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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher

pp. 30-31

Hon. Francis M. Finch, associate judge of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, was born at Ithaca, N.Y., June 9, 1827. His parents were of New England extraction. His father, Miles Finch, was appointed surrogate of Tompkins county, March 27, 1823, but afterwards engaged in mercantile pursuits, which he continued until a short time before his death. Even in his youth Mr. Finch manifested a remarkable literary talent, which he still retains, though he stoutly avers that “the practice of law has chastened and choked it down.” If he had followed his own strong inclinations, he would doubtless have drifted entirely into literature and become, perhaps, one of those who “care not to make the laws of a nation so long as they can make its song.” He was one of the editors of the Yale Literary Magazine during his senior year, and took an oration at Commencement. At that time, and in fact throughout his life, he has been peculiarly felicitous in making impromptu speeches. His college songs, “Gather ye Smiles,” “Smoking Song,” “Nathan Hale,” “Linonia,” and later, “The Blue and the Gray,” with others, thrown off in his moments of relaxation, have, to use the language of another, “been crystallized and set with the classic gems of the recognized poets of the country,” while many of his graver poems will live long after he has passed away. But young Mr. Finch early foresaw that literature was a precarious vocation, and the promptings of a sense of sterner duty compelled him to turn regretfully from its inviting paths and plunge into the law with all his native vigor and earnestness. He studied his profession in Ithaca, and was admitted to the bar in little over a year. Mr. Finch’s practice was of rapid growth; he was a gentleman of fine scholarship, a hard student, a clear and persuasive reasoner, a wise reliable counselor, conscientious in a marked degree in the fulfillment of his relations to his clients, and tenacious in the advocacy of their rights, and he soon took a commanding position among the ablest lawyers of the Sixth District. The most important cases were confided to him, and his opinions upon legal questions were eagerly sought by the most eminent of his brethren at the bar. Early in General Grant’s first presidential term he was appointed collector of internal revenue for the Twenty-sixth District, New York, which office he resigned after holding it for four years. At the organization of Cornell University, Mr. Finch became warmly interested in the institution, was one of its trustees, and its counsel and friendly adviser through its early troubles. In May, 1880, Mr. Finch was appointed judge of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York to fill a vacancy of six months. In 1881 he was re-appointed to fill a vacancy of one year. In the fall of 1881 he was elected to a full term of fourteen years, which will expire December 31, 1895. Mr. Finch possesses a natural mental grasp which seems able to take in the manifold bearings of a subject to perceive its resemblances and harmonies, as well as its inconsistencies, almost at a glance; he has a judicial temperment without bias. In speech he is methodical, correct, rounded and concise; his critical analysis of a subject, or resume of a case, covers all its points and leaves no gaps to fill. His opinions have been always characterized by the utmost fairness of spirit, depth of learning, and thorough research. In short it may be truly said that he possesses all the elements necessary for the high judicial position which he has so ably filled. He is approachable genial and affable; and while he possesses large perceptive faculties and keen discrimination, he is almost philosophically tolerant. His chief relaxation is his large and well selected library, to which he turns with delight from his arduous legal and judicial labors.

On the death of Hon. Douglass Boardman in the year 1891, and the consequent vacancy in the deanship in the School of Law in Cornell University, Judge Finch was unanimously elected by the trustees of that institution as dean of the Law School. Since his election he has found time outside of his duties on the bench to give much time and thought to the development of the school, and to prepare and deliver before the law students a series of lectures, which are masterpieces in their literary style and legal acumen. Judge Finch has always taken a warm interest in all things relating to the progress of his native place, and has identified himself with various business enterprises of local prominence. He is now vice-president of the Ithaca Trust Company and a director of the First National Bank of Ithaca. Mr. Finch was married May 25, 1853 to Elizabeth A., daughter of Robert May Brooke, of Philadelphia. She died on March 28, 1892. He has three children: a son, Robert Brooke, and two daughters, Mary Sibley and Helen Elizabeth.

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