1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Field, David Dudley
FIELD, DAVID DUDLEY (1805–1894), American lawyer and law reformer, was born in Haddam, Connecticut, on the 13th of February 1805. He was the oldest of the four sons of the Rev. David Dudley Field (1781–1867), a well-known American clergyman and author. He graduated at Williams College in 1825, and settled in New York City, where he studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1828, and rapidly won a high position in his profession. Becoming convinced that the common law in America, and particularly in New York state, needed radical changes in respect to the unification and simplification of its procedure, he visited Europe in 1836 and thoroughly investigated the courts, procedure and codes of England, France and other countries, and then applied himself to the task of bringing about in the United States a codification of the common law procedure. For more than forty years every moment that he could spare from his extensive practice was devoted to this end. He entered upon his great work by a systematic publication of pamphlets and articles in journals and magazines in behalf of his reform, but for some years he met with a discouraging lack of interest. He appeared personally before successive legislative committees, and in 1846 published a pamphlet, “The Reorganization of the Judiciary,” which had its influence in persuading the New York State Constitutional Convention of that year to report in favour of a codification of the laws. Finally in 1847 he was appointed as the head of a state commission to revise the practice and procedure. The first part of the commission’s work, consisting of a code of civil procedure, was reported and enacted in 1848, and by the 1st of January 1850 the complete code of civil and criminal procedure was completed, and was subsequently enacted by the legislature. The basis of the new system, which was almost entirely Field’s work, was the abolition of the existing distinction in forms of procedure between suits in law and equity requiring separate actions, and their unification and simplification in a single action. Eventually the civil code with some changes was adopted in twenty-four states, and the criminal code in eighteen, and the whole formed a basis of the reform in procedure in England and several of her colonies. In 1857 Field became chairman of a state commission for the reduction into a written and systematic code of the whole body of law of the state, excepting those portions already reported upon by the Commissioners of Practice and Pleadings. In this work he personally prepared almost the whole of the political and civil codes. The codification, which was completed in February 1865, was adopted only in small part by the state, but it has served as a model after which most of the law codes of the United States have been constructed. In 1866 he proposed to the British National Association for the Promotion of Social Science a revision and codification of the laws of all nations. For an international commission of lawyers he prepared Draft Outlines of an International Code (1872), the submission of which resulted in the organization of the international Association for the Reform and Codification of the Laws of Nations, of which he became president. In politics Field was originally an anti-slavery Democrat, and he supported Van Buren in the Free Soil campaign of 1848. He gave his support to the Republican party in 1856 and to the Lincoln administration throughout the Civil War. After 1876, however, he returned to the Democratic party, and from January to March 1877 served out in Congress the unexpired term of Smith Ely, elected mayor of New York City. During his brief Congressional career he delivered six speeches, all of which attracted attention, introduced a bill in regard to the presidential succession, and appeared before the Electoral Commission in Tilden’s interest. He died in New York City on the 13th of April 1894.
Part of his numerous pamphlets and addresses were collected in his Speeches, Arguments and Miscellaneous Papers (3 vols., 1884–1890). See also the Life of David Dudley Field (New York, 1898), by Rev. Henry Martyn Field.