Bar News - May 5, 2006
Remembering a New Hampshire Attorney, Daniel Webster
By: Richard Y. Uchida
The following is taken from remarks at an April 11, 2006, reception announcing a campaign to preserve the Daniel Webster Farm in Franklin.
When I first accepted [attorney Howard Moffett’s invitation to appear at a reception regarding efforts to preserve the Daniel Webster farm], I knew very little about Attorney Webster’s legal career.
I did not know he began his training as a lawyer while living at the very farm we hope to preserve.
I did not know that one of the very first claims he worked on was an action for trespass because someone broke a violin.
I did not know he opened a practice in Boscawen, proclaiming it to be “a little shop for the manufacture of justice writs.” And I did not know that even then, being a New Hampshire attorney required that one travel statewide, as many of us do today. He tried cases in Hillsborough, Rockingham and Grafton Counties (at the time, Merrimack had yet to be created), and even appeared before his father, Ebenezer Webster, who was a judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Grafton County in Plymouth.
I did not know he moved his practice to Portsmouth, and eventually used that practice as a springboard to go to Massachusetts, where he gained national fame.
I do know, as many of you do, that Attorney Webster is one of the champions of American democracy. Between 1814 and 1852 (the year he died), he appeared before every term of the United States Supreme Court, and argued 168 cases.
His name is attached to such legal chestnuts as Gibbons v. Ogden and McCullough v. Maryland – cases that defined the power of the federal government over state efforts that would have splintered our young nation. He even returned to take a famous New Hampshire case – Dartmouth College v. Woodward – the case that struck down a state effort to modify a private corporation’s charter as violative of the federal constitution.
And like you, I do know, of course, that his name has gone down in history as the eloquent defender of the federal republic in the Great Debate – a debate that staved off the American Civil War – for several decades.
About a month ago, the Board of Governors of the New Hampshire Bar Association voted to approve a statement about the value of the legal profession. I think Daniel Webster would have been proud of that statement because it celebrates the value of lawyering in our society. It recognizes that lawyers are valued not only for their advocacy on behalf of clients and their part in the justice system, but also the role they play in government, in their neighborhoods and communities, in the countless non-profit boards, and in the lives of those who live around them. (See NHBA Highlights at www.nhbar.org for text of the statement.)
Today, we have an opportunity to celebrate the value of lawyering in a different way. On this beautiful April afternoon, the legal community has been asked to join the other valuable and important groups in this room to preserve the legacy of someone whose work and influence, through the world of lawyering, laid the groundwork for the nation we live in today.
Sometimes preservation occurs in the form of an award or book; or in a monument or a plaque. In this case, preservation comes in the form of land – preservation of what Webster called “the very sweetest spot in the world.” Through your help, you will not only save this special piece of land, but create a place that links the value that all of us – legislators, lawyers, historians, preservationists and others – deliver to the world today with the principles that have created and preserved our nation.
Richard Y. Uchida is 2005-06 NHBA President.