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Legare, Hugh Swinton

LEGARE, HUGH SWINTON (1797-1843), American lawyer and statesman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on the 2nd of January 1797, of Huguenot and Scotch stock. Partly on account of his inability to share in the amusements of his fellows by reason of a deformity due to vaccine poisoning before he was five (the poison permanently arresting the growth and development of his legs), he was an eager student, and in 1814 he graduated at the College of South Carolina with the highest rank in his class and with a reputation throughout the state for scholarship and eloquence. He studied law for three years in South Carolina, and then spent two years abroad, studying French and Italian in Paris and jurisprudence at Edinburgh. In 1820-1822 and in 1824-1830 he was a member of the South Carolina legislature. In 1827, with Stephen Elliott (1771-1830), the naturalist, he founded the Southern Review, of which he was the sole editor after Elliott's death until 1834, when it was discontinued, and to which he contributed articles on law, travel, and modern and classical literature. In 1830-1832 he was attorney-general of South Carolina, and, although a State's Rights man, he strongly opposed nullification. During his term of office he appeared in a case before the United States Supreme Court, where his -knowledge of civil law so strongly impressed Edward Livingston, the secretary of state, who was himself an admirer of Roman Law, that he urged Legar6 to devote himself to the study of this subject with the hope that he might influence American law toward the spirit and philosophy and even the forms and processes of Roman jurisprudence.

1 The Finance Bill 1909-1910 re-imposed this duty, and extended it to husbands and wives as well as descendants and ancestors.

Through Livingston, Legare was appointed American chargi d'affaires at Brussels, where from 1833 to 1836 he perfected himself in civil law and in the German commentaries on civil law. In 1837-1839, as a Union Democrat, he was a member of the national House of Representatives, and there ably opposed Van Buren's financial policy in spite of the enthusiasm in South Carolina for the sub-treasury project. He supported Harrison in the presidential campaign of 1840, and when the cabinet was reconstructed by Tyler in 1841, Legare was appointed attorneygeneral of the United States. On the gth of May 1843 he was appointed secretary of state ad interim, after the resignation of Daniel Webster. On the 20th of June 1843 he died suddenly at Boston. His great work, the forcing into common law of the principles of civil law, was unaccomplished; but Story says " he seemed about to accomplish [it]; for his arguments before the Supreme Court were crowded with the principles of the Roman Law, wrought into the texture of the Common Law with great success." As attorney-general he argued the famous cases, the United States v. Miranda, Wood v. the United States, and Jewell v. Jewell.

See The Writings of Hugh Swinton Legare (2 vols., Charleston, S.C., 1846), edited by his sister, Mrs Mary Bullen, who contributed a biographical sketch; and two articles by B. J. Ramage in The Sewanee Review, vol. x. (New York, 1902).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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