Isaac Parker, The Original Royall
Isaac Parker was the first Royall Professor of Law at Harvard Law School in 1817. The following is an excerpt from The Centennial History of Harvard Law School 1817-1917, published by the Harvard Law School Association in 1918.
PARKER, ISAAC, A.B. 1786, the first Professor of Law at Harvard University, was born in Boston, June 17, 1768, and entered Harvard College at the age of fourteen. Shortly afterwards he was on the point of giving up college and apprenticing himself to a druggist, but was prevented by some wealthy men who on the very day that he was starting on his new occupation told him to return to college and they would pay his expenses. After studying law in Boston, he began practice in Castine, then a part of Massachusetts. While residing there he married Rebecca Hall, by whom he had eight children. He was elected to Congress in 1796 but declined reelection, and after being appointed United States Marshal removed to Portland. There he took high rank at the bar, and 1806 was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. During his first year on the bench he presided at the Selfridge murder trial famous for the position of the persons involved and their connection with the bitter political controversies of the time. On the death of Chief Justice Sewall in 1814, Parker became his successor. "His appointment gave universal satisfaction," says Story, who, although a political opponent, praises Parker's judicial ability very highly.
Parker is described by a contemporary as "a man of middle stature, of full person and face, light or red complexion, blue eyes, and very high forehead, and remarkably bald. His manners were simple and without pretension to polish. He was very affable, amiable, and unpretending, and a most companionable and agreeable associate in private life. Perhaps no man excelled him in kind and friendly feelings. He used snuff immoderately; it affected his voice in his latter years. " His "habitual gayety of spirit" was shown when two strange lawyers who came to call upon him told his servant to announce them as "Mr. John Doe and Mr. Richard Roe." The Chief Justice came forward and extending his hand said, "Gentlemen, I have read of you and heard of you all my life, but I have despaired of making a personal acquaintance."
A year after Parker became Chief Justice, on August 18, 1815, the Royall Professorship of Law was established by the Corporation of Harvard College, who proceeded on September 4th to the choice of a Professor "to give lectures at the University to the members of the Senior class, to the resident graduates and to others who may be permitted to attend according to such statutes and regulations as may be adopted." Parker was chosen by the Corporation, and on October 12th was confirmed by the Overseers. He was to deliver only fifteen lectures but in these he was to cover "the theory of law in its most comprehensive sense," as well as the State and Federal Constitutions, the history of Massachusetts law, the principles of English Common Law and their modification in this country. On April 17, 1816, Parker was inaugurated. His address set the standard for the unborn Harvard Law School, "Well may the law now be denominated a science and deemed worthy a place in the University." This familiar conception of law as a science was to receive an entirely new formulation from Langdell half a century later. Parker went on to show that a complete legal education could not be expected from his lectures and was indeed not useful for undergraduates. Consequently, "a school for the instruction of resident graduates in jurisprudence may be usefully ingrafted on this professorship; and there is no doubt that when that shall happen, one or two years devoted to study only under a capable instructor before they shall enter into the office of a counsellor to obtain a knowledge of practice will tend greatly to improve the character of the Bar of our State."
In June and July, 1816, Parker delivered seventeen or eighteen lectures covering as best he could the wide field allotted to him, but in 18 17 his prophecy was realized and the college professorship became one of the chairs in a graduate School of Law. The founding of the school and Parker's share therein has been described elsewhere in this volume. Asahel Stearns was to conduct the school, while Parker was "to bestow as much of his time upon the school as can be spared from his other public duties — converse with the students on the subjects they may be engaged in, examine them occasionally, and as often as possible read to them a prepared lecture upon such subjects as shall be found most conducive to their improvement."
Owing to his duties on the bench, Parker was able to lecture only during the summer term of college, and took little part otherwise in the conduct of the School. His classroom was still open to undergraduates as well as law students. Dr. Andrew Preston Peabody, who attended the lectures while a senior, says: "Judge Parker's course comprised such facts and features of the common and statute law as a well-educated man ought to know, together with an analysis and exposition of the Constitution of the United States. His lectures were clear, strong, and impressive; were listened to with great satisfaction, and were full of materials of practical Interest and value. He bore a reputation worthy of his place in the line of Massachusetts chief justices; and the students, I think, fully appreciated the privilege of having for one of their teachers a man who had no recognized superior at the bar or on the bench." In 1820 Parker presided over the Constitutional Convention of the Commonwealth.
Parker's hope for a successful school was not realized. On November 6, 1827, he wrote to the President and Fellows: "Having understood from one of your body that it is desirable that the office of Royall Professor of Law now held by me should be vacated, I hereby resign the same." His resignation was accepted.
Parker served as Chief Justice until the day preceding his death, July 25, 1 83 1. Only a few days before, he made a short visit to Nathan Dane, which is described by Lemuel Shaw, who accompanied him. "At this interview, which naturally led to a comparison of age and professional standing, the Chief Justice stated, not in a boastful spirit, but with an apparent feeling of humble gratitude to Heaven for the favor, that, during the twenty-four years that he had held his seat, he had never been prevented by ill health for a single day, from being in the place where his official duty called him, in every part of the Commonwealth. At that time, three days before his death, judging from his apparent vigor, his healthy countenance, his buoyant and happy spirits, which the anxiety attending the near prospect of severe official duty could not repress, no man could more justly indulge in the anticipation of length of days, and a happy and cheerful old age." On the next day, continues Shaw, Parker "passed part of Saturday forenoon in the Law Library, took a ride in the afternoon, and passed the evening socially with his friends, in apparently good health and with his accustomed cheerfulness. On awaking early on Sunday morning, the 25th, he spoke for a few moments, but with difficulty, and soon sunk into a state of insensibility, and soon sunk into a state of insensibility, under a severe attack of apoplexy, from which he never revived.