James Lansing
James Lansing

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880. Many thanks to Bob McConihe for typing this biography.

JAMES LANSING was born in the town of Decatur, Otsego Co., N. Y., May 9, 1834. The founder of the family emigrated from Hassett, near Zwall, Holland, and settled in this country in 1666. His father, James E. Lansing, in early life removed from Schodack, this county, where he and many generations of his ancestors were born, and settled in Otsego County, where for many years he was a merchant.

Mr. Lansing was the eldest son of a family of nine children. At the age of twelve he became a clerk in his father's store, and during the winter season attended what were then known as select schools, taught by law students. It was during these school terms that he first cultivated the desire for public speaking, by being connected with a debating club, where he rarely missed an opportunity to speak.

Following the age of sixteen he was a student in Cazenovia Seminary. Depending upon his own exertions to advance his studies, at the age of eighteen he taught one term of school in Ohio, and then attended school at Warnerville Seminary for four terms. Necessity again compelled him to leave school, and he set out for the South, - at that time the great Eldorado of penniless adventurers, - his purpose being to teach school, to improve his education, and ultimately to study law, a design which he had early formed, and which he never at any time had relinquished.

After a short stay in Kentucky he went to Mississippi, where he was successful in obtaining a school upon a plantation, at a salary of eight hundred dollars for forty weeks' service. At the expiration of this time he accepted a situation as assistant in the academy at Byhalia, Miss., at advanced wages. After six months he returned North, and the same year, 1857, married Sarah A. Richardson, of Poultney, Vt. Returning to Mississippi, he was principal of Mount Pleasant Academy for one year. He then, assisted by his wife, took charge of the Female Academy of that place, where he remained until the breaking out of the Rebellion. Shortly after the first battle of Bull Run his school was broken up by a mob; he was notified to leave town, and compelled to seek safety by flight. A few months afterwards, through the aid of friends, he secured a school in Macon, Tenn., where he remained until after the occupation of Memphis by the Union forces, when an opportunity occurred for his departure.

During his stay in the Confederacy he was several times arrested by the conscripting-officer, and, after being taken some distance from home towards the camp, was released and allowed to return, on account of the Confederate conscript law exempting teachers. On arriving North he immediately resolved to put into practice his long-cherished project of studying the law, - a profession for which he had in a measure already prepared himself by the private study of Blackstone and Kent.

He was graduated from Albany Law School in May, 1864, and at once took a student's chair in the office of Warren & Banker, of Troy, N. Y., to learn something of the practice of law. After six months, through the invitation of Mr. Warren, then surrogate, he accepted the position of clerk of the surrogate's court, where he remained for almost two years, and entered into a copartnership with Robert H. McClellan, a prominent lawyer of Troy. Mr. Lansing immediately and diligently sought to perfect himself in the knowledge and practice of his profession, with the desire, if possible, to bridge over by his industry the years that others of his age had spent in the practice of the law prior to his admission. To that end he turned his attention to litigated business, his first case being tried at the Rensselaer County bar not more that ten years ago. He prepared and tried his own causes, and, without the aid of counsel, argued them through the several appellate tribunals of the State.

James Lansing was one of the delegates selected from the Rensselaer County bar to attend the meeting called for the organization of the New York State Bar Association, in 1876. He was present at its formation, and was appointed a member of one of its principle committees, which position he has since held by successive reappointments.

Mr. Lansing is a man of excellent natural powers, and by his own exertions has made himself one of the most learned and successful lawyers at the Troy bar. His habit of self-reliance has gained him a standing of independence and influence. His career is noticeable as an example of honorable success in a profession adopted late in life, and pursued under circumstances of great difficulty and discouragement. His name is associated with some very marked professional triumphs, and his arguments are always entertained with high respect by the appellate tribunals. In addition to his public efforts, Mr. Lansing has exhibited rare talents as a writer upon legal topics, and his learning and candor have made him a favorite referee in important causes.

Mr. Lansing has seven children living. His eldest son, James Walter, a promising young man, died in 1873.

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