Warren native Beshlin always had opinions; remained steadfast in views on law as practicing centenarian
The attorney’s room off the of the Main Courtroom at the Warren County Courthouse is named for Earl Hanley Beshlin.
In addition to his campaign flier from the 1918 election – an unsuccessful bid contested just one year after he won a special election to serve in congress – a 1970 article hangs on the wall from an unidentified publication.
The author of the piece sat down with Beshlin in his law office.
And Beshlin talked about his life.
“Some of my years were hard,” he said. “None were really easy, but on the whole my life has been interesting and exciting and still is.”
And while the obvious question is whether he’s ever through about retirement, Beshlin shot that notion down quickly.
“Retire? What would I do myself?” he said. “I’ve always worked and can’t imagine being idle.”
The author detailed how law books “cram the wall shelves,” how “a framed lithograph of Abe Lincoln” hangs on the wall. “He does his own typing and some typewritten pages were on his desk. His typing is neat as is his appearance.”
“He’s rather tall and lean. His Grey eyes are keen and bright. He wears glasses only when he reads. And his memory is incredible.”
Beshlin was a lifelong liberal and was the only Democrat ever elected to Congress from Warren County.
And serving in Congress under the archetype of liberal presidents – Woodrow Wilson – Beshlin supported the vision for the post-World War I world for which Wilson advocated.
“Intellectually he was far the superior of the men who preceded and succeeded him as president,” Beshlin said of Wilson. “He demonstrated vast superiority over his opponents, especially that great crab, Henry Cabot Lodge.”
Beshlin supported the “14 points” that Wilson called for in the wake of the war, including the League of Nations – the predecessor to the United Nations with the stated goal of world peace. (The United States never joined, leaving the League a shell of what Wilson proposed).
“At this late day Beshlin firmly believes that a strong League of Nations could have prevented World War II, the Korean conflict and the current Vietnam war, which he deplores as a great and tragic blunder,” the author concluded.
“Once, (hopefully) we are out of Vietnam, then the United States must never again embark on foreign military adventures, regardless of reasons such as the specious one of ‘containing communism.’ Let either countries choose their own form of government without advice or help from us,” Beshlin said.
The author concluded that Beshlin “is a stern champion of the law, believing that a democracy cannot survive without the protection of the courts – from that of the lowest magistrate to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
But his politics weren’t limited to the issues of the 1910s.
Speaking on the feminist movement of the 1960s, Beshlin chuckled and said “Sure, give ’em anything to keep ’em quiet” but added that “I voted for women suffrage 50 years ago.”
He continued to be a Prohibitionist through the 1960s – telling the author he had never smoke or drank and said that he believed “that anyone who smokes cigarettes should be given a 30-day jail sentence.”
But he wasn’t a prude.
“Girls in mini skirts? Again the impish twinkle in his grey eyes. ‘They don’t bother me any,’ he grinned.”
Some of his other positions…
On the 1960s counterculture: “Well, if the young people disapprove of their parents and what they stand for, it’s just too bad – for the young people can’t change their parents anymore than the parents can disavow their kids.”
On environmental issues: “It’s puzzling. Garbage, what to do with it? Bury it and you pollute the ground. Wash it down the drain and pollute the rivers. Burn it and you pollute the air.”
On economic policy: “He thinks the paramount issue facing the nation once we are at peace is the colossal national debt, and that every effort, political and economic, should be made to reduce it and ultimately to wipe it out. ‘Then and only then shall we become solvent and remain solvent. And, being solvent, to eliminate our domestic ills, poverty, bad housing, pollution and so on.’
On the Apollo program: “Costing billions, the rewards if any, are not worth the cost, the effort and drafting of scientific skill that could be put to use in projects to benefit mankind.”
When the author spoke to Beshlin in 1970, he was living with his retired 63-year-old son, Richard, in a downtown home that permitted Beshlin to still walk to his office each day.
Who does the cooking?
“We both do,” said Beshlin. “But Richard has more time for it, for he’s retired and has more time for cooking than I do. He’s a marvelous cook too. No fuss either, for I don’t diet. I eat everything I want. Aside from three bouts with pneumonia, I’ve never been ill in my life. Broke an ankle a few years ago, but it’s all right now and I don’t limp!”
At 100, he still drove, occasionally more than 50 miles at a time and also periodically boarded a plane to Texas to visit his youngest son, Harold, who worked for the Port Authority in Port Arthur.
The one time his expression saddened, the author noted, was when Beshlin talked about his wife, Marill Collier Beshlin, whom he married in San Hose, Ca. in 1902 died in 1951.
“I worshipped her,” he said. “She never complained, not even when the 1929 stock market crash wiped me out and I was despairing. But she stood by me. Even to this day the very memory of her…”
“He left the sentence unfinished – dangling in mid-air, slightly gesturing with an expressive hand as though to indicate the futility of words in relating the deepest sorry of his 100 years,” the author said.
The author concluded the article by noting there is no college diploma hanging over his desk.
“After graduating from high school he began his study of law in an attorney’s office and learned the technique of his profession by attending numerous trials,” the author said. “On June 5, 1893 he was admitted to the bar, launching a career that sent him all over the country.”
“I never accepted a case unless I was virtually certain I could win it. Often I advised a prospective client not to go into court when he had little or no chance to win – not to waste time and money in a hopeless cause,” Beshlin said. “Often when a person ignored my advice and hired another lawyer, he lost.”
“Out in the afteroom a client shuffled his feet as through impatient,” the author wrote, “The attorney, born on April 28, 1870, no longer was living in the past. The time was now and the client needed expert legal help.”
Beshlin passed away the following year, dying on July 12, 1971.
He is interred at the mausoleum at Oakland Cemetery next to his wife.