Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
|Skip Navigation Links|
HENRY DUTTON, late a Judge of the Supreme Court of Errors and of the Superior Court of this state, and a former Chief Magistrate of the state, died at his residence in the city of New Haven on the 26th day of April, 1869. A sagacious lawyer, a successful advocate, one of the leaders of the Connecticut bar, and, later, an able and honored Judge, it is eminently fitting that these pages should embody a brief tribute to his memory.
Judge Dutton was born in Watertown, in this state, on the 12th of February, 1796. His early opportunities for education were limited "to the advantages ordinarily possessed by a farmer's boy, but an eager desire for self-improvement led him to qualify himself for admission to Yale College, where he was graduated with honor in 1818. After graduation he studied law with the Hon. Roger Minott Sherman, in Fairfield, at the same time teaching in the village academy in that place. Subsequently he filled the position of tutor in Yale College for two years, and in 1823 commenced the practice of his profession at Newtown in Fairfield County. From that time down to the date of his elevation to the bench Judge DUTTON'S professional life was, in a pre-eminent degree, an active and laborious one. Associated at the outset of his career with such men of distinguished ability as Roger W. Sherman, Thaddeus Betts, Charles Hawley, Reuben Booth, and others who then composed the bar of Fairfield County, Judge DUTTON never doubted his own ultimate success. The event justified his anticipation. Entirely devoted to the duties imposed upon him by his profession, he grew steadily in knowledge, power and reputation, until he at last became the acknowledged head of the bar of his adopted county.
In 1837 Judge DUTTON removed from Newtown to Bridgeport. His life in the latter place was one of great professional activity, as will be readily seen by a reference to the Connecticut Reports. The purity of his private life, the eminence of his legal acquirements, and his professional successes, gave him a deep hold on the confidence of the community, and he was, in consequence, made the recipient of many public offices; among others he held the position of State Attorney for Fairfield County, and on numerous occasions represented the interests of Bridgeport in the State Legislature.
In 1847 Judge DUTTON accepted an invitation from the Corporation of Yale College to fill the chair of Kent Professor of Law in the Yale Law School, and thereupon removed to New Haven. In addition to the duties of his professorship, Judge DUTTON continued after his removal to engage in active practice both in New Haven and Fairfield Counties, and during one year acted as Judge of the New Haven County Court. He also, during the same period prepared and published his Revision of Swift's Digest, and assisted in preparing the Revisions and Compilations of our Statutes in 1849, 1854, and 1866. He also found leisure to devote to political affairs, and in 1854 was elected Governor of the state by a vote of the legislature, the people having failed to effect a choice at the preceding spring election.
In 1861 Judge DUTTON was chosen a Judge of the Supreme Court of Errors, and of the Superior Court, to fill the vacancy occasioned by the retirement of the late Judge Ellsworth. He remained on the bench as associate Judge of the Supreme Court until he reached the age of seventy, upon the 12th of February, 1866. After leaving the bench he devoted his energies chiefly to duties connected with the Law School, though engaging to some extent in general practice, until his death in the spring of 1869.
Judge Dutton devoted himself most earnestly and assiduously to his profession, and few men in the state have ever achieved higher distinction in it. Without being a profound student of the law he had a mind well stored with legal principles, a remarkably extensive and accurate knowledge of adjudged cases, wonderful readiness in their application, great quickness of perception, much fertility of resource, and a happy audacity in asserting and maintaining new lines of legal thought which made him a most formidable antagonist.
As an advocate he possessed great power, not only in presenting questions of fact to a jury, but also in the discussion of purely legal questions before the court. His devotion to the interests of his clients was unbounded and no labor was too arduous if he could thereby protect their rights or secure their success. His mind was eminently a practical one. Trained by a large and varied experience in the ordinary affairs of life, it discarded mere theories, and yet was ready to accept of any innovations upon established usage that approved themselves to his common sense. To his practical sagacity while a member of the legislature is largely due that fundamental change in our law of evidence permitting parties in interest to testify - an improvement in the law which the state of Connecticut had the honor to pioneer.
As a Judge he was always courteous, accommodating and prompt in the despatch of business; quick to reach conclusions, his mind readily received new impressions and was not tenacious of an opinion once formed. By his impartiality, intelligence and ability he commended himself in the discharge of his judicial duties to his brethren of the bench and bar. To his worth as a man no tribute need be paid; his character in every relation of life was most exemplary; he was everywhere an upright, generous and kindly hearted man; he lived an useful and successful life, and, dying, left an honored name.