proportion by voting for Me."
- I went up one morning to see my grandmother - the autumn always found her with a fine supply of winesaps -
she was working on a side-saddle. Her son, Ted, was assisting her. He made some remark that fretted my grandmother,
who said with much ve hemence, "Hush, Ted! Hush, Ted!" Whereupon Uncle Ted turning to me with a look
of profound disgust, said : "Tom, do you hear "Mam"? Why, she would deprive me of my constitutional
right of speech! Why, I would die and go to hades before I would surrend er it!" This little speech was delivered
with all the gesture, inflection, modulation and finish of a Cicero.
- It was a political summer in the seventies, Col. Savage was billed to deliver an address on the issues of the
day. A great crowd had gathered from all parts of the country, every seat in the old courthouse was taken and standing
room was at a pr emium. In closing the speech which was an indictment of the Republican party, then called the
Radical party by many, the Colonel assumed that semicrouched posture for which he was famous, and with deep, rasping,
measured, guttural tone which bespoke exec ration and detestation, he said: 'And, fellow citizens, were I to tell
you of all the corruption of this damned Radical party, it would require adamantine lungs and a throat of brass."
This remarkable peroration produced a great demonstration by the Demo crats.
- As you descend the Kennedy hill on the road to Sparta (in 1870) trees and bushes covered the hill-side on the
left. One day during court week I was sitting on that hill about half way down with my back to a tree, translating
Cicero's Commentarie s, when a voice a hundred feet away suddenly broke the silence: "May it please the Court
and you, Gentleman of the jury, I extend congratulations to my client that his fate is in the hands of men of reputation
who no doubt have already made ample notatio n of the overwhelming preponderation, of testimony tending to his
exculpation, and convinced that his complete exoneration is the logical culmination that will allow this august
body's examination into the legal situation affecting him, the defense views with supreme elation the prosecution's
certain consternation as well as the public's evident delectation. We await your verdict, gentlemen." This
is as nearly the maiden law-speech of the young attorney as I can recall it at this distance. He hung his hat on
a bush for court and jury and addressed himself to it with some dynamics in gesture. I think I was the only auditor
of this remarkable speech, for it may have been the next day when he received a notice that he had fallen heir
to a large fortune w hich required his presence instanter. He left the law, became president of a large manufacturing
enterprise in a great central west city, making a big success for his company.
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