Historical Society presents portrait to Senate leader


- Photo by Roberta M. Gubbins

Posing for a photo with the reproduction portrait of Justice Isaac Peckkham Christiancy are (left to right) Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr., Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and MSC Historical Society Vice-President Charles Rutherford.

By Roberta M. Gubbins
Legal News

The sun streamed in from overhead in the Rotunda of the Michigan Hall of Justice, illuminating the portrait of Justice Isaac Peckkham Christiancy who served on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1858 to 1875.

Next to it, on an easel, was a reproduction of the portrait, which was to be presented to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville of Monroe.

Gathered for the ceremony were Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. and Supreme Court Historical Society Vice-President Charles Rutherford.

While the original portrait of Justice Christiancy, painted by Louis Thomas Ives, a Detroit lawyer, is an oil on canvas, the reproduction is a digital print certified to be of archival quality, explained Rutherford as part of opening remarks at the recent ceremony.

Taking the podium, Young noted that although Monroe County has long claimed that General George Custer as its most famous resident, “with all due respect to the late General, I believe that Justice Christiancy has  a better claim for his accomplishments if not his celebrity. “

Christiancy’s life reads like a Horatio Alger story, Justice Young said.

Christiancy began caring for his family at age 13, teaching school to support them. He came to Monroe from New York at age 25 to “read the law” under a future governor of Michigan, Robert McClellan.

He went on to “become one of the state’s most influential citizens, a sort of Renaissance man, attorney, prosecutor, newspaper man, member of the Michigan and US Senates, envoy to Peru and a brilliant jurist.

He left the Democratic Party over the slavery issue and became one of the founders of the Republican Party.”

Young commented that Christiancy was a humble man as evidenced by his comments to the first graduating class of the Law Department of the University of Michigan. 

He congratulated the class on receiving an orderly course of instruction “perhaps thinking of his own early struggles learning the law. He goes on to say that the law mainly the science of doing unto others as we would have others do unto us.”

Young then presented Richardville with the portrait of “another Senator from Monroe.”

“I was five years old when I attended Christiancy Elementary School,” said Richardville, accepting the portrait. “It was not until I was elected that I found out who Christiancy was. His commitment to his beliefs serve as great role models for us all.”

Richardville decided, when he became majority leader, to hang a portrait of Christiancy, one of Monroe’s famous citizens, on the wall of his office. As there was only one portrait, a copy had to be made.

“I am very proud to receive this and I thank you for your efforts in making this possible,” he concluded.  

When Michigan adopted a new state constitution adopted in 1850, the Michigan Legislature created a permanent state Supreme Court in 1857.

Christiancy was elected as an associate judge of this first permanent Michigan Supreme Court. He was reelected twice and served until February 27, 1875, when he resigned to take the office of U.S. senator.

He served as chief justice from 1872 to 1874.

Christiancy is known as one of the “Big Four” of Michigan judicial history for his service while on the court.

A reception followed the presentation of the portrait.