If you had asked me when I graduated from law school 30 years ago this May (gulp!) I would have told you that I was the first person in my family to go to law school. I would have been wrong. My great great grandfather, Levi Jesse Bryant, was one of 38 men to graduate in the fourth class of the National University Law School. He graduated in May 1875 in Washington DC; 110 years before me, but less than 50 miles from where I graduated in Baltimore, MD.
There’s a very detailed account of the graduation program in the National Republican, which just happens to be the newspaper that my other great great grandfather, Herbert Augustine Preston, worked for during part of his career as a journalist in Washington DC. I haven’t confirmed whether he was with that paper in 1875, but it’s possible. Levi’s youngest son – Herbert Sydney Bryant – married Herbert Preston’s third daughter – Elizabeth Monica Preston. And thus began a long line of confusion created by many people on different sides of the family having the same name but usually spelled differently.
Levi Jesse Bryant fought for the Union in the Civil War and lost his right arm at the Battle of Chancellorsville, which is the same battle where Stonewall Jackson lost his left arm and died a few days later. After the war Levi Bryant moved to Washington DC where he worked as a clerk in the War Department for a number of years before he got his law degree.
His name appears in several articles in the DC papers in the late 1800s, usually in his capacity as trustee of someone’s estate or a member of the Board of Directors of a bank. His oldest son, Arthur Levi Bryant, also became a lawyer in Washington DC. Levi Bryant died in 1920 and one obituary reports he was paralyzed for the last 20 years of his life. I’m curious how significant his paralysis was.
But getting back to the article that prompted me to write this post, which you can find here:
There’s a lot of good advice about the role that lawyers should play in society. The messages about being good public servants, not taking bribes, keeping client confidences and being fair in your dealings with the court, would be good advice to law school graduates today. Apparently government corruption and the inability of elected officials to compromise for the common good has been around for awhile as evidenced by these remarks by Chancellor Wedgwood to the graduating class of lawyers 140 years ago:
“Is it not the universal opinion of the people of this country that legislators, State and national, are constantly approached with bribes? Do they not constantly hear ‘the lions in the lobby roar?’ Is not even the sanctity of their domestic fireside invaded by the lobby, and bribes offered to their wives and daughters to induce their husbands and fathers to act contrary to their duty and the known rules of honesty?”
He goes into some detail about the concept of compensatory emancipation which he believes would have been a better solution for the country as a way of abolishing slavery than the cost (both human and monetary) of the Civil War, and concludes with some advice our elected officials today should take to heart:
“The basis of all civil government is concession and compromise.”
And in closing he says:
“Make yourselves familiar with the past; there find your beacon to warn, and your star to guide.”