Silas U. Pinney (1833-1899)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1892-1898)
"To be at his best, he must be convinced that truth and justice were with him." - Henry Lewis, Pinney's memorial service (1899)
Silas U. Pinney was born in Rockdale, Pennsylvania, on March 3, 1833. Just after his 13th birthday, his family moved to Wisconsin and settled on a farm in Dane County. Pinney received no formal education in Wisconsin, but spent his free time reading and studying.
Before turning 20, Pinney studied fundamental law books and acted as legal counsel for his neighbors. He moved to Iowa to study in a private law office. He soon returned to Wisconsin and was admitted to the bar in April 1854.
Pinney became known throughout the state as an expert in legal procedure and had an active law practice. Upon his death in 1899, it was believed that he had argued more cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court than any other lawyer in the state. In the 100 volumes of the Wisconsin Reports printed by the time of his death, his name appeared as either counsel or justice in all but the first two volumes.
In 1872, Pinney gathered the opinions of the territorial Supreme Court and the original state Supreme Court and published them in three volumes called Pinney's Wisconsin Reports. The first volume includes Pinney's written history of the Wisconsin Territory.
Before winning election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1891, Pinney served in the state Legislature and was mayor of Madison. While mayor, he was instrumental in establishing the second free public library in the state. Pinney's remarkable career as a lawyer led his colleagues throughout the state to nominate him to the bench upon Chief Justice Orsamus Cole's retirement.
He was an entertaining and witty master of the spoken language and was as popular a jurist as he was a lawyer. His opinions were described as "an enduring monument to his ability as a jurist, his strong grasp of legal principles, his clear and cogent reasoning."
Failing health forced Pinney to resign from the Supreme Court in November 1898. During his successful career, he suffered many personal tragedies. He and his wife Mary had one son, Clarence, who died at age 20. His daughter Bessie died in a horse-drawn carriage accident.
Pinney died April 1, 1899.