Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Augustine Lonergan died at his home in Washington D. C., on October 18, 1947, ending a distinguished career as a lawyer and statesman.
He was born in Mechanicsville, in the town of Thompson, Connecticut, on May 20, 1874, and received his early education in the public schools of Rockville. He soon formed an ambition for a legal career, studied nights and became a law clerk in the office of Perkins and Perkins in Hartford. In 1902 he was graduated from the Yale School of Law. He was, however, admitted to practice in 1901.
He opened an office for the general practice of law at 26 State Street, Hartford, and in a short time developed an extensive practice which carried him into all counties of the state. He had a sound and analytical mind and rugged constitution which enabled him to labor industriously. He was active before the courts and was particularly adept in the trial of jury cases. A noted judge before whom such a case was successfully pleaded declared: "He carries to the jury the conviction of honesty." The bar was to him always a profession and never a business. No worthy client was ever turned away because of lack of funds. He felt that the practice of law imposed a duty to assist the public in time of adversity and exemplified this idea when he represented, entirely without compensation, all of the depositors of the Windsor Locks Bank and Trust Company in the receivership proceedings involving that institution.
He became active in public affairs as a liberal Jeffersonian Democrat and remained such throughout his lifetime. In 1910 he was appointed assistant corporation counsel of Hartford. He was a director of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the St. Francis Hospital and president of the Diocesan Bureau. He was a member of the American, State and Hartford County Bar Associations, the District of Columbia Bar Association, and the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.
In 1912 he entered public life as the nominee of his party for Congress from the first district and was the first Democrat elected to represent this district in twenty years. He was again elected in 1916 and 1918. He was a warm admirer of President Woodrow Wilson and his policies and was a stanch advocate of the League of Nations. He worked closely with Carter Glass for the establishment of the present federal reserve system.
In 1922 he resumed the practice of law in Hartford with an office at 49 Pearl Street. His interest in government was so keen and so well known that he was sought after as a public speaker in this and other states. At one time or another he spoke in every town in Connecticut. He had the ability to express his views on any subject in simple, direct and understandable language which carried conviction to his audience.
In 1930, at the earnest solicitation of national party leaders, he again accepted the nomination for Congress and was elected for the fourth time. In 1932 his party made him its nominee for the United States Senate and he became the first Democrat to be elected to that high office since 1874 and the first one ever elected by popular vote. He became a recognized authority in the Senate on matters of banking, taxation and public finance. His study on taxation was so extensive and so complete that the treasury department requested the use of his data, which is still the basis for some of our tax laws.
At this point in his career he presented a striking appearance with a heavy set body, handsome face with regular features, brown eyes, ruddy complexion, a determined chin and a pleasant countenance, all topped by a shock of iron gray hair. He was easy to meet and kind and considerate to all. His support for public office came from adherents of both parties.
He advocated all progressive social legislation throughout his terms of office. He was among the first to press for enactment of the Social Security Act, unemployment compensation and public health insurance. He sponsored the act establishing the present federal probation system. He generally supported the program of the Roosevelt administration but broke with it on measures which he believed to be basically unsound.
He opened an office in Washington D.C., for the general practice of law in 1939, retaining his residence, however, in Hartford, and his interest in Connecticut. Failing health forced his retirement early in 1947.
His interest in his profession and in public affairs was surpassed only by his loyalty and devotion to his family. In 1921 he was married to Lucy Waters, daughter of a prominent Washington physician. She survives, together with four daughters, a granddaughter and a brother.
Endowed with a remarkable memory, which he carefully trained, he never forgot a name or a face and was wont to astonish those whom he knew only casually and seldom saw by calling them by name and remarking on the incidents of their last meeting.
Although an appointment in the Superior Court was open to him and later one to the federal bench, he declined both.
His outlook on all subjects was broad and tolerant. It may truly be said of him: "He was charitable toward all, and bore malice toward none." His career vividly illustrates the opportunities open in this great country to one of humble origin, willing to devote himself assiduously to his goal, and having the ability and perseverance in work toward the achievement of his ambition.