David Dudley Field II (February 13 1805 - April 13 1894) was an American lawyer and law reformer.
Early life and education
He was born in Haddam, Connecticut
. He was the oldest of the four sons of the Rev. David Dudley Field I
, a Congregational minister and local historian. He graduated from Williams College
in 1825 and settled in New York City
, where he studied law. After his admission to the bar
in 1828, he rapidly won a high position in his profession. Over the next few years he became convinced that the common law
in America, and particularly in New York
state, needed radical changes in the unification and simplification of its procedure
. In 1836, he went to Europe for a thorough investigation of the courts, procedure, and codes of England, France and other countries. He then returned to the U.S. and labored to bring about a codification of its common law procedure.
Dedication to codification
For more than 40 years, every moment that Field could spare from his extensive practice was devoted to his codification project. He began by systematic publication of pamphlets and articles in journals and magazines outlining his proposed reforms. However, for some years he met with a discouraging lack of interest. He testified about codification before successive legislative committees. In 1846, Field published a pamphlet, "The Reorganization of the Judiciary", which influenced the New York State Constitutional Convention
of that year to report in favor of a codification of the laws. In 1847 he finally had a chance to put his ideas into official form when he was appointed head of a state commission to revise court procedure and practice. The first part of the commission's work, a portion of the code of civil procedure, was reported and enacted by the legislature in 1848. By January 1, 1850, the New York state legislature had enacted the complete Code of Civil Procedure, subsequently known as the Field Code
since it was almost entirely Field's work.
The new system abolished the distinction in forms of procedure between an action at law (a civil suit demanding monetary damages) and a suit in equity (a civil suit demanding non-monetary damages). Rather than having to file separate actions, a petitioner could from now on file only one single action. Eventually this civil code was, with some changes, adopted in 24 states. The new New York state criminal code was adopted in 18. Both influenced reform in England and several of her colonies.
In 1857 Field became chair of another state commission, this time for the systematic codification of all of New York state law except for those portions already reported upon by the Commissioner 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 served as a model after which most of the law codes of the United States were 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 Gistlines 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.
Field was originally an anti-slavery Democrat, and he supported Martin 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 American Civil War
. After 1876, however, he returned to the Democratic Party, and from January to March 1877 served out in the U.S. House of Representatives the unexpired term of Smith Ely
, who had been 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 Samuel J. Tilden
's interest during the highly controversial presidential election of 1876
. He died in New York City in 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.