In 1959, the last year of his life, Gustav Aaron Youngquist wrote his autobiography. It is a sprawling story -- from mishaps on the boat trip from Sweden to America when he was three years old to an argument in an odd tax appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court later in life. In a Foreword, his grandson, Minneapolis attorney John C. Goetz, suggests that his grandfather wrote only for his family not for the public. This explains the book's episodic format and its distinctive quality: the author's modesty while relating the unusual trajectory of his life in the law.
After finishing the book, readers will recognize the importance of his sometimes tedious accounts of working as a boy on a threshing machine and at a creamery, of learning shorthand and becoming a proficient stenographer-clerk, and devising a bookkeeping system for the law office of Charles Loring. In these jobs, he learned the habits and skills of mastering details, working with and relying upon others, patience and hard work that would make him a successful trial and appellate lawyer, who argued more cases before the United States Supreme Court than any other lawyer in Minnesota's history.
His account of practice before the nation's highest court in the early 1930s is a Roman candle of colorful anecdotes (and all too brief). Here is a sample. In a case in 1930 (Farmers Loan & Trust Company v. Minnesota), Justice McReynolds delivers the decision of the majority overruling a 1903 decision by Justice Holmes. As McReynolds speaks, Youngquist watches Holmes:
"Apparently the case had generated a lot of heat within the court, for McReynolds ended the reading by saying sternly, 'And in order that there may be no misunderstanding, the case of Blackstone v. Miller is hereby overruled,' attending the words by striking the desk with his open hand with a resounding whack. I felt sorry for Holmes. He sat with his head down, motionless and expressionless, nearing the end of his long service as a Judge, mourning over the demise of one of his pet decisions."
Even among the large body of immigrant literature--stories, diaries and novels--G. Aaron Youngquist's self-effacing memoir stands out.