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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF CHIEF JUSTICE DURFEE.*
The writings of the late Job Durfee, , advantage of being descended from a family Chief Justice of Rhode Island, have not of considerable antiquity, of high respectyet attracted that degree of public atten- ability and of independent estate. At the tion to which they are entitled; for they are age of eighteen, young Durfee was sent to the fruits of one of the most highly gifted Brown University, where he occupied a minds of our country. Unhappily, his place in the foremost rank of scholarship, genius was extinguished before having and of general literary attainments, though reached, by a considerable distance, its without showing any signs of extraordinary zenith ; and many of his valuable and precocity, but rather earning a well merit. more popular labors, moreover, still remained reputation for habits of physical indounpublished. But we trust that the duty lence, unusual even in college. The year of giving to the public a complete edition of his graduation, the goodness of his parts of them will not be left unperformed ; being already recognized, his young ambithough Rhode Island would seem, indeed, tion had a chance of displaying itself in a to be somewhat neglectful of her literary Fourth of July oration, which, though reputation. Illustrious as was her early published, has shared the oblivious fate of career, no history of the State has yet a very large number of patriotic producbeen written ; the lives of several of her tions of this species ; and a twelvemonth founders have not found a chronicler; the afterwards, his unfledged muse made its military papers of General Greene are al- | first attempt to soar, in a poem, prolowed to collect ingloriously the dust of nounced before the Society of United time; while not so much as a stone points Brothers, in Brown University, with the reout the spots where rest the remains of sounding title of the “ Vision of Petrarch.” men so learned, and so conspicuous in But writing verses was not, happily, the action, as Roger Williams, Samuel Gorton, principal occupation of the young Bachelor and John Clarke.
of Arts; for, on leaving college, he had But we are happy to attempt the dis- entered upon the study of the law, under charge of any literary obligation we may both the parental eye and roof. Yet, beowe to a State, the smallness of whose fore completing his course of legal studies, territory is no measure of the greatness being somewhat conspicuous in the place of its deserts; and to introduce this inter of his nativity from his social position, his esting thinker to the better acquaintance | liberal education and promising talents, he of our readers, by a brief sketch of his life was invited by his townsmen to represent and writings.
them in the General Assembly of the Job Durfee was born in the year 1790, | State; and he accordingly commenced his in Tiverton, Rhode Island. The son of a public life at the early age of twenty-six. Chief Justice of the court of common pleas Four years of Mr. Durfee's legislative cafor the county of Newport, he enjoyed the reer passed away, marked by nothing more
* What-cheer, or Roger Williams in Banishment. A Poem. By Job DURFEE, Esq. Providence : Craneton & Hammond. 1832.
Charge of the Hon. Chief Justice Durpee, delivered to the Grand Jury at the March Term of the Supreme Judicial Court, at Bristol, Rhode Island. A.D. 1812.
An Oration delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Brown University, Providence, R. I. on Commencement day, September 6th, 1813, by JOB DURFEE. Providence : B. Cranston & Co. 1843.
Discourse delivered before the Rhode Island Historical Society, on the evening ot Wednesday January 131h, 1816. By Hon. Job Durfee, Chief Justice of Rhode Island. Providence: Charles Bure nett, Jr. 1816.
The Panidea: or an Omnipresent Reason considered as the creative and sustaining Logos. By THEOPTES, (Hon. Job Durfee, LL.D.) Boston : Thomas H. Webb & Co. 1846.
than a modest and faithful discharge of its short of twenty days before its sitting; ordinary duties. But this was the best possi- prohibited them from attaching the propble preparation for success in the future. erty of the defendant, except in case his Accordingly, after having studied for a con body could not be found ; permitted the siderable period the business of a legislator, continuance of the action from term to the laws, and the condition of the people term, and an appeal on judgment when of the State, he brought before the Assem- | at last obtained, so that years might elapse bly a subject for legislative action of very before the plaintiff could take out his great importance. He proposed the re-execution, not even then to levy it on the peal of the laws then generally known real estate of the debtor, but to go with under the name of the Summary Bank it in quest of his goods and chattels. Process. And it was in the speech, by The arguments employed by the mem. which he advocated his motion for the ap- ber from Tiverton, in endeavoring to effect pointment of a committee to inquire into the repeal of this process, were, in subthe expediency of abolishing these laws, stance, that it gave to the demands of the that he first gave to the community “as- banks in courts of law absolute precedence surance of a man.” Indeed, it was not over all others, and thereby rendered without considerable surprise that the debts due to these privileged institutions Assembly beheld the young country mem- more valuable than those due to individuber, who had rarely given out any other als ; that it wrested from private credit sound in their midst than his simple yea | its proper security, and undermined the or nay, and the loins of whose mind had foundations of commercial confidence ; that always seemed no better girded than those it diminished the value of property, by of his person, rise to make a motion likely making it liable to a forced and sudden sale: from its great importance to encounter and that it might be easily used as an the determined opposition of the ablest | instrument of individual oppression for speakers of the house. Nor was their sur- the purposes of speculation. prise diminished as he proceeded-his This speech was followed by the appointsomewhat sluggish countenance gradually ment of a committee of inquiry, of which becoming illumined by the fires of elo Mr. Durfee was made the chairman ; by a quence, and his heavily moulded frame report in favor of the repeal of the process; set in lively action by the new spirit which and finally by its actual abrogation. The had taken possession of it—to support his measure was carried through the Assemposition by a masterly exposition of the bly with the approbation of a considerable effects of the existing law, and by an ac- | majority, in the face of the opposition of cumulation of well considered arguments such influential men and able speakers as in favor of a different system.
were then Elisha R. Potter, Nathan F. The laws then standing upon the statute | Dixon and Nathaniel Searle. book of Rhode Island gave to the banks The reputation acquired by Mr. Durfee peculiar privileges over individuals in the in his efforts to effect a repeal of the Bank collection of debts, by authorizing either | Process, caused him to be selected by the of the clerks of the court of common pleas | republican party in the autumn of 1820, as or of the supreme judicial court to issue, their candidate for the office of representapreviously to judgment, a writ of execu- | tive in the lower house of Congress ; and tion, attaching the real estate and other his election encountered no opposition. He property of the delinquent debtor, to the accordingly entered into the public service full amount of the debt and the cost of at Washington at the commencement of prosecution. This execution was return the second administration of President able at the next ensuing term of the court, Monroe. This was a period when the af. when a trial of the merits of the case fairs of the national government were conmight, indeed, be had, though without the ducted with a great degree of practical right of an appeal, or even the indulgence sagacity; with a scrupulous regard for of a continuance. The ordinary process constitutional principles ; with strict econof law, on the other hand, allowed indi omy in the expenditure of the public rerviduals to bring their actions only in the enues; and a patriotic devotion to the court of common pleas, and at no time great common interests of the country. The character of the seventeenth Congress | population was rapidly increasing, a change harmonized remarkably well with that of in the apportionment had become necesthe prudent and sensible chief magistrate. sary; while there existed a general desire Most of its members were men of plain for a moderate extension of the numbers sense; moderate and practical in their of the House, the members were solicitous views, and more distinguished for an ex- to have such a ratio adopted as would perimental acquaintance with the business leave their own particular States as small of legislation, and an intelligent regard for a fraction in excess as possible. the general welfare, than for commanding Mr. Durfee advocated a low number for powers of parliamentary argumentation, or the ratio. But, while he stated the fact the higher graces of oratory.
that the establishment of the ratio of 42,000, The new member from Rhode Island in accordance with the motion then before brought no incongruous element into the the House, would operate very unfairly · House, though the character of his talents upon his immediate constituents, leaving naturally allied him with the members of them the large fraction of 4,138, and would the highest statesmanship. Then only also render it possible for the representathirty years of age, he did not assume, by tives of a few large States to destroy, by any means, a prominent position. He combination, the proper influence of the was, however, a member of the committee very small ones; he nevertheless founded on manufactures, and during the course of his argument, in opposition to the measure, his Congressional career, twice addressed not on its effects upon particular States, the House on subjects of great importance. but on its bearing upon the whole country, On the first of these occasions he was and upon the several branches of the gencalled up by John Randolph, who, bring- eral government. As, under the first ing all things and all persons within the census, the ratio had been 33,000, which compass of his discursive discourse, did not had remained unchanged under the second, fail, in the debate on the Apportionment and had been augmented by only 2,000 Bill, turning round, to point at the mem- | under the third, he was opposed to so great ber from Rhode Island as sitting there with a departure from the established policy, all the patience of Job of old, while the as, in general, a bad precedent. If, as was House was about to decide a question of urged by the advocates of the measure, vital interest to his particular constituents. the performance of business would be fa
This bill, providing for a new apportion-cilitated by having a small house of reprement of federal representatives for the sentatives, he saw no advantage to be several States, according to the census gained, in so popular a form of government, taken the preceding year, was certainly by a great increase either in the rapidity one which specially concerned the people or the amount of legislation. Referring to of Rhode Island; for on the adoption of the condition and character of the populaany of the high numbers proposed as the tion of the country at that period, he ratio of representation, that State, in losing showed that, as it was becoming less hoone of her representatives, would have lost mogeneous, by the addition of the rising the half of her delegation. In the course commercial and manufacturing classes to of the protracted discussion of this mea- the class of the agriculturists, and that, sure, a great number of motions were consequently, its leading interests were made, some proposing as high a number becoming more and more diversified; this for the ratio as 75,000, while Mr. Randolph heterogeneous population would need to desired to fill the blank in the bill witli be represented by a greater, instead of a 30,000, giving it as his opinion that it was relatively smaller number of agents. The expedient “ to have as great a number of population, too, was not only increasing, representatives as would keep on this side but it had spread itself over double the exof a mob." This last number was the low tent of territory formerly occupied, and a est limit fixed by the Constitution, which sparse population could not so well be provided that “ the number of representa- represented by a few individuals as a dense tives should not exceed one for every thirty one. As, finally, it was to be foreseen thousand ;” and the actual ratio had never | that, in consequence of the extension of been higher than 35,000. But as the the federal Constitution over a more numer
ous population, and a greatly enlarged ter- , state of trade, both foreign and domestic ritory, the influence of the executive branch —a statesmanlike study of the history of of government was destined to go on grad- European legislation on subjects kindred ually augmenting, so the relative impor- to the one under discussion—in short, a tance of the popular body ought to be clear comprehension not only of the great proportionally increased, by a moderate principles of political economy, but of the addition to its numbers.
degree of their applicability to existing So broad and catholic were the consider circumstances-confined himself entirely ations adduced by the member from Rhode to showing in what manner the bill before Island in a speech, not long in duration, the House would affect the leading interbut of great pith and point, and so well ests of the country, and the permanent did it express the general sense of the policy of the government. He expressed Hlouse, that the motion then pending was himself as decidedly in favor of protecting lost, and the lower number of 40,000 was the manufacturing interest, whenerer it finally adopted as the ratio.
was in need of the aid of legislation ; but The other occasion on which Mr. Durfee as this branch of national industry was addressed the House in an elaborate speech, already in a prosperous condition, he conwas during the discussion of a subject, sidered the proposed change in the laws which elicited more debate than any which uncalled for. It would occasion, in his had been presented before that body in | opinion, a forced and unnatural passage of many years. This was the bill for “the capital from the pursuits of agriculture more effectual protection of manufactures,” and commerce into that of manufactures, introduced in the year 1823. During sev- | when, in fact, owing to the action of percral preceding years, the subject of in- | manent causes in the country, this change creasing the protective duties had been was then taking place with sufficient rebrought before the attention of the public | pidity, and in a manner both orderly and by those more directly interested in it, and healthful. had given rise to a good deal of discussion | This speech of Mr. Durfee, like all his in all parts of the country. President other similar efforts, was premeditated Monroe was of the opinion that notwith- long beforehand, fully written out, and standing the prosperous condition of the committed to memory; for he possessed various branches of domestic industry, a no power of extemporaneous debate, or further augmentation of duties, particularly even conversation, on themes not before on foreign cotton and woolen goods, would made the subject of meditation. But have a favorable effect on the domestic when, in the company of a few chosen manufacture of those articles, without op- friends, his favorite topics were called up, erating injuriously on any of the other he would often converse with great effect; great industrial interests of the country. enriching his discourse with the truths of This opinion, expressed in more than one philosophy, and the facts of history; of his annual messages, was at length fol- adorning it with choicest quotations from lowed by legislative action on the subject. prose and verse; enlivening it with the The members of Congress from the South- | overflowing of sentiment, or with the merern and a part of the Eastern States, whose riment of jest and anecdote ; and someconstituents were principally employed in times bringing the conversation to a conagriculture and commerce, zealously op-clusion by one of those genial bursts of posed the proposed increase of the rates of inspiration, which make all further speech duty. Rhode Island being then extensively impertinent. engaged in a prosperous commerce, and In this particular case, however, his enalso considerably interested in the newly deavors, together with those of the other established manufacture of cotton goods, opponents of the bill, were unsuccessful; her representatives were left at liberty to and it passed by small majorities through take an unbiased and patriotic view of the both houses of Congress in the year 1824. great questions involved in a change of the Having failed, owing to the operation of tariff laws. Accordingly, Mr. Durfee—in local and personal causes, of being elected a speech which evinced an understanding to the nineteenth Congress, Mr. Durfee was of the general systems and the existing again called by his fellow townsmen to
represent them in the State legislature. I those of his few intimate associates ; and There, for nearly two years, he acted in prevented both his manners and his muse the capacity of Špeaker of the House ; but | from ridding themselves of a certain dehe did not distinguish himself by originat- gree of rusticity, which, however inoffening any measures of general importance; sive from its modesty, still betrayed a deand in 1829, declining a re-election, he re- ficiency in those elegant accomplishments tired from public life to devote himself to which are, at the same time, the gift and the pursuit of agriculture and the profes- the ornament of the more cultivated cirsion of the law.
cles of society. These occupations, however, were not After having composed, during his refollowed so assiduously as to leave no time tirement, a poem of considerable length for the cultivation of letters. Indeed, hav- on a subject connected with Indian hising withdrawn from the political arena, tory, and burned it, Mr. Durfee published, somewhat wearied by its burdens, if not in 1832, an epic in twelve cantos, entitled disgusted with its turmoil, he endeavored “What-cheer, or Roger Williams in Banishto recover the genial tone of his mind in ment." This work appears to have been the service of those Muses whom he had written rather with the design of giving a wooed in his youth. Not only his pur- romantic interest to the history of the suits, but his situation was favorable to founder of the State of Rhode Island, the execution of this purpose. The scene than from the constraining necessity of of his retirement was one both pleasing | poetic utterance. It is not a work of high from its natural beauty, and interesting poetical art. Deficient in harmony and from its romantic traditions of a race of exactness of versification, abounding in men long since passed away. Located on pleonasms and redundancies, having all a small neck of land, called by the Indian , the freedom of hexameters with little of name of Nanaquacket, his mansion-house the point and polish of the pentameter was almost entirely surrounded by the measure, in which it is written, the waters of Narragansett Bay. Before him, What-cheer may be considered as an examlooking towards the setting sun, rose | ple of an unfortunate application of the gently up from the bosom of the sea the principle of “soul-liberty” to numbers. fair eminence of the island of Rhode Still, though the poet's lyre was so negliIsland ; northwards could be seen the royal gently strung, it did not fail to give out seat of Philip on the summit of Montaup; many a note of pure melody, expressing in the opposite direction, stretched out for the tenderest, the truest, the most manly many a mile, the woods of Queen Awo- | feelings of the human heart: if the verse shonks; while on the side of the pleasant be imperfect in its mechanism, it has the south-west, the ocean rolled in its waves | merit of being unpretending and natural fragrant from the fabled shores of Sowanin, in its spirit; and if the story, in many of the Indian's land of flowers. This, in fact, its details, be somewhat prosaic, the interwas not only the home of Mr. Durfee est is often revived by highly vivid descripduring this interval of retirement, but was tions of natural scenery, and striking dethe scene of most of his literary labors, lineations of character and manners. and almost all his philosophical medita- The historical notes accompanying the tions through life. But highly favorable poem are of much value. They contain, as it was to the natural unfolding of poetic in fact, the first satisfactory explanation sentiment, and to the culture of abstract ever made of the relations of the Narraspeculation, which, as we shall presently gansett tribe of Indians to the Wampaobserve, constitute the favorite occupation noags, of the hostility of the former to the of his mind, still this residence by a se- colony of Massachusetts Bay, and of the cluded beach upon which the billows of causes of the wars which led to their the distant world of affairs broke in but annihilation. This subject, as well as the almost imperceptible ripples, rendered it more general theme of the character and impossible for his mind to become ex- history of the Indians of Rhode Island, panded and polished by the social inter- was more elaborately treated, a few years change of thought; produced habits of afterwards, in two lectures, one on the extreme taciturnity in all companies except | subjection and extermination of the Narra