Field, David Dudley

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Field, David Dudley

David Dudley Field, 1805–94, American lawyer and law reformer, b. Haddam, Conn.; brother of Cyrus W. Field and Stephen J. Field. He was graduated from Williams (1825), studied law in Albany and New York City, was admitted to the bar in 1828, and soon had a large practice in New York City. After the Civil War he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court several cases involving significant constitutional issues. He was also counsel for Jay Gould and James Fisk in the Erie RR litigation in 1869 and later defended "Boss" Tweed. However, it was his work in behalf of law reform rather than his famous practice that established Field's legal reputation. He was responsible for the New York legislature's appointment in 1847 of one commission to reduce the laws of the state to a systematic code and another to prepare codes of court practice and procedure. Serving on the second commission, Field prepared a code of civil procedure that was adopted (1848–50). This Field code became the basis for the reform of civil law procedure throughout the United States. His reforms—notable among them abolition of the distinction between law and equity proceedings—strongly influenced the English Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875, which were subsequently adopted by many British colonies. Field's code of criminal procedure eventually became law as well. His commission for the codification of the laws of New York, however, met with failure; consequently, Field became head of a new commission for the same purpose in 1857. He prepared complete civil, political, and penal codes, but only the penal code, in 1881, became law. The civil code several times passed the legislature but was killed by gubernatorial veto.

See biography by his brother, H. M. Field (1898); study by F. C. Hicks (1929, repr. 1966).

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