Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Daniel Davenport, for many years a distinguished member of the bar, died on March 9th, 1931, at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. James S. Westbrook in Fairfield, Connecticut. He was born in Wilton, Connecticut, on January 13th, 1852, the son of George A. and Mary Sturges Davenport, and a direct descendant of the Rev. John Davenport, founder of the New Haven Colony. He was educated at the Wilton Academy and at Yale College, where he graduated in the class of 1873. On October 16th, 1875, he married Mrs. Mary E. (Lockwood) Jones, the daughter of William and Sophia (Halsey) Lockwood. His domestic life, which extended into the golden autumn, was one of unruffled placidity and beauty. His daughter, Beatrice, now Mrs. Westbrook, and her two sons, Nathaniel D. and James S., survive.
Mr. Davenport was an active member of the Democratic party until 1896, and was frequently heard on the rostrum in the three campaigns of Grover Cleveland. He was a member of the House of Representatives from the town of Wilton in 1875. Thereafter he became a resident of Bridgeport where he received political recognition by being chosen City and Prosecuting Attorney 1876-77; member of the Common Council 1879-80; President of the Board of Charities 1889-93; City Attorney 1893-95; and delegate to the Connecticut Constitutional Convention of 1902.
Mr. Davenport was admitted to the Fairfield County bar from the offices of Woodward and Perry of Norwalk, Connecticut, September 24th, 1875; to the bar of the United States Supreme Court October 13th, 1890, and was enrolled as a member of several State and Federal courts, including the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. From 1882 to 1899 he was associated in the practice of the law with William H. O'Hara, and from 1899 to 1908 with Elmore S. Banks. During this period the courts of Connecticut and New York were the forum of his professional activities. He appeared in these courts and in the United States Supreme Court, as counsel in several important cases, and his resourceful and masterful arguments of the law and facts involved, won for him recognition not only as a brilliant trial lawyer and advocate, but also as the possessor of a marvellous knowledge of the basic principles of our jurisprudence.
From 1903, until a few months prior to his decease, Mr. Davenport's professional services were retained by a group of manufacturers who had organized to protect their industrial rights from the strikes and boycotts promoted by labor unions. At the beginning of this engagement he found the law with respect to organized labor and its employers in many of their vital contacts without judicial determination. It was his task for twenty-eight years of distinguished service to his clients, to leave it determined and enrolled in precedent, and this task was so well accomplished that interstate boycotts are a thing of the past. He will be forgotten, but this and other generations of lawyers reading the celebrated cases recorded in the reports, will find some among the number, in which Mr. Davenport pioneered the way for courts to hold the scales of justice in even balance. Thus he will live in gremio legis.
Some of the cases which gave Mr. Davenport a national reputation are mentioned in the tribute to his memory of former Chief Justice George W. Wheeler delivered at the commemorative meeting of the bar. In a voice of deep emotion he said:
"Daniel Davenport is known only by reputation to large numbers of the members of our bar, yet for over thirty years he actively practiced law in Bridgeport and won a commanding place at the bar, famed for his learning, his marvellous memory, his capacity for clear analysis of a legal problem, his power of reasoning and the especial clarity of his oral argument.
"I have heard Governor Baldwin when Chief Justice say that Mr. Davenport was one of the half dozen members of the bar of the State whom he most enjoyed listening to before our Supreme Court.
"Those of us who have met him in forensic combat still have a poignant memory of his wonderful grasp of a legal problem, the finished preparation he gave to his case, the masterful way in which he marshaled his facts and applied to them the law. When authorities were not available his mind could summon to his aid the analogies of the law, with illustrations of the fallacy of an argument, and he could buttress his own position from the history which surrounds the development of legal principles, clear to its beginnings. He loved the books and even after his employment in Washington had removed him from the active practice of the law in this State, he continued to read the opinions of our court and now and then when we met he would discuss some of the opinions which interested him the most, and indicate his own viewpoint in cases, in which a majority and minority opinion had been written. His discussion was always illuminating and occasionally he would suggest bases of argument not presented in either opinion, but apparently relevant, and at least difficult to counteract in casual speech. He could, when the occasion required, find the technical point which saved his case, but he much preferred to make his argument upon some sound principle of the law. . . .
"Mr. Davenport was not as well adapted to the business side of a modern law practice. But in the solving of a real law problem, in the development of a complex legal position or argument and in the lucid presentation of a legal question he had while in active practice few superiors in the State. He would have made a towering reputation anywhere as an appellate court advocate. That was the place I long ago adjudged to be the one place where his great qualities would have shown their surest and happiest product.
"Yet he made his national reputation in the magnificent preparation and presentation of the Danbury hat case. That action was brought to recover damages against the defendants, suffered by the plaintiffs as a result of a boycott declared against them and carried to such success that it had restrained or destroyed the plaintiffs' commerce with other States. The contest upon the pleadings occupied over four years, finally the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Circuit Court of Appeals and held that Mr. Davenport's complaint stated a good cause of action. The trial on the merits occupied nearly four months. The damages were assessed at $74,000 which were trebled under the statute. A new trial was granted. The Supreme Court of the United States denied a writ of certiorari. On the second trial a verdict for the full amount demanded was obtained and judgment entered for $252,130. On Appeal to the Circuit Court the judgment was sustained and affirmed on the appeal to the United States Supreme Court on January 5th, 1915, nearly eleven years, I believe, after the action was brought. This is an abbreviated skeleton of the procedure in this remarkable case. I doubt if within our memory any lawyer in our State has prevailed in a case of equal difficulty.
"Other highly competent lawyers from time to time were associated with Mr. Davenport in this protracted litigation, but it must be remembered that it was his brain which conceived the theory of the case and it was largely his unwearying, indefatigable and exhaustive labor which ascertained and correlated the facts upon which it was based. It was his complaint which stood the test of the court of last resort and it was, in greatest part, his indomitable purpose, his skill in presenting the evidence and the weight and persuasiveness of his advocacy which convinced the jury.
"Throughout the trial he met the cloud of objections with rare clarity, convincing logic and apt authority. In many respects he was blazing the way and his own faith in his position was an unconquerable asset to him. No matter what one's convictions may be upon the labor problems involved and decided in that case, it must be conceded that Mr. Davenport's part in that case is an everlasting monument to his strength and capacity as a lawyer. Throughout it all Mr. Davenport showed a balanced judgment delighting even his most admiring friends. It was his reserved and sustained power which carried him to this ultimate triumph. Every Connecticut lawyer has reason to feel proud that he can claim professional relationship with Daniel Davenport.
"He conducted the case against Samuel Gompers and prevailed in that memorable contest. His preparation of some of the cases connected with labor questions took him in places of apparent danger. It never occurred to him to quail, nor would he listen to talk of his personal safety or protection. Though strong in his convictions and outspoken when it was time to speak he provoked little of antagonism to himself. That spoke volumes for the instinctive regard all men pay to the brave man who will do his duty whatever comes.
"He became one of the most regarded of all the attorneys who appeared before the committees of the Congress or Senate. His opinion was sought by the most distinguished of our thoughtful legislators. His acquaintance in Washington has been a very wide one.
"His appearance before the Supreme Court of the United States added to the high esteem in which he was held. His life in Washington brought him in contact with questions of prime importance which touched closely the public welfare.
"The limits of this occasion forbid a statement which would fairly catalogue and do justice to Mr. Davenport's achievements or attainments.
"I may not speak of his strictly public life save in two particulars. Bridgeport elected him as her delegate to the Constitutional Convention held nearly thirty years ago. It was a distinguished body of our ablest men. Not long after its organization a member arose and moved that the delegate from Bridgeport should address the Convention upon the history of the towns of the State. Mr. Davenport arose in response to this unexpected call and for three hours held that body in intense interest as he told the story of the towns of the State. Without a note, dates, places, facts and incidents fell from his lips in their right order, giving to them their most dramatic effect in words so chosen that they fitted in his story with all the symmetry the chiseled stone of a majestic cathedral fits into its designated place. That address lifted Daniel Davenport to a niche of his own with all that group of men, and we too outside its hall all knew better something of the storehouse of his knowledge and of that great reserve intellectual power waiting to be called to the front.
"Over thirty years ago he delivered a course of lectures on French history in Bridgeport which were much admired. Then he talked as he did at the Constitutional Convention, in oral speech, mainly supplied from the storehouse of his knowledge. I can think of no other active lawyer of his time who had read on certain subjects as much outside the realm of law except Simeon E. Baldwin.
"History, biography and poetry, I have thought, were his chosen subjects. What he read he absorbed and treasured, not for an occasion or for tomorrow, but for his use at his pleasure. If the shelves of his library were stripped of his large collection of books, so accurate was his memory, so prodigious his reading, that he could still sit in that room so bare of books and say with Shelley:
`My days among the dead are passed,
Around me I behold,
Where'er my casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old.'
The foregoing sketch of Mr. Davenport's achievements at the bar, notable as they are, afford but a meager estimate of the man. Nature gave him a stalwart physique, an engaging personality, an abundance of physical stamina, intellectual vigor, intuition and vision. He was a striking example of commanding appeal combined with a pretorian dignity and a rare sweetness of character. He was a wide and discriminating reader of history, biography and the classics; he was as familiar with the legacies which the great poets, orators and statesmen of the storied past gave to posterity as with his law books; gifted with a phenomenal memory, he could relate not only the great events and traditions of his State and country and the men associated with their origin and outcome, but also repeat the jewels of prose and verse which adorn our literature; devoted to his profession and to the interests entrusted to his keeping, he was courageous in combat when these interests were at stake; he was an idealist in things to promote the general welfare, but no utopian dreamer; he was open handed with charity and sympathy for the poor and unfortunate; he was a congenial and edifying companion, modest and steadfast in his friendships; the descendant of a learned exponent of the religious doctrines of the Puritan Fathers, he looked upon all religious denominations without intolerance, and rested his hereafter on "faith, and faith alone, believing where we cannot prove." These talents when cultivated as in the case of Mr. Davenport, by contact for more than two score years with gifted men on the bench, at the bar, in industry, and in Congress, frequently make men distant and reserved, but he never stood aloof nor lost the common touch.
He lived to the end with faculties unabated, but the optimism always dominant in his nature, was tinged with sadness, when he reflected over his long retrospect and noted that nearly all the members of the Fairfield County bar in 1875, had one by one passed into another realm. Only a few days before his final departure, in conference with his first partner, he alluded to a veil of sadness encircling the memory of men who have passed three score years and ten, as the inspiration of the Last Leaf, as he repeated:
"The mossy marbles rest,
On the lips that he has prest,
In their bloom ;
And the names he loved to hear,
Have been carved for many a year,
On the tomb."[footer.htm]