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Robert Martin Douglas - Biography

b.28 JAN 1849 — d.1917



Robert Martin Douglas was born January 28, 1849, at Douglas, North Carolina, the home of his maternal grandparents in Rockingham County, and owing to the early death of his parents he was reared largely by his grandmother, Mrs. Martin, on the plantation in that county. Thus the most concise sketch of his career is found in the memorial resolutions adopted by the Bar of Guilford County, from which the following extracts are made:

He was educated at Georgetown University, from which he was graduated in 1867 A. B., A. M. in 1870, and in 1897 his alma mater conferred upon him the degree LL. D. In 1868, at the age of nineteen, he was made private secretary to Governor Holden of North Carolina, and a year later, while still under twenty-one, was selected by President Grant as his private secretary. Thin office he held four years. In 1873 he was appointed United States Marshal for the state of North Carolina, and when the state was divided in 1875 into two districts he held that office for the western district until 1883.

To enter the legal profession had always been his ambition and purpose, but having assumed public office at the early age of nineteen and remaining there continuously until 1883, he was prevented from carrying out this cherished desire until 1884. In that year he began the study of the law, which he pursued with his usual assiduity, and was duly licensed and admitted to the bar in 1885. He established himself in Greensboro, where he devoted himself to the practice of his profession with that diligence for which he was always noted. In 1886 he was appointed standing master in chancery for the Western District of North Carolina by the United States Circuit Court, and served in that capacity until 1896, when- he was elected associate justice of the Supreme Court of this state. At the expiration of his term in 1904, in recognition of the able and efficient manner in which he had discharged the duties of that high office, he was unanimously renominated but with the rest of his party suffered defeat.

As a judge he was noted for his learning, his fairness, his patience and his utter impartiality. His written opinions display not only a thorough comprehension of fundamental legal principles, but an ornateness of style and lucidity of expression that have never been excelled by any member of that court. He was ever a stanch upholder of the principles of justice and right, without respect of person, and without regard to the nature or magnitude of the interests involved. When he laid aside the ermine it was as spotless as when it first touched his shoulders.
After his retirement from the bench he was chosen by his party by unanimous vote as its candidate for corporation commissioner in 1906, when this office was the highest one on the ticket. In 1910 he was again requested by his party to accept the nomination for the Supreme Court bench, but he declined to yield to that request.

Since his retirement from the bench he has practiced his profession continuously in the city of Greensboro, where he has lived since 1873. He was senior member of the firm Douglas & Douglas at Greensboro.

In addition to his work as a member of our profession Judge Douglas devoted a considerable part of his time to literary pursuits. He was a welcome and valued contributor to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Youth's Companion, and many other periodicals in this country. He wrote frequently upon economic subjects and always with eloquence, incisiveness and force. He was a member of the American Bar Association and one of the judicial delegates to the Universal Congress of Lawyers and Jurists which was held in St. Louis in 1904. He was one of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce of this city and always manifested a deep interest in its upbuilding and progress. He gave to the city what is known as Douglas Park.

In all these relations Judge Douglas was a kind and gentle man; a steadfast, affectionate friend; a faithful public servant; a painstaking, erudite, conscientious lawyer; and, above all, an upright, honest, high-minded gentleman. To his brethren at the bar he was universally courteous, considerate and polite. On the bench he was patient, industrious and affable, and his opinions disclosed an unbiased and comprehensive mind earnestly devoted to the work of ascertaining and declaring the law in accordance with the established principles of justice and right.

To the many tributes paid his memory one especially should be quoted as coming from a North Carolina man, Walter Clark, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who wrote: "Judge Douglas wrote his name legibly in the history of the law of this state in the many valuable and instructive opinions from his pen in our reports. He had a clear vision of the future and a broad outlook upon life. He always stood for those things which tended to the uplift of the administration of the law and against the technicalities which hindered and often brought it into disrepute in this intelligent age. During my eight years' association with him I ever entertained the warmest regard for him and his many lovable qualities. A gentleman in every sense of the word, a lawyer of acute perceptions and of abilities of a high order, he commanded the respect of all and his place in the history of the bar and the judiciary of North Carolina is beyond challenge."

Though his father had been one of the greatest figures in the democratic party, Judge Douglas was affiliated with the republican party from 1867. He was a delegate to the national convention of 1876. Judge Douglas was a Catholic.

June 23, 1874, he married Miss Jessie Madeline Dick, daughter of Judge Robert P. and Mary E. (Adams) Dick. Her father for many years was judge of the District Court of the United States for the Western District of North Carolina. Mrs. Douglas survives her husband at Greensboro, and is the mother of four children: Robert Dick, Jessie Madeline, Stephen A. and Martin Francis. Stephen A., named for his grandfather, is deceased.

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Robert Martin Douglas

Posted By: Ray Gurganus

Updated: 2-24-2015
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