Following one of the most remarkable judiciary races in State history, Edward T. Bartlett was elected Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals in November 1893 by an unprecedented 100,000 vote majority. Relatively unknown to the public, Judge Bartlett's overwhelming victory reflected the voter's indignation at the appointment of his opponent, Isaac H. Maynard (1838-1896), to the Court in the wake of Maynard's involvement in a political scandal surrounding the 1891 senatorial election in Dutchess County. Known as the "Dutchess County Steal," that issue was the focus of Bartlett's campaign and his defeat of Maynard was regarded as "a triumph for a pure judiciary." True to his modest character, however, in the days following the election, Judge-elect Bartlett declined to discuss the causes that led to his victory explaining that such a course would be "indelicate."
Edward Theodore Bartlett was born in Skaneateles (Onondaga County), New York, on June 14, 1841, the second son of Dr. Levi Bartlett (1806-1892), a prominent physician and surgeon, and Harriet Elizabeth Hopkins Bartlett. It was said, and rightfully so, that Judge Bartlett came "of the best New England stock." His great-grandfather, Dr. Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795), was a representative to the Continental Congress from New Hampshire, the second to sign the Declaration of Independence, a signer of the Articles of Confederation, a Chief Justice of the State of New Hampshire, as well as the State's first Governor. On his mother's side, he was the great-grandson of Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785) who was Governor of Rhode Island, a Chief Justice of its Superior Court, a delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Judge Bartlett received a classical education in the schools of Onondaga County, and after graduating from Union College, returned to Skaneateles to study for the practice of law. Upon his admission to the bar in 1862, he practiced in his native town for a short time before relocating to Syracuse, where he practiced until 1868. In that year, he removed to New York City where he continued to practice law with an ever-growing reputation. Shortly after arriving in New York City, he began practicing with Phillip Wilson and was the senior partner in the law firm Bartlett, Wilson & Hayden.
In 1870, he became a member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, taking an active role in its affairs, particularly the fight to purify the judiciary in the era of the Tweed regime. For many years, Judge Bartlett was a member of the Association's Judiciary Committee and served as chairman of the Committee on Admission. Judge Bartlett was an early member of the Republican Club, becoming its president in 1888. He was also a member of the Union League Club and the newly formed New York State Bar Association.
Described as being "a life long republican, but never a politician" and "modest and self-retiring," Judge Bartlett was always content to work for his beloved Republican party without ostentation. Indeed, it was said that he neither sought nor desired public office. In 1891, however, he was persuaded to run for Justice of the Supreme Court and was defeated by Justice George L. Ingraham. In 1893, he did not seek the nomination of his party for the position of Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals; however, when the nomination was tendered, he accepted, out of a sense of duty. In November of that year, he won election to the Court and took his seat on the bench on the first of January 1894. On September 19, 1894, Judge Bartlett married Annie Richmond Platt; however, there is little record of his family life. Reelected in November 1907, Judge Bartlett was an active member of the Court until his unexpected death on May 3, 1910.
During his seventeen years on the bench, Judge Bartlett was regarded as a conscientious and devoted jurist who possessed extensive legal learning, sturdy common sense and the faculty of just perception. Always resolute in the courage of his convictions, Judge Bartlett never hesitated to dissent from the decisions of his colleagues when he was unable to agree with their conclusions. Throughout his time on the Court, Judge Bartlett authored hundreds of opinions on a myriad of issues. Containing no attempt at fine writing or the display of learning, Judge Bartlett's decisions "were noteworthy for their clear legal logic, lucidity, and fairness." The decisions in People v. Wilson, 141 NY 185 (1894), Matter of Killan, 172 NY 547 (1902), and Dowdell v. Lackawanna Steel Company, 198 NY 362 (1910) are fine examples of his judicial approach. It was said upon his death that:
[f]rom the day he took his seat on the bench to the night on which he was stricken, his life was given to the performance of the duties the people of the State had imposed upon him; these duties were his constant inspiration, and the work of the Court had his supreme and absorbing thought.
On April 29, 1910, Judge Bartlett took part in the activities of the Court, hearing argument and sitting at the consultation table, as he had so many times before. At four o'clock, he left the consultation chamber in the Capitol and went to the Albany Club to read and dine. During his dinner, Judge Bartlett suffered a slight stroke of paralysis and was taken to Albany Hospital. Although his initial prognosis was favorable - it was thought that he would be able to resume his duties in a few days - on May 3, 1910 his condition suddenly declined and he died later that evening.
The day after his unexpected death, his shocked and saddened colleagues observed:
It is difficult to give adequate expression to the shock which the members of this court experienced last evening upon learning of the unexpected death of their beloved associate Edward T. Bartlett. His illness had caused anxiety by reason of its sudden onset, but the prospect of his ultimate recovery seemed so favorable that we were utterly unprepared for the fatal outcome. Under these circumstances, we can do little more at this time than to say a few words indicative of our personal grief and sense of loss.
Two elements stood out prominently in the personality of Edward T. Bartlett to those who knew him best: In his public life, his absolute devotion to the work of his high judicial office; and among his friends the remarkable loveableness of his character. As a judge, in his attention to the arguments of counsel, his discriminating discussion and consideration of cases at the consultation table, and his promptitude and care in the preparation of the opinions assigned to him, he afforded an example worthy of the highest praise; and to these traits of judicial industry and fidelity were joined a personal attractiveness of manner and charm of demeanor that made his intercourse with associates a continual source of pleasure and satisfaction. He was a man of positive views, without narrowness or bigotry; gentle as a women, yet never lacking in strength; humorous without ever being cynical; and almost chivalrous in his ideals. He has died in harness; and assembling here to-day to proceed with the work to which he was so much attached, we cannot go on without paying this tribute to his memory.
No progeny have been identified. To this author's knowledge, Judge Bartlett was survived only by his sister Mary Bartlett Kellogg (1842-1915).
This biography appears in The Judges of the New York Court of Appeals: A Biographical History, ed. Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). It has not been updated since publication.
Bartletts Named by Both Parties, The New York Times, October 5, 1907, at 1.
Bass, "I Am A Democrat," The Political Career of David Bennett Hill, Syracuse Univ. Press (1961).
Bergan, The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1932, Columbia Univ. Press (1985).
Ex-Judge Maynard Dead, Killed By Heart Disease in the Hotel Kenmore, Albany, The New York Times, June 13, 1896, at 1.
http://www.colonialhall.com/bartlett/bartlett.php (last accessed 1-18-06) (article on file with author).
http://www.colonialhall.com/hopkins/hopkins.php (last accessed 1-18-06) (article on file with author).
http://www.gaspee.rog/StephenHopkins.htm (last accessed 1-18-06) (article on file with author).
http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~cst/bartlett/josiabio.htm (last accessed 1-18-06) (article on file with author).
Grasping At The Air, Silly Attack Upon Edward Bartlett by the Maynard Campaigners, The New York Times, November 6, 1893, at 4.
Judge Bartlett Stricken, Suffers Attack of Paralysis While at Dinner at Albany Club, The New York Times, at 1.
Judge Becomes A Benedict, Edward T. Bartlett Weds Miss Annie Richmond Platt, The New York Times, September 20, 1894, at 8.
Judge Edward T. Bartlett, Something About the Man Who Will Soon Succeed Maynard, The New York Times, November 19, 1893, at 20.
Judge E.T. Bartlett Dies in Albany, Associate Judge of Court of Appeals Expires Suddenly Following a Stroke of Paralysis, The New York Times, May 5, 1910, at 11.
In Memoriam, 198 NY 641 (1910).
Memorial Minute Adopted by the Union League Club at its Meeting of June 9, 1910.
Murphy to Fight the Two Bartletts, Tammany Will Send Delegation to the Convention Opposed to Two Appeals Judges, The New York Times, September 16, 1907, at 1.
Skaneateles Living History, available at http://home.earthlink.net/~ggghostie/livinghistory.html (last accessed 4-1-05) (article on file with author).
There Shall Be a Court of Appeals, 150th Anniversary of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, 1997 (booklet on file with the Court).
The Two Bartletts, The New York Times, October 6, 1907, at 10.
Willard Bartlett, Edward T. Bartlett, The New York Times, September 13, 1907, at 6.
Apart from his opinions, we are unaware of any writings by Judge Bartlett.