51 RI Bar J., No. 6, Pg. 2 (May, 2003). Rhode Island's Legal Luminaries, 1830-1860.

AuthorPatrick T. Conley, J.D., PH.D.

Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 51.

51 RI Bar J., No. 6, Pg. 2 (May, 2003).

Rhode Island's Legal Luminaries, 1830-1860

Rhode Island's Legal Luminaries, 1830-1860Patrick T. Conley, J.D., PH.D.Patrick T. Conley practices law in East Providence, RI.In a previous article for the Rhode Island Bar Journal, I provided those with an interest in Rhode Island's legal history, a series of biographical profiles of the attorneys and jurists who presided over the transition of Rhode Island from colony to statehood. For their efforts, these founding lawyers: Stephen Hopkins, Silas Downer, James Mitchell Varnum, Henry Marchant, James Burrill, Jr., Theodore Foster, Henry Wheaton, and Tristam Burges, have merited induction into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

In 2001 and 2002, the Historians' Committee of the Hall of Fame continued its march through our state's history identifying worthy inductees from the period 1830 to 1860. Not surprisingly, several of these neglected leaders were members of the legal profession.

Thomas Wilson Dorr, Rhode Island's most famous attorney, was inducted to the Hall more than a generation ago, but other deserving candidates awaited discovery and recognition by the Historians' Committee (which I chair). These mid-nineteenth century inductees represent a diverse array of achievements and interests, from legal scholarship, to history, government, business, the military, and public education.

The newest lawyers to gain what some consider the highest honor that can be conferred on a Rhode Islander are: Joseph K. Angell, John Whipple, William Read Staples, Samuel Ames, Henry Barnard, Elisha Reynolds Potter, Jr., and Wilkins Updike. Their biographical profiles follow:

Joseph K. Angell (1794-1857) of Providence was one of America's foremost legal scholars of his era. Most of his many treatises dealt with changes in the law occasioned by the transformation of the American economy from a commercial to an industrial base, and he was the nation's leading authority on riparian law. Angell also assisted Thomas Dorr in the development of the doctrine of popular constituent sovereignty upon which the People's Constitution was based, collaborating on a treatise entitled, The Right of the People to Form a Constitution, otherwise known as the, Nine Lawyers' Opinion, the most cogent and learned statement of the ideology of the Dorr Rebellion.The son of Nathan Angell, a storekeeper, and Amy Kinnicutt, Joseph Angell graduated from Brown University in 1813 and then studied law at the famous law school run by Tapping Reeve in Litchfield, Connecticut. Upon his return to Providence, he clerked for Thomas Burgess, a future mayor of the city.

After a two-year sojourn in London, Angell embarked upon a career as a legal theorist and writer of legal treatises, and from 1824 he produced a steady stream of books that attempted to meet the dramatic transformation in Rhode Island and America from an agricultural and commercial to an industrial economy. His first book, Treatise on the Common Law in Relation to Watercourses (1824), examined rivers as a source of power for mills. Angell followed this effort with a series of works that were designed to provide both a history and a summary of legal developments in the forms of business organization and the methods for the transportation of goods. He dealt with the rights of property in tidewaters (1826), eminent domain (1847), state taxation of corporations (1837), the law of common carriers (1849), the law of highways (1857), and the law of fire and life insurance (1854). These works exerted a significant influence on the development of American law and were widely praised by contemporary legal scholars.

Angell was appointed as the first reporter for the Supreme Court of...

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