William Cogswell Clarke

Among the public men of New Hampshire who have lately passed away, none was more widely known in the state, or more sincerely respected, than Hon. William Cogswell Clarke, of Manchester. He was born in Atkinson, N. H., December 10, 1810, being the eldest son of Greenleaf and Julia (Cogswell) Clarke. His father was a farmer and master-mason, the constructor of many fine business buildings in the neighboring town of Haverhill, Mass., and a highly esteemed citizen of Atkinson, where he served as selectman and justice of the peace. He was descended from Nathaniel Clarke, a merchant of Newbury, Mass., who died in 1690, and from Capt. Edmund Greenleaf, of that place, an officer of repute in the wars of the early colonists with the Indians. The wife of Greenleaf Clarke was a daughter of Dr. William Cogswell, of Atkinson, who was a surgeon in the Revolutionary army, and at one time chief of the Military Hospital at West Point.

William C. Clarke pursued his early studies at Atkinson Academy, of which his maternal grandfather was one of the founders, and then entered Dartmouth College, at the age of eighteen years. He was graduated with high honors in the class of 1832, which included Professors Noyes and Sanborn, of Dartmouth, and the late Samuel H. Taylor, LL.D., the noted instructor at Andover, Mass. Immediately becoming principal of Gilmanton Academy, he held the position for one year, while beginning the study of law. He continued his legal studies in the Harvard Law School, in the office of Stephen Moody, at Gilmanton, and in that of Stephen C. Lyford, at Meredith Bridge, now Laconia, N. H. On his admission to the bar, in 1836, he began practice in the latter town, and on the creation of Belknap county, at the close of 1840, he was appointed county solicitor. He held this position until the spring of 1844, when he removed to Manchester, and continued the practice of his profession. Two years later he was one of a committee of seven chosen by the town to petition the legislature for a city charter, and at the first city election, in August, 1846, was the Democratic candidate for mayor. There being two other candidates, there was no choice, and he withdrew his name before the second ballot, in September. In the same year, however, he consented to act as chief engineer of the fire department of the young city, and he retained this position till the close of 1848, having a number of leading citizens as his assistants.

In 1849 he was elected to the office of city solicitor, which he held for two years, and in 1850 he served as a member of the state constitutional convention. Appointed the judge of probate for Hillsborough county in 1851, he obtained the judicial title which clung to him thereafter. In 1854 he was again the Democratic candidate for mayor, but the Whig ticket was successful. A year later Judge Clarke was tendered, by Governor Metcalf, an appointment to the bench of the supreme court, but declined the position. As judge of probate he discharged his duties with high public approval, but his removal from this office, in 1856, was included in the sweeping political changes which began in 1855. In 1858 he served as a member of the Manchester Board of Aldermen. Soon after the death of the Hon. John Sullivan, he was appointed, in 1863, to succeed him as attorney-general of the state; and, receiving a re-appointment in 1868, he continued to fill the office until his death in 1872.

From the time of his admission to the bar until he became the chief prosecuting officer of the state, Judge Clarke was actively engaged in private legal practice. He early acquired the reputation of a sound and able lawyer, and obtained an extensive clientage. As attorney-general he was highly successful in the performance of his duties, to which he devoted himself with conscientious faithfulness. Recognizing the semi-judicial character of his office, he did not allow the zeal of the advocate to outweigh more important considerations, and, in cases where a minor offense had been committed for the first time, he frequently caused indictments to be suspended, so as to give the culprit both a chance and a stimulus to reform. Hardened or flagrant criminals he pursued with the rigor demanded by the interests of justice, leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to secure their conviction. He drew all his indictments with the greatest care, and it is said that no one of the number was ever set aside. He took equal pains with the preparation of evidence and of his arguments in all important causes. These cases included a number of murder trials which attracted wide attention when in progress, and which afforded marked proof of his legal skill. His sense of duty being above all other considerations, he was unmoved by all attempts to affect his official course by private appeals or by any species of personal influence.

Judge Clarke had a marked distaste for ordinary politics and the arts of the politician. On the few occasions when he consented to be a candidate for an elective office, he did not seek the nomination, but accepted it at the request of his friends. Firmly believing, however, in the original principles of the Democratic party, he often gave his voice and pen to their support, and was long a prominent member of that party in New Hampshire. When the rebellion broke out he did not hesitate a moment in regard to his political course, but was among the foremost of those who urged all citizens to sink minor party differences and rally to sustain the imperiled government. During this crisis he was active in calling and addressing many public meetings, which pledged aid to the most vigorous measures for the defense of the Union. At the great war mass-meeting held in Concord, N. H., on the 17th of June. 1863,—which was attended by thirty thousand people, from all parts of the state, and was addressed by men of national eminence, including a member of President Lincoln's cabinet,—Judge Clarke called the assembly to order, and read the call, after which he was chosen the first vice-president. Being dissatisfied with the attitude toward the war assumed by many of the leaders of the Democratic party, he was largely instrumental in organizing the zealous War Democrats of the state into a third, or "Union," party, which nominated a separate ticket for state officers in 1862 and 1863. This organization was not maintained after the latter year, and Judge Clarke thenceforward voted with the Republican party; but, after the early years of the war, he refrained from any active participation in politics, which he regarded as inconsistent with the nature of his duties as attorney-general.

He was one of the original directors of the Manchester Bank, serving from 1845 till 1849, and of the City Bank, with which he was connected from 1853 till 1863. He was also a trustee of the Manchester Savings Bank from 1852 until his death. For many years he was a trustee of the Manchester Atheneum, and when this was succeeded by the City Library, in 1854, he was chosen a member and clerk of the board of trustees of the latter institution, retaining both positions during the rest of his life. He was the first treasurer of the Manchester & Lawrence Railroad Company, holding that office from July 31, 1847, till his resignation took effect, February 8, 1849; and he was the clerk of that company from February 28, 1854, until he died, being also its attorney when engaged in private legal practice. He was a trustee of Gilmanton Academy, and in 1854 was a member of the National Board of Visitors to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Judge Clarke was one of the earliest members of the Franklin-street Congregational church in Manchester, and one of the original officers of the society, to both of which he rendered valuable service.

Some mention of his personal appearance should not be omitted, as he was a man of unusually distinguished presence, having a large, finely proportioned figure, with a handsome, dignified head and face. Without undue formality, his manners were invariably courteous and refined. With excellent literary tastes, he possessed much general information, and was very attractive in conversation. Though rigid in his sense of right and wrong, he was eminently charitable in his views of others, having a broad tolerance of opinions which differed from his own. His disposition was genial, and his kindness of heart unfailing.

He was married, in 1834, to Anna Maria Greeley, only daughter of the late Stephen L. Greeley, Esq., of Gilmanton, N. H. His wife survives him, with four children,—Stephen Greeley, Anna Norton, Julia Cogswell, and Greenleaf.

The death of Judge Clarke occurred at his home in Manchester on April 25, 1872, and was the cause of wide-spread sorrow. At his funeral there was a large attendance of prominent citizens from many parts of the state. Resolutions of regret and eulogy were adopted by the city bar, the Hillsborough-county bar, the Manchester Common Council, and various other bodies with which he had been connected. In the resolutions of the common council he was spoken of as "one who, as a former member of the city government, and its legal public adviser, served it with marked fidelity and ability, and who, by his many virtues, had won the confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens." His associates of the Manchester bar declared that "he was a faithful officer, a wise counselor, a respected citizen, and a Christian gentleman. He was courteous in manner, efficient in duty, upright in character, and an ornament to his profession." In the resolutions adopted by the bar of Hillsborough county, and entered upon the records of the supreme court, Judge Clarke was described as "a public officer faithful and upright, discharging his official duties with signal ability; a lawyer of large experience in his profession, of well balanced judgment and discretion, well read in the principles of the law, and faithful alike to the court and his client; a citizen patriotic and public-spirited; in his private relations, a gentleman of unblemished reputation, distinguished for his high-toned character, affable manners, and uniform courtesy; and illustrating in his public and private life the character of a Christian gentleman, governed by the principles which he was not ashamed to profess."