Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 47, page(s) 606-612


The HON. LAFAYETTE S. FOSTER, for twelve years a Senator in Congress from this state, and for several years afterwards a judge of the Supreme Court of the state, died at his residence in Norwich, on the 19th day of September, 1880. He had been ill but a few days and no notice of the fact had been given to the public, so that it was with the shock of a great and most painful surprise that the community heard of his death. Though he had attained his seventy-fourth year, yet he was so full of both mental and physical vigor that no one thought of his dying for many years. Few men of sixty are in better condition for effective and valuable service than he then was. He had also been so long a marked figure in professional and public life that he had come to seem like an abiding one.

Judge Foster was a rare man. Of remarkably fine personal appearance, with elegant manners, and cultivated tastes, yet genuinely cordial and kindly feeling, he made himself exceedingly agreeable to those who knew him intimately. He was no seeker after popularity, certainly he never descended to any truckling arts to secure it, and probably to some extent he lost favor by the high tone of both his character and bearing, and by the selectness of his friendships. He was a man of the most absolute integrity. In social life he was one of the most delightful of companions. At the dinner table, especially in dispensing the elegant hospitalities of his own house, he was rarely equalled as a brilliant contributor to the table-talk, which he never monopolized. With a keen sense of humor and great facility of expression, he was always ready with brilliant retort or apposite and well-told anecdote, and always had at hand most pertinent citations from the stores of literature, especially the old English classics, both poetry and prose, which he could repeat, often at great length, from memory. To his duties upon the bench he brought a vigorous and well-trained understanding, clearness and acuteness of intellect, a good knowledge of law, an abhorrence of legal chicanery, and a strong sense of justice. He found however a more congenial employment in the political discussions and duties of his senatorial career, and it is mainly as a prominent figure in congressional life, as a clear and forcible debater upon great public questions, and as an unsurpassed presiding officer in the Senate, that he was most widely known and will be best remembered.

Judge Foster had been for nearly fifty years a church member in connection with the Congregational denomination, and in his later years stood prominently before the public as a representative man in that denomination. He was throughout life a man of high moral and religious principle, and had acquired a remarkable self-control and evenness of temper as a result of Christian self-discipline.

Appropriate resolutions expressive of the affectionate respect and admiration in which he was held by his professional associates were passed at a largely attended meeting of the New London County bar on the occasion of his death; and on their presentation to the Superior Court by a committee of the bar, the Hon. John T. Wait, after requesting that they be entered on its records, gave the following admirable sketch of his life and character in an address to the court.


Death has again invaded the ranks of our profession and taken from us one of our number, who for many years has not only been the acknowledged head of the bar in this county, but occupied a conspicuous position among the leading practitioners at the bar of this state.

The Hon. LaFayette S. Foster, our associate and our friend, has been suddenly struck down by a fatal disease, full of years indeed and crowned with honors, but still in the midst of his usefulness, with his physical powers unshaken and his intellect unclouded. In this county, in which he was born and passed his entire life, except when temporarily absent in the discharge of public duties, where his character was best understood and his great abilities and many virtues most highly appreciated, his loss as a public man, a personal friend and a professional brother is painfully felt and deeply lamented.

I can but keenly feel the death of one who has not only been my contemporary and companion in my career at the bar and in public life, but was my friend and associate before I completed the preparation necessary for the pursuit of my profession, and with whom, from the day on which we first met until the hour when he was removed by death, I maintained the most intimate and agreeable relations.

Mr. Foster was born in the town of Franklin, in this county, on the 24th of November, 1806. He was a direct descendant from Miles Standish, the eminent Puritan leader, and also a lineal descendant of Doctor John Sabin, a citizen of this state, who was prominent in the list of its early settlers. His father was Captain Daniel Foster, also a native of Franklin, who distinguished himself in several of the battles of the Revolution for his gallantry and efficiency as a military commander. His mother was Wealthea Ladd, also a native of Franklin, a lady possessed of more than ordinary intellectual gifts and remarkable energy, and who was connected by blood with many of the leading colonists in this section of our state. His early education was such as could be obtained in the common schools of his native town, but he prepared for college under the training of the Rev. Abel Flint, of Hartford, and the Rev. Cornelius B. Everest, at that time pastor of the Congregational Church in Windham. He entered Brown University in February, 1825, and graduated from that institution in September, 1828, with the first honors of his class.

When I first became acquainted with Mr. Foster he was a student in the office of the Hon. Calvin Goddard in Norwich, and I was pursuing studies preparatory to entering Washington, now Trinity College, at Hartford. The last few months in which I was so engaged I recited in the classics to him, and enjoyed very great advantages in having him as my teacher, for he had just graduated, as I have said, from Brown University, with the highest honors of that institution, and was a ripe scholar and admirable instructor. On my leaving college I at once entered the law office of Mr. Foster and remained with him as a student, with the exception of a short period that I pursued the study of law with the Hon. Jabez W. Huntington, until such time as I was admitted to the bar. I allude to my personal relations with the deceased to show the excellent opportunities that I enjoyed to thoroughly know him, and which now enable me to bear pleasant testimony to his nice sense of honor, his unsullied private character, his rare intellectual endowments, and his many and varied accomplishments.

Ardent and aspiring, he had decided at an early age to pursue the profession of law. Animated by an honorable ambition, determined to succeed in this controlling purpose, confident in his own ability to overcome all ordinary obstacles, from means principally obtained by teaching, supplemented by such pecuniary aid as a devoted mother could render, Mr. Foster qualified himself to enter and sustained himself through college and acquired his profession. At the November term of the County Court, 1831, he was admitted to the bar of this county, and at once commenced to practice in the courts. The early friends of Mr. Foster will recollect that he attracted attention at that time as a young man of unusual promise, and his future prominence as a jurist and advocate was then anticipated. At the time that he commenced practice the bar of this county presented an array of gifted men, who had already won distinction. Goddard, Strong, Child and Rockwell at Norwich, Law, Isham, Brainard, Perkins and the younger Cleveland at New London, and McCurdy at Lyme, were the recognized leaders, and were formidable competitors of the young aspirant for professional honors. But though the task was arduous and the struggle severe, it was not many years before Mr. Foster succeeded in winning a high reputation as a lawyer. He had been a close student, not only when preparing for admission to the bar, but also in the early years after he was admitted, when he had leisure to familiarize himself with the principles of the common law, the statutes of our state and the practice of the courts; so that when he was subsequently called to the trial of important causes he realized the fruits of this course of study, and was prepared to successfully contend with men who enjoyed the advantages of a larger experience and longer established reputations. Mr. Foster's exertions to take a high rank in his profession and obtain a lucrative practice were soon crowned with success. His retainers rapidly increased, his engagements multiplied, litigants that appreciated his great ability eagerly sought his services, and not only his rise at the bar of this county but at that of the state was marked and rapid. He was soon enrolled in the highest rank of counselors and advocates. Even when in the full enjoyment of public honors, he clung to his profession. On his retirement from the Senate he returned to that pursuit to which he had devoted his early life, and of late years has been often engaged in the trial of important causes. In the argument of cases Mr. Foster's manner was easy and impressive, his voice was clear and well modulated, he had a wonderful command of language, an adroitness in grouping the telling facts developed by the testimony and a forcible mode of presenting the same that had a potent effect on the court or the jury. All through his long and brilliant professional career he so conducted as to win the respect of his associates at the bar, and to lead the public to place unlimited confidence in his professional honor and integrity.

The bench and bar of this state will profoundly feel the great loss that they have met with by the death of Mr. Foster. By his brethren in this county will it be the most deeply appreciated, for they have ever found him in his daily walk a pleasant associate, in forensic struggles an honorable opponent, and, when connected with him in the transaction of business and relying upon his advice and assistance, an able, faithful and efficient adviser and friend. In his own professional conduct he has ever presented a high standard of honor, integrity and courtesy, and sought in every way to impart propriety and dignity to the practice of law. May we all ever hold in memory the noble qualities of the great man that has left us, and resolve to pattern after his admirable example.

It was not as a lawyer of rare ability only that Mr. Foster at an early age became favorably known to the public and won merited distinction. While engaged in the study of the law he took a deep interest in public affairs, and immediately after entering his profession connected himself with the national republican, and subsequently with the whig and present republican parties. He loved his profession, but at the same time he had a laudable ambition to take a prominent part in the exciting and arduous duties of public life. His political friends in Norwich felt, if he would consent to enter the General Assembly of the state, that they would have in him a faithful and efficient representative, and his party an able and reliable champion. He was many times elected a member of that body - from 1839 to 1854 - and was three times chosen Speaker of the House. He entered that service in the freshness of his youth, and he was called from it to a higher and broader field of public duty in the maturity of his manhood. He had remarkable gifts for a successful performance of the duties of the speakership. He was quick, self-possessed, firm of purpose, had an iron control over his temper, and thoroughly understood those parliamentary rules that clothed him with authority and commanded the obedience of the House. Each time that he retired from the Speaker's chair the members of the House, without distinction of party, bore ample testimony to the ability, courtesy and impartiality that he displayed as its presiding officer.

In 1855 Mr. Foster entered the Senate of the United States and remained a member of that body twelve years. He was elected its President pro tempore in 1865, and held the position until his retirement from the Senate in 1867. After the assassination of Mr. Lincoln and the advancement of Mr. Johnson to the presidency, he became the acting Vice-President of the United States, and held that high office while he remained a member of the Senate. As the presiding officer of the Senate he maintained the same reputation for great ability that he had earned as Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives; and by blandness of language, firmness of purpose, and personal dignity, commanded the respect and won the esteem of the members of that body.

While Mr. Foster was connected with the Senate it numbered among its members some of the most illustrious statesmen that this republic has ever produced. Fessenden of Maine, Foote and Collamer of Vermont, Anthony of Rhode Island, Seward of New York, Trumbull and Douglass of Illinois, Sumner and Wilson of Massachusetts, Sherman and Wade of Ohio, Grimes of Iowa, Breckenridge and Davis of Kentucky, Salisbury of Delaware, McDougall of California, Hunter of Virginia, Benjamin of Louisiana, and Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, were among his intimate senatorial associates.

As a scholar, a lawyer, and a statesman, Mr. Foster ranked among the most distinguished members of the Senate, and the record that he made, during the twelve years that he was a member of that body, is one of which the state that honored him by placing him there may well be proud. When he first took his seat in the Senate the slavery question, which had long and violently agitated the country, had nearly reached its culmination. Mr. Foster united with his associate senators from the northern states in resisting the arrogant demands of the slave power, and by voice and vote sustained the doctrine of human freedom and the equality of all men before the law. In the great struggle to save the life of the nation and to preserve our free institutions for posterity, from the day when the first southern state attempted to secede from the Union till the final surrender of the rebel leaders at Appomattox, he took no hesitating nor uncertain part. All his declarations and acts, in the national council or at home, were such as loyalty inspired and love of country demanded.

In 1870 the town of Norwich again sent Mr. Foster to the legislature of the state; he was once more chosen Speaker; and, before the close of the session, he was elected a Judge of the Supreme Court, a position which he filled until 1876, when, having reached seventy years of age, he was disqualified by a provision of the constitution. As a member of the court Mr. Foster so conducted as to win favorable opinions from lawyers and litigants. His courteous manner to counsel, the patient attention which he exhibited in the trial of causes, his dignified demeanor on the bench, and the strict impartiality and unbending integrity that governed him in his decisions, led the people of the state to hold him in high estimation. His opinions, which he gave as a judge of the court of last resort, are contained in the recently published volumes of our state reports, disclose extensive research, great legal acquirements, and a clear, active and well balanced intellect.

Other honors were at different times bestowed upon Mr. Foster. He was twice elected Mayor of the city of Norwich, twice he was the candidate of his party for the office of Governor of the state, and in 1851 his Alma Mater conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, a distinction eminently due to his well known attainments as a scholar as well as a jurist.

The friends of Mr. Foster who knew him intimately can bear testimony to the versatility of his genius, his untiring industry in the pursuit of knowledge of every kind, and his familiarity with ancient and modern history, and English and American literature. His mind was a storehouse of interesting and valuable information; and his fertile imagination, great command of language, and easy utterance, made him a most interesting and instructive companion.

Mr. Foster was twice married, first to Joanna Boylston Lanman, daughter of Hon. James Lanman, a Judge of the Supreme Court of the state and United States Senator, and the second time to Martha P. Lyman, daughter of Hon. Jonathan H. Lyman of Northampton, Mass., a prominent lawyer of his day in that state, who died young. His first wife died in 1859; his second survives him. Those of us who through his married life have seen him in his home, can truly say that he was beloved beyond expression in the family circle, and that his house was the abode of generous hospitality and of unalloyed domestic happiness.

Had I time I would be glad to allude to other admirable traits in the character of the deceased which he exhibited through life, and which shone with increased luster as that life drew near its close. But I feel that I have already too long occupied the attention of the court. I will close my imperfect remarks by saying that my brothers of the bar unite with me in the desire to bear public testimony to the worth and virtues of the Hon. LaFayette S. Foster, and that the resolutions which have been presented to the court are the heartfelt expression of their regard and affection for the lamented dead.