Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 15, appendix 26-28


JONATHAN WALTER EDWARDS was the only son of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards D.D., President of Union College, and grandson of the celebrated Jonathan Edwards, President of Princeton College. He was born in New-Haven, on the 5th day of January, 1772. He was educated at Yale-College, where he graduated in 1789, at the early age of seventeen years.

Although so young, he was distinguished for his attainments as a scholar in that institution: and at the end of three years, (during a part of which period, he attended Judge Reeve's lectures at Litchfield,) he was appointed a tutor; which office he discharged with great ability for two years. When he received his degree as Master of Arts, he pronounced an oration, in which he attacked the then existing law of this State, by which the eldest son was entitled to receive a double portion of the estate, upon the death of his father intestate. It excited much attention, and at the next session of the General Assembly, (October 1792,) the obnoxious law was repealed.

In the fall of 1794, he relinquished his place as tutor, and shortly afterwards removed to Hartford, and took an office as an advocate and counsellor at law. For a time, his studious habits and his reserved manners led his friends to doubt as to his success; but as soon as he appeared as a public speaker, these fears vanished; and it is reported, that in a short time after he appeared in public, the late Judge Edwards, who was at that time one of the most distinguished advocates in the State, was heard to say: "this young man will soon be treading on my heels."

His rise at the bar was rapid, and his business soon became extensive. In the midst of his success, he was attacked, by a long and dangerous sickness; and though he unexpectedly survived, yet his constitution received a shock from which he never entirely recovered. After this sickness, by the advice of his physician, he devoted considerable time to exercise and agricultural pursuits; so that he never after pursued his legal studies with the same application as before. He had, however, a large stock of legal information; for in early life no one of his competitors was so much distinguished for profound knowledge of the feudal tenures, and what is called black-letter law; and had his health continued, he would doubtless have been as much celebrated for his legal success, as for his uncommon genius. In his future course, therefore, he depended principally upon the acquisitions of his earlier years and his own almost inexhaustible resources.

He was possessed of great acumen of mind: - he saw, at a glance, what his case needed, and where were the weak points of his adversary; always cool and collected, he attacked or defended with great ingenuity. Few men could manage an intricate case so ably, with so little preparation: and none could present a weak case in so impressive a manner. His perceptions were quick, his statements lucid and his reasoning powerful. His language was pure, his style chaste, his voice pleasant, his manner easy, and his elocution delightful. He was remarkable for his fluency and his correctness; and although his ideas seemed to flow with the rapidity of a torrent, he never hesitated for the proper word to express them. One hardly knew which most to admire, the acuteness of his reasoning, or the neatness and purity of his diction.

If there was a fault, it was a want of variety. There was no passion, no high flights of imagination; if he was ever pathetic, he was so unconsciously; - his eloquence was like a rapid stream, seldom swelled by winter snows, or diminished by summer droughts - keeping on the even tenor of its way, always beautiful. He was always listened to with pleasure, sometimes with admiration.

In his contests with his brethren, he was courteous, and seldom gave or took offense; and while he said all that could be said for his client's case, he did not feel that it was necessary to enter into personal conflicts.

He was representative from the town of Hartford in the General Assembly, at its sessions held in October, 1809, May, 1810, May, 1814, May, 1817, October, 1817 and May, 1818.

Though so eminently fitted for public life, yet his delight was to be in the bosom of his family, to watch the progress of mind in his children, to mingle in their pleasures, and to cultivate their affections, as well as their understanding. As he advanced in life, the religion of the gospel seemed to take stronger hold of his heart, and it imparted peace and hope to his closing hours. He died on the third day of April, 1831.