Field, Stephen J.


Lengthy good content 1874 ALS while Associate Justice, to San Francisco financier-businessman Wm. Ralston, mentions recent Court decision affecting banks, thanks him for a $1,200 gift (!), and much more!



Autograph ID: 6436
Condition: Very good, blue pencil notation at top left
Description: “(1816-1899) Associate Justice 1863-1897. Brother of David Dudley Field and Cyrus Field, uncle of Justice David J. Brewer. To California 1848, 5th Chief Justice of California Supreme Court 1857-63. Lincoln appointed him to newly created 10th Supreme Court seat to achieve regional balance (Westerner), political balance (Unionist Democrat) and to give the Court someone familiar with real estate and mining issues. Proponent of substantive due process that protected property rights from regulation under the 14th Amendment, as illustrated in his dissents to “The Slaughterhouse Cases” and Munn v. Illinois. Helped end the income tax (Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company), limited anti-trust law (US v. E.C. Knight Company), and the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission. In California, he wrote opinions against California laws discriminating against Chinese immigrants; however, he dissented in Strauder v. West Virginia, which held that excluding African-Americans from a jury that convicted an African-American of murder violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. He joined the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson which upheld racial segregation. He served on 1877 Electoral Commission to settle the 1876 presidential election, voting with Democrats on all issues.

Interesting ALS, 8pp (2 folded sheets, 8 1/4 x 5 1/4), Washington, April 14 1874, to California banker-financier-businessman William C. Ralston. Justice Field informs Ralston, founder of the Bank of California, that the “…Court has recently rendered a very important decision on the subject of raised checks, and the liability of a Bank for information given by its officers with respect to the signature of the drawer and the state of his account.” Field will send a copy of the opinion (name unknown, perhaps unreported) to Ralston “thinking that you will be interested in the questions discussed and points decided.” Field appreciates Ralston’s telegram telling him that $1,200 has been credited to him in the California Bank (Ralston’s bank) which has greatly relieved Field as assessments for varied improvements in his Washington home “…had emptied my pocket until not a mill was left.” A “faint hope” made Field send a message to Ralston and he praises his generosity. Since the gift from Ralston, the Legislature has voted Field $2,000 and expenses for his work on the Codes the past summer, to be held safe for Mrs. Field in case of his death. He will be in San Francisco in the summer to hold court and then to hold court in Nevada and Oregon. He mentions a conversation with Nevada US Senator Jones and is glad that differences between he and Wm. T. Sharon (Ralston’s former business partner and future Nevada US Senator) are resolved. He praises a Senate speech by Jones nd opines how Sharon should , with his wealth, establish a library like Astor’s Library in new York City. He believes (rightfully) that Sharon “may be casting wistful eyes towards the senatorship of Nevada” and believes that with “his means of doing good and acquiring enduring fame the senatorship would be a burden and a misfortune to him.”

Raised checks are those where the amount has been increased by hand illegally.

WILLIAM C. RALSTON (1826-1875) Ohio-born San Francisco businessman and financier, founder of the Bank of California. With riches derived from Nevada’s Comstock Lode, he became one of the richest and most powerful men in California. He built Ralston Hall in Belmont, California and the California Theatre on San Francisco’s Bush Street which opened Jan. 18, 1869. His dream was the construction of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, spending $5M on its construction, draining his banking empire in the process. It opened on Oct. 2, 1875 with early elevators and electric call buttons in the rooms. The hotel survived the 1906 earthquake, but was destroyed in the ensuing fire, reopening in 1909. In 1871, following a severe drought in California, he initiated work on surveying for an irrigation scheme in the San Joaquin Valley; his lobbying succeeded in securing 1873 congressional passage of an Act to set up a Water Commission to advise on irrigation of California. In 1875, his financial empire collapsed as a result of the expense of building the Palace Hotel, the failure of his attempt to buy and resell the Spring Valley Water Co., the after-effects of the Panic of 1873, and a crash in the stock value of the Bank of California weeks before the opening of the Palace Hotel. The day after the collapse, his body was found in the San Francisco Bay, the victim of either a stroke during his regular swim or suicide. His partner, Senator William Sharon, acquired many of his assets, including the Palace Hotel and Ralston Hall. Streets in Belmont, Cal. and Reno, Nev., were named for him. The town of Modesto was to be named for Ralston; he declined, however, and it was called Modesto. He was portrayed by Ronald Reagan in a 1965 episode of “Death Valley Days.”

WILLIAM T. SHARON (1821-1885) Ohio-born Nevada US Senator who profited from the Comstock Lode. He moved to California in 1849, moved to San Francisco in 1850, where he dealt in real estate. He moved to Virginia City, Nev. in 1864 as manager of the branch of the Bank of California and became interested in silver mining. Sharon was a business partner of William C. Ralston, and was Nevada agent for the Bank of California. He and Ralston profited greatly from loaning money to mining operations then foreclosing on them when the owners defaulted. Sharon acquired many of Ralston’s assets in 1875 when Ralston’s financial empire collapsed and he died. He was thought by some contemporaries to have actually aided the collapse and was the main beneficiary of Ralston’s assets which included the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and Ralston Hall in Belmont, Cal. He was US Senator (R) for Nevada 1875-81, chairman of the Committee on Mines and Mining in the 45th Congress. His final years saw a legal battle, the juiciest scandal of its time. Senator Sharon allegedly remarried Sarah Althea Hill, and he sued to have this alleged marriage cancelled. Judgment (in his favor) was rendered after his death, but consequent legal proceedings included: a Bowie knife fight in the Circuit Court for the Northern District of California, the Aug. 14, 1889 physical beating of Justice Field by David S. Terry, and the fatal shooting of Terry by a US Marshal, both in a California railroad hotel, which culminated in the 1890 landmark US Supreme Court decision, In Re Neagle on the supremacy of federal law over state law.

JOHN P. JONES (1829-1912) English-born US Senator from Nevada (R) 1873-1903, made a fortune in silver mining and co-founded the town of Santa Monica, California. His family went to Cleveland in 1831, in 1849 he joined the California Gold Rush and engaged in mining and farming. He was county sheriff, and member of the state senate 1863-67. In 1868, he moved to Gold Hill, Nevada where he was superintendent of the Crown Point silver mine, part of the Comstock Lode. When silver ore was stuck in 1870, Jones and another man acquired shares and gained control of the mine. In 1873 he was elected by the Nevada legislature to the US Senate, serving 1873-1903. Jones left the party in 1896 over bimetalism and joined the Silver Party. He caucused with Silver Republicans, later rejoining the Republican Party, but did run for re-election in 1902. Jones visited Los Angeles in 1874 and bought a 3/4 interest in Colonel Robt. S. Baker’s ranch in Santa Monica and in 1875, Jones and Baker laid out the town. Jones built the 1st railroad from Los Angeles to Santa Monica which he sold to Southern Pacific in 1877. In 1903 he retired to his 1889 home, Miramar, in Santa Monica where he oversaw his businesses. The estate later became the Hotel Miramar in 1921; the site is now the home of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.”
Type: Letter

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