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March, 1817, when he returned to New England to attend the then famous law school at Litchfield, Connecticut, where he remained for a year year and eight months, studying, as I have heard him say, sixteen hours a day. Upon leaving there he finished his course in Kent, and was admitted to the bar at Georgetown, in Sussex, at the October term, 1819, of the Court of Common Pleas, when he was but a little over twenty-two years of age. He selected Kent as the county in which he should begin his professional life, and took an office near the court-house, in Dover, in the eastern end of what is now the dwelling of the Hon. John A. Nicholson.
Now commenced a career at the bar which up to that time had never been paralleled in this State, nor has it been equaled since. Clayton at once rose to a very high rank as a lawyer. Nor is this wonderful when you consider the qualities for success the young man had. Treating as one of them personal appearance, it must be admitted that here nature had given him all that could be desired a tall, commanding, thoroughly well-developed figure, six feet one and a half inches high, with a handsome countenance moulded in the style befitting great characters, and with an air of dignity, softened by that indefinable expression of the human face that shows a gentle heart in the breast. The proportions of his figure were correct also. This fine stalwart frame was surmounted by a head of ample size, measuring just twenty-four inches in circumference. Other portions were in like accord
with symmetry. And then, without the least trace of foppishness, or particularity about dress, he yet never appeared in any company, at any time, arrayed otherwise than as became gentlemen of his day, when such as he were careful to dress themselves as comported with their rank and station in life. Such was the figure of this young aspirant for professional success, when he appeared at the bar of Kent. His other qualifications were, a fine collegiate education at a famous seat of learning; an unusual preparation, by study and training, for the bar; extensive historical and literary information; remarkable powers of analysis and of illustration; quickness of perception, amounting almost to intuition; ardor and industry in the pursuit of his client's business; a grace, and at the same time force and power, of manner; and ease and fluency of utterance. All these combined gave him, in the very outset, advantages which he speedily and thoroughly turned to the best account for himself. Superadded to the whole was an unaffected and winning cordiality of recognition and intercourse which completely captivated all who came within the circle of his acquaintance. Thus equipped by nature, and by a thorough knowledge of the principles of his great profession, and endowed also with a memory which never forget anything worth remembering, his attractions as a lawyer
were very great; and it is not to be wondered at that he entered, almost as soon as he had the right to open his mouth in court, upon a business at first remunerative, but which before long attained the fullest
measure of abundance and profit at that day. In addition to his fine legal knowledge, he early developed extraordinary power as an advocate.
Upon him fell
(what I may call) the most desperate cases at the civil and criminal bars; and it is safe to say, that when it was possible for any lawyer to win a case, as the slang of that time was, or to succeed, as the phrase now is, he was always the victor in the contest. It seemed only necessary for success that he should be employed his power over juries being so irresistible. I do not, in any sense, mean to say that he controlled juries (the judgment of twelve honest, intelligent men is not to be controlled in this State, at least, by any man, how great soever his influence), but I do mean to say that he had a way of presenting to the jury the facts of his own side and also of the other (for if these had not been laid before the jury in their full strength, he supplemented the deficiency by his candor), that drew them in spite of their teeth (I feel that I may say), or of their tenacity of opinion, to adopt the argument his fertile mind presented them with, and also the conclusion such argument required. This was entirely natural. Here was a man of extraordinary powers in all respects — not the least of which, by any means, was that of looking into the very thoughts and purposes of men. It was just such a lawyer, possessed of such uncommon every plaintiff and defendant wanted. Every plaintiff, or defendant, in a lawsuit, wants a lawyer on his side, who combines two qualities one that of being well
versed in the law, and the other that of being a good advocate of the interest of his client. I have in my mind, now, some desperate cases of crime, where, before the trial, conviction was considered only to await the end of it, and yet the felon escaped, or with a verdict greatly modified from the demand of the prosecution; and this, although the court sometimes seemed to feel itself compelled, by way of resistance to what appeared to it to be too great an influence with the panel, to stigmatize the offence in very strong terms. Nor was he, by any means, less fortunate in the trial of civil cases. He had the prestige of success, although his competitors at the Kent bar were, at that time, no less celebrated men than Henry M. Ridgely, Thomas Clayton, and Willard Hall. With such antagonists he contended; and, for a young man, but lately entered upon a stage, where they maintained the highest standing, it can with truth be said that he achieved a success, as their competitor, which he could not have done, had he not possessed abilities of the very first order. This career increased in brilliancy until he attained a fame, throughout the State, which, long before he entered upon another and no less distinguished course in life, called for his services in the other counties in nearly all the most important cases that arose therein though the practice of going the circuit had been, well nigh, abandoned by the leading lawyers, when he came to the bar.
The death of his father in 1820, though a very trying. event in the life of his son, for he had the greatest
respect and affection for him, was probably an impor
tant element in his rise to distinction. naturally industrious, in the
He was not
sense of the
term, but was rather inclined to ease though his college and law student life would seem to show the contrary and required an incentive to work. Such incentive death gave him (his father's fortunes having been overwhelmed by the great disasters that befel the country about 1820) in the necessity of providing for the support of a mother, two sisters, and a brother, with the latter to educate. This was just the stimulus such an one required; and it was this apparent calamity that proved, there can be no doubt, of the greatest benefit to him. Here was a young man, of splendid abilities, natural and acquired, with habits of study that made it easy enough to work, but still who was not required to make any great effort for success. The necessity, however, of providing for his mother and her orphan children inspired him; and day and night, continually, he wrought for them, until he was secure from all risk of being embarrassed any longer. He toiled at his profession, in every branch of it, legal and equitable, civil and criminal, enjoying nothing else but the society of his friends and the weekly visits he paid the loved ones at Milford, whither he went every Saturday afternoon, walking (when the weather would permit) sixteen miles of the distance to the home of his brother-in-law and friend Walter Douglass, who would forward him to Milford, where he would cheer the hearts of all by his pres