The Honorable Isaac Parker
The son of a Boston goldsmith, Isaac Parker was born in Boston on June 17, 1768 and graduated from Harvard in 1786. After studying law, he moved to Maine where he was elected to Congress in 1796 and after serving one term became the U.S. marshal for the district of Maine.
Mr. Parker came back to Massachusetts in 1806 upon being elected to the State Supreme Court, becoming the Chief Justice in 1814 and remaining so until his death on July 25, 1830. In a controversial ruling for a Dedham church about who retains the property in a church split, Parker ruled that whoever stays, even if a minority of the congregation, keeps the property. Judge Parker was a Unitarian.
In 1816 Judge Parker was made Harvard’s first Royall Professor of Law, a post that he held until 1827, and in 1820 he served as the President of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. It was Judge Parker who laid out the plan for Harvard Law School.
Greatly esteemed both as a man and as a jurist, his eulogy records: “We wanted a cautious, but liberal mind, to aid the new growth of principles, to enlarge the old rules, to infuse a vital equity into the system, as it was expanding before us. We wanted a mind to do, in some good degree, what Lord Mansfield had done in England, to breathe into our common law an energy, suited to the wants, the commercial interests, and the enterprise of the age. We wanted a mind, which, with sufficient knowledge of the old law, was yet not a slave to its forms; which was bold enough to invigorate it with new principles, not from the desire of innovation, but the love of improvement. We wanted sobriety of judgment; but, at the same time, a free spirit, which should move over the still depths of our law, and animate the whole mass. Such a man was Mr. Chief Justice Parker.”