ALEXANDER TAGGART McGILL, A.M.,
LL.D., for thirteen years Chancellor of the State of New Jersey,
was born October 20, 1845, in Allegheny City, Pa., where his
father, Rev. Alexander T. McGill, D.D., LL.D., was a professor
in the Western Theological Seminary. His great-grandfather was
an Indian fighter of note in Pennsylvania, and served as a Lieutenant-Colonel
in the Continental Army under Washington at Trenton and Princeton.
The Chancellor's father was for some years a lawyer in Georgia,
but later studied theology and became professor in the Western
Theological Seminary. When the Chancellor was nine years old,
in 1854, his father accepted a professorship in Princeton Theological
Seminary and the family moved to New Jersey. His father held
that position until his death in 1880.
Chancellor McGill thus spent his
early life in the midst of the best educational and social advantages,
which he imbibed with an eagerness characteristic of his race.
While a youth he exhibited scholarly tastes, and rapidly acquired
a high standing as a thorough and painstaking student. His chief
aim was to master every problem, no matter how difficult that
came to this attention. He was a keen observer, possessed of
analytical powers of a high order, and won the praise and respect
of both teachers and associates. Entering Princeton College,
he pursued the regular course and received the degree of A.B.
in 1864 and that of A.M. in 1867, and afterward his alma mater
and Rutgers College of New Jersey, each conferred upon him the
honorary degree of LL.D. In June, 1866, he was graduated from
the Columbia Law School, and thereafter continued his legal studies
with the late Hon. Edward W. Scudder, of Trenton. He came to
the bar in New Jersey as an attorney at the November term, 1867,
and as a counselor in November, 1870.
For a few months he remained in
Trenton as an associate of his preceptor, Judge Scudder, and
then, in 1868, moved to Jersey City, where he afterward resided.
Chancellor McGill soon achieved prominence as an able, industrious,
and conscientious lawyer. From 1870 to 1876 he was the law partner
of the late Attorney General Robert Gilchrist. In 1874 and 1875
he was counsel for the City of Bayonne and also member of Assembly
from the then First District of Hudson County. He was active
and influential in the Legislature, and served on the leading
committees. In April, 1878, Governor McClellan appointed him
Prosecutor of the Pleas of the County of Hudson, and in April,
1883, he was appointed Law Judge of that county by Governor Ludlow.
On March 29, 1887, he was appointed
by Governor Green as Chancellor of the State of New Jersey, and
the appointment was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on the
31st of the same month. His first term expired May 1, 1894, and
he was re-appointed to the office by Governor Werts, and at once
unanimously confirmed by the Senate without reference.
It was during his term as Chancellor
that the famous coal combine bill was passed by the Legislature.
When Governor Abbett refused to sign the bill the railroad companies
in the combination contended that they were protected by existing
law, and proceeded to act accordingly. The attorney general brought
suit against the Coal Trust in the Court of Chancery. The Chancellor
rendered a decision which not only laid down the relations of
corporations to the State with a clearness and fairness that
placed his ruling beyond attack, but dealt a blow to all the
monopoly combinations of the Coal Trust class.
In the fall of 1895 the Democratic
party nominated the Chancellor for Governor. In the campaign
that followed he took no part, but continued to discharge the
duties of the office of Chancellor. The election resulted in
his defeat by John W. Griggs, now Untied States Attorney General,
by a plurality of 26,900.
Chancellor McGill died April 21,
1909, at his home in Jersey City. His friends declare that he
died a martyr to duty. His office killed him. He was a scrupulously
conscientious man, and thought of duty above everything else.
He would never shirk a responsibility, however much he might
suffer in fulfilling it. His learning, dignity, good judgment,
and ability long adorned the highest equity bench in the State.
He was one of the most popular jurists that ever presided over
the Courts of Erros and Appeals and Chancery. As a citizen, lawyer,
and judge he was universally respected and esteemed.
Chancellor McGill married Miss Olmstead,
a relative of the Stevens family, of Hoboken, who survives. He
had no children. He is also survived by a brother, Dr. John D.
McGill, Surgeon-General of New Jersey.
History of Hudson and Bergen Counties, New Jersey, Editor,
Cornelius Burnham Harvey, The New Jersey Genealogical Publishing
Company, 1900, pages 55-57.