In 1834, on the death of Judge Henderson, he was elected one of the judges of the supreme court, which elevated position was so germane to his talents and his tastes that he declined a seat in the Senate of the United States, which was tendered to him. Only once more did he appear as a statesman. He was a member of the convention of 1835, which body was, without doubt, the ablest that ever sat in the state. The first men from every section in the state, of the highest positions, and of the largest knowledge, were selected.
He aided the convention in making healthful reforms, modified the thirty-second article disfranchising Catholics, and opposed the proposition to deprive free colored people of the right to vote. Until this time they had possessed the right in North Carolina. The character of Judge Gaston as a statesman, pure and patriotic, is inscribed in the annals of the nation, and the state. His ability and learning as an advocate, none can question; and his patience with witnesses and suitors, his urbanity to his associates, and his respect to authority rendered him universally popular.
His manner of address in a court or the legislature was peculiar.
It was my fortune to sit two sessions of the legislature in the next seat to Judge Gaston, as also on the committee on the judiciary with him, and I had good opportunities of observing him. He had, or seemed to have, when he first arose to speak, a modesty that was as embarrassing to himself as it was to his audience. He trembled perceptibly at first, but after a few moments his emphatic and deliberate manner and subdued tones commanded profound silence and attention. He became perfectly possessed, and he commenced his argument with matchless and thrilling eloquence. As he progressed, the grandeur of his expression seemed to increase, whilst his illustrations were as luminous as a sunbeam, and his arguments carried conviction to the minds of his entranced auditors. There was no sophistry to mislead, no meretricious ornament to beguile; his person seemed almost inspired, and his countenance expressed a benignty of soul which marked his whole life and character.
The writer (Dalton,) already quoted, says of Judge Gaston: "He was a great man in every sense of the word. One was never tired of his company. His conversation was always interesting and instructive. He did not possess the excursive genius of Mr. Badger, nor the wit of Mr. Stanly. But his store of learning and well balanced mind, added to his unsullied character, made him greatly their superior. He had more matter of fact than romance in his character. He would have made a better historian than a novelist, and perhaps, too, a great actor."
His last days were bright and glorious, and his end triumphant and happy.
On January 23d, 1844, while sitting on the bench of the supreme court at Raleigh, he complained of a chilly sensation, attended with fainting feelings, and was carried from the court room to his chamber. On that evening he was better, many friends called who were charmed with his conversation; and when relating an account of a convivial party at Washington, he spoke of one who avowed himself a free thinker in religion.
"From that time," he said, "I regarded that man with distrust. I do not say that such a man may not be an honorable man, but I dare not trust him. A belief in an all ruling providence who shapes our deeds is necessary. We must believe and feel that there is a God, all wise and almighty--"
As he pronounced these words, he raised himself up from his couch to give emphasis to his expression, in a moment there seemed to be a rush of blood to the brain, and he fell back a corpse. The spirit fled from the scenes of earth, to meet that God in whom he trusted, and whose name last vibrated on his tongue.
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