Isaac Grant Thompson
Isaac Grant Thompson

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.

ISAAC GRANT THOMPSON was born in Rensselaer Co., N. Y., and died at Saratoga Springs, N. Y., on the 30th of August, 1879, aged thirty-nine years. He had always lived in Rensselaer County, with the exception of a few years of his early life passed in the West. His education was of the common schools and academics. In his youth he had taught in both departments. He was admitted to the bar of this State in 1865. Having always a predilection for the editorial occupation, he ultimately became a legal editor, author, and reporter of great celebrity. He became city editor of the Troy Daily Press about 1869, at the same time compiling some of his minor legal treatises. In 1870 he founded the Albany Law Journal. In 1871 he commenced the publication of the "American Reports." He wrote a treatise on the Law of Highways, a treatise on Provisional Remedies, edited an edition of "Warren's Law Studies," supplying a chapter On the Study of Forensic Eloquence, compiled a volume of "National Bank Cases," manuals for supervisors, assessors, town clerks, and collectors, a digest for the first twenty-four volumes of the "American Reports," edited with Mr. Cook six volumes of the "Supreme Court Reports" of New York, which affected a revolution in the reporting system of the State, and at the time of his death was engaged upon the most important law treatise of his life, which he left half finished. He was married in 1872, and his wife and three children survive him. Mr. Thompson continued to edit the Albany Law Journal and the "American Reports" up to the time of his death. The former is read in every English-speaking community in the world, and had attained, under his direction, and influence unsurpassed, if not unrivaled. The latter, now in their twenty-seventh volume, purport to give all cases of general interest in the courts of ultimate resort in all the States and Territories, have attained a very large circulation, and have universally been esteemed models of their class. Two such original enterprises have rarely been conceived and executed by a man of thirty years of age.

The following from the pen of Mr. Thompson's successor, Irving Browne, in the Albany Law Journal of Sept. 6, 1879, conveys a just and intelligent estimate of Mr. Thompson's character and work:

"The writer may be pardoned for saying- what Mr. Thompson never would have said publicly - that the Albany Law Journal has made its way all around the world, and is read, copied, and cited in every State of this Union, throughout Great Britain and Ireland, in France, Germany, and Italy, in China, Australia, and New Zealand, without much advertising or canvassing, almost exclusively upon its merits. Mr. Thompson was proud of this; he loved to have it so. It was his pet project and hobby; he spared no pains nor expense upon it; he cared not what it cost him; he was continually planning to make it better; he was never satisfied with it. He was conscious of the demands of the great and critical audience which he addressed, he had a high sense of what was due them, and his conscience was always uneasy lest he was not giving them his very best.

"Mr. Thompson would unquestionably have made his mark at the bar. His mind was acute, incisive, comprehensive, and fertile; his self-possession was perfect; his command of language was strikingly forcible, affluent, and elegant. He did not leave the bar because he doubted his adaptation to the pursuits of the advocate, nor from distaste, but because he preferred to strike out a new path, because his tastes were scholarly rather than argumentative, and because in his chosen walk he thought to meet fewer of the unpleasant incidents and harassing circumstances that infest the vocation of the advocate.

"In person Mr. Thompson was rather below the middle height, quite stout, and broad-chested; his head was large and fine, his forehead full and broad; his complexion was dark and ruddy; his features were regular, his eyes especially brilliant and kind. He was a fine specimen of vigorous and manly beauty. While he did not shun nor repel men, his tastes were reserved and secluded. His shyness extended even to his own actions and emotions. He was the most unpretentious, modest, and simple of men. He was ready to oblige, and know how to confer an obligation delicately. He was faithful and punctual in the smallest as well as in the largest duties, private as well as public. He was the fondest and firmest of friends. He was an ardent lover of nature and of poetry; his greatest ambition was to possess a farm and be a farmer."

Mr. Thompson was one of the most widely-known citizens that Rensselaer County has ever produced. His sudden and untimely decease was regarded by the bar of this county as a serious loss to the profession, and elicited many touching tributes from the most eminent jurists and journalists.

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