Proposed by the American Bar Association in 1957 as “a national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law”, Law Day was finally recognized through a Presidential Proclamation by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958.
From his radio broadcast on April 30, 1958.
“THURSDAY–MAY FIRST–has by proclamation been designated “Law Day.” The reason is to remind us all that we as Americans live, every day of our lives, under a rule of law. Freedom under law is like the air we breathe. People take it for granted and are unaware of it–until they are deprived of it. What does the rule of law mean to us in everyday life? Let me quote the eloquent words of Burke: ‘The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter; the rain may enter–but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of that ruined tenement!’…
In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law. On this Law Day, then, we honor not only the principle of the rule of law, but also those judges, legislators, lawyers and law-abiding citizens who actively work to preserve our liberties under law.
Let history record that on Law Day free man’s faith in the rule of law and justice is greater than ever before. And let us trust that this faith will be vindicated for the benefit of all mankind.”
Through this speech, Eisenhower echoed the sentiments of President George Washington when he wrote of the Judiciary Act of 1789. “Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government, I have considered the first arrangement of the Judicial department as essential to the happiness of our Country, and to the stability of its political system; hence the selection of the fittest characters to expound the laws, and dispense justice, has been an invariable object of my anxious concern.”
Among the first U.S. Marshals appointed under the aforementioned Judiciary Act were William Stephens Smith (New York District), Henry Dearborn (Maine District), Lewis R. Morris (Vermont District), Allan McLane (Delaware) and Clement Biddle (Pennsylvania).
The First Marshal of New York, William S. Smith, was a lawyer by trade. He was also the son-in-law of John Adams and something of a war hero. His biographer described him as “the pattern of the eighteenth century gentleman, handsome, brave, urbane, and equally at ease at camp or court”.
Ambitious as well as courtly, Smith was not well suited to his appointment to U.S. Marshal. He resigned after one year of service to become supervisor of revenue, a much more lucrative position. When President Jefferson assumed office, Smith surrendered his position within the federal government and returned to his private pursuits.
Andrew Scott portrayed Smith in the 2008 miniseries, John Adams. He and his wife Abigail had four children together.
Henry Dearborn, First Marshal of Maine, was a physician by training. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he ceased practicing medicine and organized a militia company to which he was elected captain. His company fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. He was with Washington at Valley Forge and served on the Commander In Chief’s staff during the Battle of Yorktown.
After the war, Dearborn chose to remain in the military rather than return to medicine. Washington soon appointed him to the position of First Marshal of Maine which he held for three years until his election to Congress. During President Jefferson’s term of office, he served as a commanding General in the War of 1812 but performed poorly and was relieved of command.
Thrice married, one of his sons, Henry A.S. Dearborn, became a U.S. Congressman representing Massachusetts’ 10 District from 1831-1833.
Fort Dearborn in Illinois, Fort Dearborn in Mississippi, Dearborn Missouri, Dearborn Michigan, Dearborn County in Indiana and the Dearborn River in Montana were named after him.
Lewis R. Morris was the First Marshal of Vermont. Lawyer and businessman, Lewis served as a U.S. Representative from Vermont following his term as Marshal. Like so many first generation Marshals, Morris served in the armed forces, first as a Brigadier General in the State militia and then as a Major General of the first Division.
Morris was unusual among his fellow marshals in that he requested his appointment as U.S. Marshal. George Clinton, patriot, signer, “Father of New York State”, and Vice President under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison provided his recommendation. From the Founders Archives, “(Morris) is desirous . . . to be Marshal of the District,” adding that “His Family is not unknown to you; but besides being reputably connected, he is a young Gentleman of good Character and in my Opinion well qualified to fill that Office”.
Not all First Generation Marshals were anxious to serve as such. Allan McLane. First Marshal of Delaware, originally requested a different and more lucrative position from President Washington, but Washington offered him only Marshal. Financially constrained, in 1794 he requested a better paying position once again from Washington. This time Washington complied appointing him Collector of the Port of Wilmington, a position he held until his death at age 83.
Like his fellow marshals, McLane was a Revolutionary War hero with a reputation for “daring and intrepidity”. His descendant, Louis, served as the U.S. Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson.
The First Marshal of Pennsylvania, Clement Biddle, hailed from a prominent Philadelphia family and worked in the family shipping and importing business prior to the Revolutionary War.
After distinguishing himself in combat during the Revolutionary War, he accepted appointment as Marshal of the Admiralty Courts. These courts were the predecessors of the federal judiciary system established in 1789.
A close friendship between Biddle and Washington led to Biddle’s appointment as First Marshal of Pennsylvania. His performance as U.S. Marshal was lackluster. Asked by Thomas Jefferson to quell a riot in in Washington County, Pennsylvania, he declined to serve and sent Captain Jonas Simonds in his place.
Biddle completed his term but requested that he not be reappointed to office. In a letter to Washington, he wrote that he had hoped the office of Marshal would be “at some time beneficial to me,” but his hopes had gone unrealized. Instead, “the arrangement of the Judiciary System was such as would not compensate the Marshal for the great risk and hazard that would necessarily attend the Execution of their Duties.”
Biddle died at age 74 leaving behind a wife, one daughter and two sons. He named his youngest son after his friend George Washington.