Charles Henry Bell.

Life of William M. Richardson, LL. D., late chief justice of the Superior court in New Hampshire .. online

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Online LibraryCharles Henry BellLife of William M. Richardson, LL. D., late chief justice of the Superior court in New Hampshire .. → online text (page 1 of 4)
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"To birth or office, no respect be paid.
Let worLli determine here."





It is with some pleasure that the author of this
volume presents to the public a memoir of one of
the most distinguished sons of New Hampshire.
Several gentlemen have furnished their generous
assistance to the writer in collecting the materials
for this work, and these he might name, were it
deemed advisable.

He would particularly acknowledge his obliga-
tions to Hon. Joel Parker of Keene, and Rev.
Jonathan Clement of Chester, for several para-
graphs which he has quoted from their * Charge'
and * Discourse.'

-^ iTiV-^i r^ iT- .■ > ^


The example set us by Judge Richardson can-
not be too strongly recommended. There is no
man in the State who cannot profit by it.

It has been designed in the present narrative to
exhibit a concise account of the principal events
in the life of Chief Justice Richardson. How
well the author has succeeded in his undertaking,
will appear upon the perusal.
Slarch 39, 1839.



Introductory remarks — genius — industry — ^nnealogy of Judge
R. — his birth' — accident — its effects — commences study — enters
university — limited advantages — his standing — graduates — en-
gages as teacher in Leicester Academy — ill health — relinquishes
his employment — takes charge of GrotOii .^ cademy — Judge Dana
—his reputation — the profession — Mr. R's choice^admission
to the bar — success — a retrospect. 9


Commencement of Mr. R.'s political life — election to congress
— merchant's bonds question — Mr. R.'s views — his speech — ex-
tracts — the conclusions-distaste for politics — re-election and
resignation — removal to Portsmouth — success there — appoint-
ment to the Chief Justiceship — causes of this — "N. H. Reports"
—first year. 23


Dartmouth college controversy — distressing sickness — resi-
dence in Chester — atheneum — Chester Lyceum. 35


Judge Pv's uniform liberality — chosen member of committee —
questions proposed to him — their importance — his reply — his
accomplishments — taste for poetry — hasty efforts — their merit —
his fondness for poetry — " to the witch hazel"— Judge R's taste
for music — his own skill. 48



Judge R.'s industry — ^benefits of it — his excuse for it— Rev.
Mr. Clement's discourse — extract — "N. H. Reports " — accuracy
of those made out by Judge R. — reasons for this — punctuality—
his humor — advantages — his judgment — anecdote — " Sleeping
Congregation " — treatise on wit — knowledge of botany' — miner-
alogy — his economy— generosity. 57


Character in private life — domestic relations — "the kiss of
wedded love " — friend to the poor— supporter of religious insti-
tutions — attention to horticulture — anecdoles — last sickness-
death — remarks of Rev. Mr. Clement. OS


Meeting of the Merrimack Bar — their proceedings — com-
mittee and resolutions — votes — Mr. Bartlett's address — resolu-
tions presented — Judge Upham's reply — adjournment of the
Court — truth of the remarks of both gentlemen. 73


C. J. R's personal appearance — his stature — form — counten-
ance — conversation — public speeches — taste for literary pursuits
—knowledge — writings — official capacity — hastiness in forming
opinions — Judge Parker's Charge — extract — Judge R's wonder-
ful popularity — intuitive knowledge of character — conclusion.






No employment can be more"grateful to the
philanthropist, than to trace the gradual devel-
opment of the powers of the human mind, and
accompany youth and inexperience to maturity
and wisdom. It is pleasant to view in him who
was but just now a mere lad, the accomplished
scholar, the finished statesman, or the eminent
jurist. This is at once amusement and instruc-
tion ; since nothing is calculated to afford higher
gratification than a perusal of the recorded acts
of departed genius, nor any warning more ef-
fectual than the salutary admonitions of expe-



The aim of the reader of biography should
therefore be, to derive advantage from the in-
formation contained therein, rather than its style
of composition. Perhaps the perusal of the
following memoir may enlighten some, at least,
of the inhabitants of New Hampshire, in regard
to the life and character of its subject ; although
he has been too long known, and his worth too
rightly appreciated, to allow room for hope that
much can be said of him, which would be to
them either novel or interesting.

But the citizens of other states, in whose
hands this volume may chance to fall, and who
perhaps may not have possessed means to in-
form themselves respecting him, may reap some
benefit from learning his origin, and the partic-
ulars of his steady ascent from comparative ob-
scurity to a most enviable celebrity.

It is a true saying that " a man can be almost
any thing he wishes." Giant intellects, and su-
perior abilities are bestowed upon few, but these
seem to have intuitive knowledge of things for
which others are obliged to labor most severely


and assiduously. Yet this genius, unless ac-
companied by diligence, is in great danger of
being reduced below the level of common minds.
Such combinations rarely occur in the propor-
tion we could wish. But we rejoice to say that
it is not our disagreeable duty to recount the
actions of an intellect suffered to rust from dis-

Judge Richardson's mind never was at rest.
Its powers were various, but always in action.
His works and decisions will ever remain, the
splendid monuments of his industry, talent and
integrity. His youth was not passed in scenes
of dissipation and riot, but in innocent, healthy
labor. His genius never could have wasted it-
self in the monotonous occupation of the farm-
er — it stood pre-eminent, and elevated its pos-
sessor to the most responsible office in the dis-
posal of his fellow citizens.

Talent is not alone the fruit of rank and af-
fluence ; it lurks as often in the rustic, simple
plough-boy, as the most opulent nobleman of
the land. Genius hes hidden ^n our mountains,


and in our valleys ; and ever will remain conceal-
ed, till the light of education shall dispel the
darkness of ignorance on the highest peak of
the one, and in the lowest recess of the other.

Much has been done in America, and partic-
ularly in New England, to render the acquisition
of knowledge more universal. May the cause
be prospered, until every person, however
humble his situation in life, can enjoy an ade-
quate opportunity for acquiring literally, a good

The life of Chief Justice Richardson is so
closely interwoven with the judiciary proceed-
ings of New Hampshire, for the last twenty
years, that much about those must be mention-
ed, to render our biography intelligible. As Ut-
ile, however, will be introduced foreign to the
subject as possible.

Josiah Richardson, the earliest ancestor of
Chief Justice Richardson, of whom any defi-
nite information has been transmitted, was born
at Chelmsford, Mass. in the year 1635. He
was a man of some distinction, if we may judge


from the number of offices he sustained. He
was a captain of militia, — town clerk for the
space of three years, and representative to the
Legislature fourteen.

He was admitted freeman in 1664. He died
at the age of sixty, leaving several children, one
of whom, called William, had a son, in 1701,
whose name we have been unable to ascertain.
This son, at the age of twenty-one years, pur-
chased a farm in Pelham, N. H. which has ever
since been in the possession of the family. The
late captain Richardson, the Chief Justice's fa-
ther, was this gentleman's grandson. The whole
family from Josiah downwards, were farmers, in
good circumstances and respectable ; captain
Richardson was a soldier of the Revolution.

William Merchant Richardson was born at
Pelham, Jan. 4, 1774.

He was employed in farming until he arrived
to the age of about fifteen years, when he re-
ceived a severe injury on one of his hands.
There is oftentimes a point in the fortunes of

men, that when reached, leads us to pause, and



consider which path shall afterward be pursued.
The decision of this hour seems of more im-
portance than any other period of our lives.
That point had been attained: an incident shap-
ed his future course of hfe, and the inclination
that was given to his mind by this trivial cir-
cumstance was perhaps a remote cause of his
subsequent greatness.

Had this accident not occurred, without doubt
he would have spent his entire life in following
the plough — we cannot think as an ordinary
husbandman — but probably as one of the supe-
rior order of farmers. But the state of the
wound incapacitated him for active exertion, for
some time, atleast ; and it was thought by some,
that he would never again entirely recover the use
of his hand. He accordingly devoted his time to
study, with a view to fit himself for obtaining a
livelihood by a profession ; and being desirous of
perfecting his education, commenced with ardor
the reading of the classics. He improved rap-
idly, and was in a short time prepared to enter
Harvard University, at Cambridge, Mass.


Young men of the present day, who enjoy
the vakiable advantages within the reach of all,
and who are ■ willing to deny themselves in a
small degree, can scarcely form a correct con-
ception of the difficulties with which persons,
at that period wishing to attain an education,
were forced to contend. Not only persevering
industry and untiring exertions were requisite
for this great desidei'atum, but also a vast
amount of labor was absolutely necessary for
the purpose of procuring means for prosecu-
ting study.

But few youth of this age would feel them-
selves " in duty bound" to submit to all the
privations that men then endured with cheer-
fulness, for the much desired end of receiving
the benefits of a collegiate course of instruction.

He soon distinguished himself at the univer-
sity, for his application, and was'esteemed for his
correct moral habits and amiable temper. He
maintained throughout a high standing as a
scholar, and graduated in 1797. He was re-
markable for his fondness of poetry, and taste


for literary pursuits ; and indeed was no
mean proficient in tiie poetic art himself, if we
may infer as much from the fact of his receiv-
ing the appointment to deliver the English po-
em, on the occasion of his graduation.

After leaving his Alma mater, he was proba-
bly undecided what profession to enter, and
wishing to review his past studies, obtained the
situation of teacher in the Academy at Leices-
ter, Mass. He continued there but a short
time, on account of the delicate state of his
health. Anxious to be successful in his avoca-
tion, and eager for his own improvement, he
over-exerted himself, and in consequence was
obliged to retire from the employment. He
proceeded to Pelham, and remained a brief pe-
riod with his father, when he again began to
■ look about him for a situation, as he had in a
great measure, recovered his usual tone of
health. He was next engaged as preceptor of
Groton Academy, and whilst thus occupied,
gained the acquaintance of Judge Samuel
Dana. This gentleman was a lawyer, quite dis-


tinguished in the town where he resided, both
for his probity in managing, and his skill in ar-
guing causes.

Although deprived of the benefits of a colle-
giate education, he had yet so well improved the
opportunities afforded him, as to have amassed
a considerable stock of general information.
Commencing the study of the law in his fa-
ther's office, he was admitted to practice, at the
early age of about twenty-one years. He was
chosen member of Congress, and Chief Justice
of the Circuit Court ; and both these offices he
filled with commendable ability and complete

His mind was energetic, and his conceptions
strong. His genius was of that description,
which, with whatever subject it grapples, has
the faculty of contending with giant force and
unwearied diligence. With a person of such
quaUfications Mr. Richardson would naturally
seek an acquaintance ; and in a short period,
the idea of entering Judge Dana's office as stu-
dent, suggested itself to his mind.


Various have been the opinions respecting
the most politic course in the choice of a pro-
fession. In this particular instance, we are in-
clined to think with the subject of our memoir,
that the law is liable to as few objections as any
other. Especially was it to be preferred at the
time Mr. Richardson's determination was made,
both on account of his pecuniary circumstances,
and his enfeebled constitution. The profession
of medicine could hardly be pursued with suc-
cess, by one whose own health had suffered so
seriously in the comparatively easy employment
of teaching : and the salary which clergymen
then received, was scarcely sufficient to main-
tain, in a comfortable manner, the individual
who was compelled to resort to such a calUng
for support. Preachers of that day were ex-
pected to turn their attention to agriculture or
teaching, to furnish themselves with a competent
subsistence. These, as has been before stated,
Mr. Richardson was unable to follow, and the
profession of law, was the most proper selection
he could have made, on account of his talents.


which his friends thought brilHant enough to se-
cure him an extensive practice, and the flattering
prospect then held out to every lawyer, whose
abilities were above mediocrity. All who were
aware of how high an order his mind was, were
decidedly favorable to his views of immediately
commencing this study. He accordingly pros-
ecuted it for a space, while still in his capacity
of preceptor in the academy, but at length gave
up this latter engagement, that he might pay all
his attention to his new pursuit.

We are assured by an intimate friend that his
examination proved satisfactory to all, and that
he was believed remarkably well fitted for the
profession in which he was to engage. After
his admission to the bar, Mr. Richardson enter-
ed into a partnership with Judge Dana, that
continued as long as he remained in Groton.
In his pursuit he met with the most encourag-
ing success. Possibly it was to the fortunate
issue of his examination, which influenced per-
sons in his favor, that this was owing, but we


conjecture, rather, to his accurate knowledge
of the law, together with an extraordinarily vig-
orous perception in cases of importance and
difficulty. We are informed that his reputation
as a lawyer was at once established, and that he
soon deservedly " gathered a rich harvest of
gold and fame."

Very many causes of the most intense inter-
est came into his hands, in conducting which he
was usually quite successful. His stores of le-
gal knowledge were very extensive. He was not
only capable of arguing with those who were the
most exact and nice in the technicalities of the
law, but was ever ready to appeal in a strain
the most eloquent and touching, to the feelings
and sympathies.

In the unconnected manner he read the re-
quisite authorities for practice, he gained an
amount of information almost incredible. When
we consider his industry before entering the
university — and the rank his constant persever-
ance enabled him to command, in a class com-


posed of many highly gifted individuals, — we
can no longer restrain our admiration.

Would that all youth might emulate so glori-
ous an example!

And after his graduation, we behold his dili-
gence the cause of an illness, which nothing
but a change of situation could remedy.

While engaged as principal in an academy of

some note, to enter upon a perusal of the tomes

which constitute an advocate's library, and to

persevere in such an undertaking, is surely a line

of conduct that few, however ardent their desire

to be settled in a profession, would wish to

pursue. These were the very efforts, and this

the success which attended the prince of orators

in olden times.



Up to this period we have no intimations of
my interest felt by Mr. Richardson in poUtical
iffairs. But now, rather suddenly it would seem,
he was elected to an office, to discharge the du-
ties of which with credit, talents and capacity
of the first rank were needful. This certainly
shows the estimation in which he was held by
people of his vicinity — for how seldom do we
see one whose ends have tended to any thing
rather than a situation of public trust, elevated
at once to a post of honor and emolument.

General Varnum, previous representative of
the district to which Groton belonged, having
been chosen to the Senate, Mr. Richardson was
appointed as his successor in Congress. In


political sentiments he concurred with Madison
and the administration. An effort of his, on
the floor of Congress, we think worthy of no-
tice. In 1812 a subject of some consequence
came before the House. A petition of several
merchants was presented, praying the remission
of bonds given on a late importation of British
goods. The circumstances from which this pe-
tition took its rise, are related by Mr. Richard-
son in these words :

"On the second day of February, 1811, an
act prohibiting the importation of British goods
into this country, went into operation. The
object of this law was, by distressing the man-
ufacturers of Great Britain, to compel her to
relinquish her orders in council."

In a short lime these orders were revoked,
and the agents of the merchants could not de-
termine whether the goods might then be lawful-
ly shipped for this country. In their uncertainty
they consulted with Mr. Russell, an agent of the
government. This gentleman was of opinion


that the shipments could be made with perfect
safety, which was accordingly done. Immedi-
ately upon the arrival of the vessels here, their
freights were seized, on account of the vio-
lation of the non-importation act. The ques-
tion then arose, as to the propriety of confisca-
ting the goods. Mr. Richardson was strongly
opposed to any such proceeding. He delivered
a long and able speech on the subject, uphold-
ing his views with strong proofs and apt illus-
trations ; and we regret its extent excludes it
from our pages.

He triumphantly refuted the arguments of
several gentlemen who had expressed their sen-
timents on the question, and himself advan-
ced the most forcible reasoning in favor of the
opinion he espoused. Although'sensiblethat we
cannot do this productionjustice in any abstract,
yet we shall attempt one, rather to give an idea
of the positions he defended, than the eloquence
and spirit by which they were enforced.

He commenced his remarks by adverting to


the peculiar rigor with which our merchants
had been treated, and their respectabihty. —
There had been many acts within a short peri-
od, that had borne upon them severely. His
observations on this point, are open and sincere
as well as animated and convincing.

" I put it," said he " to every honorable gen-
tleman whether if our measures had fallen upon
the yeomanry of our country with one tenth
part of the severity that they have fallen upon
the merchants, it would not have raised a storm
that neither this, nor any other administration
could have rode out in safety. It is a singular
fact, but not more singular than true, that for
the last five years, whenever we have planned
any grand measure of coercion — whenever we
have collected any vial of uncommon wrath
against foreign nations, its contents in every in-
stance have been poured directly upon the heads
of our own hapless merchants ! And is it to be
thought strange that they should consider our
measures a little unluckily directed ? Is it won-


derful that they should doubt the policy of
some of these measures ?"

He then spoke of the prejudices which pre-
vailed in congress, against the merchants, and
the reasons for them. He spurned with indig-
nation the charges directed against that class of
society by some gentleman who had before spok-
en. They were a portion of the community,
without which the wheels of government would
be essentially retarded. He mentioned the
smuggling effected throughout the country, but
denied that these violators of the laws were the
merchants for whom he was pleading. They
were a species of traffickers which iiad sprung
up in consequence of the restrictive measures.

He next went on to state an argument used
by another speaker ; that the merchants could
afford to loose their goods, because their gains
had been of late very considerable ! Mr. Rich-
ardson was happy to hear it, and hoped their
prosperity might increase, but reprobated strong-
ly the idea that this fact should serve as an


excuse for converting to the public use a vast
amount of property of our citizens.

'' I rejoice," continued he, " that fortune has
broken through the clouds which have so long
hung over their affairs, and in one solitarv in-
stance has shone pleasantly upon them. I trust
that Providence will bless them in the enjoy-
ment of their profits ; and as they, have been
enabled to rescue their property from the hand
of our enemies, they may also be enabled to
preserve it from the hungry jaws of our treasu-
ry ! Forbid it — the dignity of this house ! For-
bid it — the respect we owe to ourselves, that we
should lay our hands upon it ! I have no dis-
positon to enter into this retrospective partner-
ship with our merchants, in order to share the
profits without the losses of trade. It would be
to this government, in my apprehension, a part-
nership equally disgraceful and ruinous."

His reasoning in regard to the innocence of
the merchants is conclusive. The avowed ob-
ject of the famous non-importation act we be=


fore represented — to compel England to retract
certain orders. At length this was done, and the
agents of the merchants, thinking no offence
could be taken, and having the approval of " an
agent of this government," ventured to freight
ships with goods for America. This was the
"head and front of their offending." Having
brought forward his proof, that policy and jus-
tice demanded the remission of the merchants'
bonds. Mr. Richardson added some concluding
paragraphs, which we cannot forbear transferring
to our pages, they are so reasonable and so just.
" With regard to bonds given for merchan-
dize shipped entirely on British account, I say
nothing. I stand not here the advocate of any
Briton : I plead only the cause of the honest
American merchant. Do with the subject of
Great Britain as you please, but spare — I im-
plore you — spare your own citizens. Good pol-
icy, in my opinion, requires that we should free-
ly remit, in all cases, that are bona fide Ameri-
can. The merchants are a powerful class of


the community, and ought at this crisis, to be
concihated. At least we ought not to irritate
them, by reading to them the bloody book of
the law in the bitter letter.

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Online LibraryCharles Henry BellLife of William M. Richardson, LL. D., late chief justice of the Superior court in New Hampshire .. → online text (page 1 of 4)