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Charles M. Start, Chief Justice 1895-1913

Charles M. Start


Portriat of Charles M Start

"Perhaps some statement which we make while smarting under the discourtesy of a practitioner, may in future years cause grief or embarrassment to some innocent child."   ~Charles M. Start 


Born in Bakersfield, Vermont on October 4, 1839, Charles Monroe Start attended Barre Academy and read the law in the office of Judge William C. Wilson of Vermont until 1862. Start enlisted in the tenth Vermont Infantry that year following the onset of the Civil War, and within a year, was commissioned first lieutenant. His service was cut short, however, when he was designated physically disabled by a surgeon’s certificate.  Start then relocated to Minnesota and took up the law once again, this time in the office of Charles C. Willson.

Start learned under Willson’s guidance until 1864 when he was elected City Attorney of Rochester, the first of many positions he would hold. He remained City Attorney for several years and in November 1871, was elected County Attorney for Olmsted County. Start served eight years as County Attorney before being elected Attorney General of the State of Minnesota in 1879.  In 1881, due to the vacancy created by William Mitchell’s appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Governor Pillsbury appointed Start District Court Judge. Start served 14 years as district judge, succeeding in successive elections until January 7, 1895, when he was elected Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Again, Start was successful in maintaining his position through subsequent elections until he retired in January of 1913. Justice Start authored over one thousand opinions, which can be found in 61 volumes of the Minnesota Reports, from volume 60 to 120. 

Justice Start died in his home in Saint Paul on December 19, 1919. 

Justice Start was a dominant figure on the Court, known for his regular adjudication of individual rights.  He once said, "[P]erhaps some statement which we make while smarting under the discourtesy of a practitioner, may in future years cause grief or embarrassment to some innocent child." His firm beliefs were also made clear by a memorandum found among his private papers after his death: 

"A reform movement ought not to be sent straight to the mark, like a cannon ball, without regard to the wreck and ruin which may follow.  It should be strenuous, but fair; persistent, but deliberate; it should be based upon justice and controlled reason, for no permanent reform can, or ought to be, secured in any other way." 

You may learn more about the life and work of Justice Start in the books History of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Testimony: Remembering Minnesota’s Supreme Court Justices, which are the source of this brief biography. 

signature of Charles M. Start

Image Credit: Portrait of Charles M. Start, c. 1885, from History of the Bench and Bar of Minnesota, by Hiram F. Stevens, 1904,  Charles Start's signature in the Roll of Attorneys, Supreme Court, State of Minnesota, 1858-1970, p. 10. Available online at:

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