Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835

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Nathan Dane (December 29, 1752 – February 15, 1835) was an American lawyer and statesman who represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress from 1785 through 1788. Dane helped formulate the Northwest Ordinance while in Congress, and introduced an amendment to the ordinance prohibiting slavery in the Northwest Territory. During his career, he served in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Massachusetts Senate. He also wrote a multi-volume treatise that covered the entire subject of American law, which enabled him to help fund the development of Harvard Law School.

Born in Ipswich in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Dane worked on the family farm in Ipswich until he turned twenty. Moving on to college at Harvard, his major interest was in mathematics, and he graduated in 1778. Then he taught school and read for the law. Dane was admitted to the bar and set up a legal practice in Beverly in 1782. That same year, he entered elective office in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served until 1785. In 1785, Dane became a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress, where he helped draft the Northwest Ordinance, which was enacted on July 13, 1787. In February 1787, Dane proposed a resolution authorizing the Philadelphia Convention to amend the Articles of Confederation, and that resolution was adopted; out of that Philadelphia Convention came the proposed United States Constitution.

Dane was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate from 1790 to 1791 and again from 1794 to 1797. In 1794 he served on a commission that reviewed and codified the laws of Massachusetts. Later, while practicing law, he remained an active reformer, on behalf of vocational education and humane treatment of prisoners. He also helped establish the American Temperance Society to discourage use and abuse of alcoholic beverages. He was a member of the Federalist Party and its Essex Junto. The Massachusetts legislature appointed him as a delegate to the Hartford Convention during the War of 1812, which damaged his reputation, although Dane saw himself as a voice of moderation at the Convention and maintained that he did not have any secessionist intentions.

By 1820, Dane was almost totally deaf, but he continued working long hours in his library, writing two major legal treatises. The first of these was published in 1823, titled A General Abridgement and Digest of American Law. Its eight volumes were supplemented by a ninth in 1829. It became a standard work, and every lawyer of distinction bought a copy. Dane used the substantial proceeds from the Abridgement to provide an endowment for a law school at Harvard University, specifying that the first Dane Professorship of Law would go to his old friend Joseph Story. For a while, Harvard Law School was called "Dane Law School." Dane died at his home in Beverly and was buried in the Central Cemetery there.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Nathan Dane Account Book, 1800-1824. Peabody Essex Museum
referencedIn United States. Congress. Broadside regarding the Treasury, n.d. American Periodical Series I
creatorOf Webster, Daniel, 1782-1852. Letter, 1834 May 15, Washington, to Nathan Dane [n.p.]. Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Nathan Dane papers, 1832 October 18. Detroit Public Library, Detroit Main Library
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1834. Papers, 1663-1834. Massachusetts Historical Society
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Cases for declaration, 1848. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn U.S. History mss., 1612-1977 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Autograph letter signed : [Boston?], 1791 Dec. 13. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Letter, 1787 July 16 [electronic resource]. Wisconsin historical society
referencedIn Lord, Hartley, 1825-1912. Robert Beardsley collection, 1854-1983. Brick Store Museum
referencedIn Samuel Holten Papers, 1630-1843, (bulk 1744-1843) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. A moral and political survey of America : [1783-1832]. Wellesley College
referencedIn Dane, Nathan. Nathan Dane papers. 1780-1835. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
creatorOf Prescott, William, 1762-1844. Letter, 1834 August 4, Nahant, Mass., to Nathan Dane. Connecticut Historical Society
referencedIn Roundy, Alice M. Nathan Dane biographical sketch, 1898. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Palfrey, John Gorham, 1796-1881. Notice of Nathan Dane; being part of a sermon preached in the chapel of the University of Cambridge..., February 22, 1835. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Autograph File, D, 1586-1975. Houghton Library
creatorOf Bowdoin, James, 1726-1790. Shays' Rebellion papers, 1786-1787. Massachusetts Historical Society
creatorOf Prescott, William Hickling, 1796-1859. Papers, 1655-1959; bulk: 1775-1859 Massachusetts Historical Society
referencedIn Frederick M. Dearborn collection of military and political Americana, Part I: The Revolution and the Administration, 1669-1958. Houghton Library
referencedIn Thomas Addis Emmet collection, 1483-1876 (bulk:1700-1800) New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Nathan Dane Papers, 1782-1845. Peabody Essex Museum
referencedIn Autograph File, C, 1554-2002. Houghton Library
referencedIn Essex County (Mass.) Prisons Records, 1688-1858. Peabody Essex Museum
creatorOf Dane, Nathan. Nathan Dane papers. 1780-1835. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Letter, 1787 July 16. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Holten, Samuel, 1738-1816. Papers of Samuel Holten, 1630-1843 (bulk 1744-1843). Library of Congress
creatorOf Grayson, William, 1736-1790. Letters to Nathaniel Dane [manuscript], 1788 June 4 and 18. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Nathan Dane papers, 1785-1814. Library of Congress
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. The rights and obligations of the proprietors of the Salem Turnpike and Chelsea Bridge Corporation, 1832. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. Papers, 1780-1835. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Hawley, Gideon, 1757-1807. Papers, 1753-1806. Morris Brown College
referencedIn Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848. Letters to Oliver Wolcott and Joseph Story, 1823, 1829. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Keady, William P., b. 1850. W. P. Keady letter to the Oregonian [manuscript], 1916 August 4. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Dane, Nathan, 1752-1835. ALS, 1788 June 14, New York, to Dr. Hotten. Copley Press, J S Copley Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848. person
associatedWith Appleton, Thomas, 1763-1840. person
associatedWith Ashmun, John Hooker, 1800-1833. person
associatedWith Bangs, Edward D. (Edward Dillingham), 1790-1838. person
associatedWith Cabot, Andrew. person
associatedWith Cabot, John. person
associatedWith Cabot, Joseph. person
associatedWith Chase, Salmon P. (Salmon Portland), 1808-1873. person
associatedWith Conant, Israel. person
associatedWith Cory, Daniel person
associatedWith Dane, Daniel person
associatedWith Dane Hall) person
associatedWith Dane, John G. person
associatedWith Dane, Matthew person
associatedWith Dane, Samuel person
associatedWith Dearborn, Frederick M. (Frederick Myers), b. 1876 person
associatedWith Ellingwood, N. Dane. person
associatedWith Emmet, Thomas Addis person
associatedWith Gardoqui and Sons. corporateBody
associatedWith Gould, Nathaniel. person
associatedWith Grayson, William, 1736-1790. person
associatedWith Greenleaf, Simon, 1783-1853. person
associatedWith Harvard Law School. corporateBody
memberOf Harvard University. corporateBody
correspondedWith Hawley, Gideon, 1757-1807. person
associatedWith Holten, Samuel, 1738-1816. person
associatedWith Keady, William P., b. 1850. person
associatedWith Kennebec Purchase (Me.). Proprietors. corporateBody
associatedWith Knox, Henry, 1750-1806. person
associatedWith Lark (Ship) corporateBody
associatedWith Lovett, Benjamin. person
associatedWith Massachusetts. Court of Common Pleas (Essex County) corporateBody
associatedWith McKeen, Joseph person
associatedWith Monroe, James, 1758-1831. person
associatedWith Palfrey, John Gorham, 1796-1881. person
associatedWith Prescott, William, 1762-1844. person
associatedWith Prescott, William Hickling, 1796-1859. person
associatedWith Quincy, Josiah, 1772-1864. person
associatedWith Roundy, Alice M. person
associatedWith Salem Turnpike and Chelsea Bridge Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Story, Joseph, 1779-1845. person
associatedWith Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874. person
associatedWith Taylor, Arodi. person
associatedWith United States. corporateBody
memberOf United States. Continental Congress corporateBody
associatedWith Vaughan, Charles, 1759-1839. person
associatedWith Webster, Daniel, 1782-1852. person
associatedWith Wisconsin Historical Society. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Cambridge MA US
Ipswich MA US
Beverly MA US
Alien and Sedition laws, 1798
Constitutional history
Corporate reorganization
Corporation law
Debtor and creditor
Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798
Land grants
Military pensions
Practice of law
Practice of law
Real property
Toll bridges
Toll roads
Vendors and purchasers
Account books
Delegates, U.S. Continental Congress
State Representative
State Senator


Birth 1752-12-29

Death 1835-02-15






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