OLMSTEAD, Marlin
Back Up Next

OLMSTEAD, Marlin E. Ė Among the conspicuously prominent lawyers of the United States who have won both wealth and fame at the bar, there is not one whose career is more of an inspiration to the youth of today than that of Marlin E. Olmstead, of Harrisburg. There is no member of the legal profession in Pennsylvania whose opinion commands more respect in the several courts of the Commonwealth, nor any whose profound attainments are more universally acknowledged by his brethren . As a consummate master of corporation law in all of itís intricate details, as an expert on all questions of corporate taxation and as an erudite constitutional lawyer, Marlin E. Olmstead has no superior in this or any other State.. Ha has raised and victoriously sustained in the highest court of the land more novel legal propositions than any other member of the Pennsylvania bar, and this high degree of success has come to him solely as a result of his own efforts, unaided by any fortuitous conditions or any other influence than his own pre-eminent ability. The story of his life is valuable not only as illustrating what can be accomplished under our American institutions, but as well for the stimulating effect it will have upon many young men struggling amid discouraging surroundings. It conclusively disproves the theory that luck plays an important part in shaping the destiny of man, and demonstrating beyond a question of doubt that in the race of life only those win who make the fullest use of the facilities with which they are endowed. High purpose, lofty ambition, unswerving integrity, unyielding perseverance and complete devotion to duty are the only elements that enter into the molding of a notable career, and to these qualities alone can be attributed the striking professional success of the subject of this sketch.

M.E. Olmstead was born in Ulysses township, Potter county, Pa. He is the descendant of a long line of distinguished ancestors, from whom he has inherited many of the traits of character which have contributed to his success in life. Daniel Olmstead, his grandfather, married Lucy Schofield, daughter of Lewis Schofield, whose wife was the daughter of Deacon Young, and sister of Colonel Young of Saratoga, who filled many important positions in his native state Ė senator, judge, canal commissioner, secretary of State and lieutenant governor . Henry J. Olmstead, father of Marlin E. is one of the most prominent and respected citizens of Potter county, who has served for twenty-two years as prothonotary and clerk of that county, having been once appointed by the governor and seven times elected by the people. In1876 he was nominated for State senator, but declined to avoid complications arising out of the fact that his friend, Hon. Sobieski Ross, of the same county, was desirous of a re-election to Congress. He married Evalena Theresa Cushing, daughter of Lucas Cushing, a descendant in direct line from Matthew Cushing, of Hingham, England, who came to America in 1638.

Both father and mother of Marlin E. Olmstead were born in New York State, the former of Masonville, and the latter of Ithaca. Their parents moved to Potter county , Pa., where they formed the acquaintance that resulted in their marriage.

Arthur G. Olmstead, president judge of the Forty-eighth judicial district of Pennsylvania, is an uncle of Marlin E.. He served with honor in both branches of the Legislature, was speaker of the House in 1865, and was nominated by the Republican State Convention for lieutenant governor in 1874.

The subject of this sketch attended the public schools and the academy at Couders port, Potter county. This was the extent of his early educational advantages. When Mr. Olmstead was a boy his uncle, Arthur G. Olmstead, was a leading lawyer in his section of the State. The parents of the young man desired that he should go to the bar and arranged with his uncle for his instruction. But the boy did not take kindly to the proposition and began to look in other directions for his life work. Through the influence of his uncle, as well as in recognition of his fitness, he was appointed to a clerkship in the treasury department of Pennsylvania by Robert W. Mackey, then State treasurer. At the same time the late Captain William B. Hart, afterwards State treasurer, was appointed to a clerkship in the auditor generalís office by the late Governor John F. Hartranft, then auditor general. Before the two young men entered upon their duties an arrangement was made whereby they exchanged positions and Mr. Olmstead was made assistant corporation clerk in the auditor generals office, J. Montgomery Forster being the head of the bureau. At the expiration of one year the office of insurance commissioner was created and Mr. Forster appointed to fill it. Olmstead was then promoted to the rank of corporation clerk in the auditor generalís office, with the entire charge of the assessment and collection of the millions of dollars raised annually by direct taxation of corporations, though at the time he was the youngest employee in years and service in the department. When Gen. Harrison Allen was elected to succeed Gen. Hartranft, Mr. Olmstead was reappointed and continued to serve until May, 1875, when the succession of Justus F. Temple, a democrat, resulted in the removal of all the Republican subordinates and the appointment of democrats in their places. Mr. Olmsteadís conduct of the office was at once an evidence of the character of his early training and a promise his after life would be. State Treasurer Mackey, who from long public service was familiar with the duties of the corporation clerk, and who was very anxious that Mr. Olmstead should be retained by Gen. Temple in the interest of the public service, said on one occasion that he considered him, young as he was, an expert in all matters of State taxation, whose retention would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxes to the Commonwealth, and that the State could better afford to pay him fifteen thousand dollars per year than to lose his services. The newspapers of the State spoke of his removal as a positive detriment to the public service and to the business interests of the State, but the clamor of the politicians prevailed and Mr. Olmstead gave way to a democrat.

At the time of his retirement from office Mr. Olmstead was offered three different political positions and the cashiership of one of the largest national banks in the interior of the State, the First National Bank of Honesdale, of which the late Samuel E. Dommick, then attorney general, was president. Subsequently his uncle and father proposed to start a private bank at Coudersport and tendered him the management of it. But he had changed his ideas regarding the law and determining to enter that profession began the study in the offices of Hon. John W. Simonton, of Harrisburg, now president judge of the Twelfth judicial district. He was admitted to the bar November 25, 1878.

His six years experience in the auditor generalís office made him thoroughly familiar with the complicated system of corporation taxation, whereby the State of Pennsylvania raises nearly all itís revenue and it was perfectly natural that he should drift into that line of practice. During his incumbency of the office of corporation clerk he was brought into contact with the officers of nearly all the corporations doing business in the State and was recognized by them as being more familiar with the various tax laws than any other man, in or out of the legal profession. Accordingly, as soon as he was released from the office, he was regularly retained by them to adjust their tax accounts with the Commonwealth and at once upon his admission to the bar found himself in the enjoyment of a large and lucrative practice. He became and has since remained the resident attorney at the State Capital for many of the leading corporations of the country. He was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in May, 1881, and in the Supreme Court of the United States November 12, 1884.

The first case which he argued in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin county was that of the Corning, Cowanesque and Antrim Railway Company, a case of very considerable difficulty, in which he won a complete victory. The result was gratifying to Gen. George J. Magee, president of the company, that he caused Mr. Olmstead to be regularly retained, and he has ever since the legal representative at Harrisburg of all the numerous corporations with which Gen. Magee is connected.

His first case in the State Supreme Court was that of the Commonwealth vs. National Mutual Aid Association, reported in 94 Pa., 481, in which the claim of the State was entirely defeated. His participation in the argument of this case before the Supreme Court was only through the courtesy of the court, as he had not at that time been a member of the bar for two years as was required by the rules of admission to the bar of the Supreme Court.

One of the most important among his earlier cases was that of the Commonwealth vs. Texas and Pacific Railroad Company, reported in 98 Pa., 90. In this case the State endeavored to collect from the company a license tax of twelve thousand, five hundred dollars a year for having an office in Pennsylvania, upon the ground that it was a foreign and not a domestic corporation. Mr. Olmstead raised the novel defense that a corporation created by Congress could not be regarded as a foreign corporation but must be treated as a domestic corporation in each State. This position was sustained by the Dauphin county court and affirmed by the Supreme Court. The case was widely reported and is cited in all text books as a leading one on the subject.

Another of his early and important cases was that of the Commonwealth vs. Standard Oil Company. Reported in 101 Pa., 119, in which the Commonwealth sought to collect from the company over three million dollars. The case was bitterly contested on both sides, and the Dauphin county court, sustaining nearly all of Mr. Olmsteads positions, gave a judgment against the company for only thirty three thousand dollars, from which both sides appealed to the Supreme Court. The company succeeded in defeating the Commonwealthís appeal, and on the companyís appeal, which was taken by Mr. Olmstead on his own motion and argued by him alone, the Supreme Court struck off the penalty and the interest on the ground that the several laws under which the tax was claimed having been repealed, with the reservation only of the right to collect accrued taxes, the penalties fell with the repeal of the laws, so that the Commonwealth finally recovered only twenty two thousand dollars. This was considered the most important tax case ever tried in the State, involving a larger amount than any other, and is a leading case upon a number of points.

A still more important case, however, was that of Commonwealth vs. National Mutual Aid Company, reported in 104 Pa., 89, which involved the right of the State to hold corporations liable for tax imposed upon their bondholders by the revenue acts of 1879 and 1881. The litigation began in 1879 and lasted until 1883, resulting in a complete victory for the company, the Supreme Court declaring both acts inoperative and void, so far as they attempted to hold corporations responsible for the collection of the tax; it being the first time in the history of the Commonwealth in which the Supreme Court had rendered a decision nullifying a general tax law. The amount involved to the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company in that case was ninety eight thousand dollars per annum, and the amount involved for the various clients for which Mr. Olmstead was concerned and which the decisions affected was about one million dollars per year.

This case furnishes a striking illustration of Mr. Olmsteadís keen legal acumen. At the beginning of the litigation there was not a lawyer in the State who agreed as to the testing of the law. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company had paid into the treasury over two hundred thousand dollars without question, and numerous other corporations had submitted to the law without an effort to contest itís validity. Two successive attorneys general and their deputies, all men of profound learning, had contended with great skill against Mr. Olmsteadís position, which was, however, finally sustained by the Supreme Court.

Among the many important cases in which Mr. Olmstead was concerned was the suit brought by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against the City of Philadelphia to recover a tax of eight hundred thousand dollars on account of two hundred million dollars of mortgages alleged to be held in that city which had not been returned for taxation. Mr. Olmstead took a prominent part in the argument of this case, and the claim of the State was entirely defeated.

In the case of the Commonwealth vs. Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, reported in 151 Pa., 265,Mr. Olmstead established a principle of constitutional law of the widest reach and utmost importance, namely, immunity from State taxation or control of patent rights granted by the United States to inventors. This question had never before been raised and itís determination has resulted in the saving of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr. Olmsteads clients.

The first opinion delivered by the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, reported in 128 U.S., 39, was in the case of the Commonwealth against the Western Union Telegraph Company for taxes upon receipts for messages crossing the State lines. In this case the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided against the company, but Mr. Olmstead succeeded in reversing that decision on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, and established the principle that business was inter-State commerce, the right to regulate which was exclusively vested in Congree.

Mr. Olmsteadís earlier practice was confined almost exclusively to corporation tax business, but his reputation as a profound lawyer of infinite resources became so general throughout the State that it was impossible for him to resist the importunities of his clients in other branches of the law, and he was compelled to widen its scope until it embraced corporation business of all kinds.

Among the first of his successes in this broader field was the case of the Commonwealth vs. The Beech Creek Railroad Company, where the State interfered by injunction to prevent the sale of the defendant companies stock to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. The injunction was dissolved as to Mr. Olmsteadís clients, but continued as to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, thus preventing the deal.

In the several suits brought by the attorney general in 1886 to dissolve the Anthracite Coal Combination and Trunk Line Pool, in relation to which it was said at the time that the attorney general was attempting to regulate two thousand million dollars of capital, Mr. Olmstead appeared alone as counsel for the New York Central Railroad Company, the Delaware and Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company, Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company, Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad Company, New York Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company, the Pennsylvania Coal Company, Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, and as associate counsel for most of the other companies concerned in this suit. These suits were, without a doubt, the most important ever brought in the State. The suit against the Trunk Line Pool was abandoned because of the passage by Congress of the inter-State commerce law. The case against the Anthracite Combination was decided in favor of Mr. Olmsteadís clients, the courts refusing to grant the injunction asked for by the attorney general.

Mr. Olmstead was attorney for the several defendants in the equity suit brought by the attorney general in 1891 to compel the dissolution of what was known as the "Reading Combine". He conducted the examination of the witnesses with consummate skill, but the case never reached the point of argument, owing to the voluntary abrogation of the leases by the parties themselves.

The length of this sketch forbids mention of but a very few of the many highly important cases in which Mr. Olmstead has been concerned since his admission to the bar. Among his more recent victories was that achieved in establishing the constitutionality of the act of 1893, providing for controllers in place of auditors in counties having 150,000 population.

The county of Schuylkill had met with great losses through the dishonesty of her commissioners in the construction of a court house, owing to the fact that the auditors did not audit their accounts until the end of the year, when it was too late to make adequate recovery from the commissioners.

Luzerne county was about building a court house. These were the only two counties having 150,000 population which did not already have controllers. The constitutionality of the act of 1893 was contested by the auditors and commissioners of the two counties and was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In 1895 the Legislature passed another act in almost the same language. The county commissioners and the county auditors refused to obey itís provisions. An action was again brought to itís test constitutionality, and Judge Lynch, of Luzerne county, again declared it to be unconstitutional. An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court, and the two counties secured the services of Mr. Olmstead, who had not been concerned in either of the other cases. On argument the Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of the act and ousted the county auditors from office. While not involving as large an amount of money as many of his other cases, this victory was regarded as one of the most notable in Mr. Olmsteadís remarkable career.

Among his services to the State may be mentioned the fact that Mr. Olmstead framed the revenue act of 1874, and also the revenue act of 1877. Both of these acts passť in the exact forming which they were prepared and both withstood all attacks that were made upon them, being sustained by the courts in every particular. He devised the tax on the franchise of coal mining companies in section 7 of the act of 1874. Previous to that time the State had taxed the anthracite coal mined by the carrying companies, which tax was believed to be rendered invalid by the new Constitution. To avoid that the tax upon the franchises of coal companies was devised and itís constitutionality was sustained by the Supreme Court in the case of the Commonwealth vs. Kittanning Coal Company. The State devised an immense revenue from this tax until so much being found unnecessary it was repealed in 1879. He also devised the tax on gross premiums of insurance companies, found in the act of 1877, and which was sustained by the courts after assaults by the insurance companies, and under which the Commonwealth has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mr. Olmstead is president and general counsel of the Beech Creek Railroad Company, of the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad Company, and of the Couderport and Wellsboro Railroad Company. He is a director of the Pine Creek Railroad Company, the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company and the Commonwealth Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company of Harrisburg, as well as being largely interested in various industrial enterprises of the city of Harrisburg. As a lawyer his fame extends beyond the limits of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and as an expert on all questions on constitutional corporate taxation he has, perhaps, no equal in the United States. His practice is extensive as that of any lawyer in the Commonwealth, and none are consulted by as large a clientage among corporations of the nation. His legal arguments are marvels of clearness and erudition. It is not much to say that he never goes into court without being fully prepared to meet every possible point that may be raised by his adversary. He is, therefore, never surprised by any of the developments of the case, and it is to this fact,

As much as any other, that he owes his remarkable success. While a master of language, he uses none of the arts of rhetoric in his arguments. He relies upon none of the tricks of the elocutionist , but depends for his victories upon a plain, energetic exposition of the law and a skillful marshalling of the facts.

Mr. Olmstead is unmarried, is fond of society, and is a devotee of field and aquatic sports. He is both a judge and lover of good horses, rides and drives well, and his stable contains some of the finest animals in the country. He is a frequent visitor to Europe, and has traveled extensively throughout the United States.

He has never filled any political position since his admittance to the bar, except in 1879, when his party nominated him without his consent to fill the vacancy in select council caused by the election of C.L. Bailey as a member of the Legislature, and three successive democratic nominees have declined to run against him; he was elected without opposition.

Mr. Olmstead has always been a Republican in politics, an earnest worker and a liberal contributor in the campaigns of his party. On September 4, 1896, the Republican County Convention, of Dauphin county, nominated him by acclamation as itís candidate for Congress in the district composed of the counties of Dauphin, Lebanon and Perry and upon August 11, 1896, he was nominated by the district conference. He will undoubtedly be elected by the largest majority ever given to a candidate in the district. His qualifications for the position are ideal, and he will at once take rank among the foremost men in public life.

Such in brief is the career of one of the remarkable members of the Pennsylvania bar. If his successes has been extraordinary, it is because he brought to his profession the ambition, energy, stability, integrity and perseverance which characterize the highest type of American citizen. Ė W.C.F.

 

Historical Review of Dauphin County

Transcribed by Bob Sheetz, Capndadd@aol.com, for the Dauphin County Penna. Genealogical Transcription Project Ė HTTP://maley.net/transcriptions.

Date of transcription; Feb 16, 2001

Copyright 2001 Ė all rights reserved. Use, duplication or reproduction for profit or representation by any person or organization is strictly prohibited.