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Brunoniana

From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:

Chafee, Zechariah Õ07

Zechariah Chafee, Jr. (1885-1957), University Professor at Harvard University and champion of civil liberties, was born in Providence on December 7, 1885. His father, Zechariah Chafee 1880, was president of Builders Iron Foundry and a long-time trustee and fellow of the University. Zechariah, Jr. graduated from Brown in 1907 and worked for a few years in his father’s business before entering Harvard Law School, where he received his LL.B. degree in 1913. After three years with the law firm of Tillinghast and Collins in Providence, he began his teaching career at Harvard in 1916 as assistant professor of law, and became full professor in 1919, Langdell Professor of Law in 1938, and University Professor in 1950. On his 70th birthday, speaking of the changes since he began teaching, he said, “Legal knowledge has grown so much that I probably know a smaller percentage of existing law now than I did then.” One bit of law that he did learn is apparent in a letter to Librarian David A. Jonah, written by Chafee in 1952 when he presented his college essays to the Archives of the University, which contained this comment: “I blush now to think of the use that I made of some sort of encyclopedia of criticism, which was possessed by the old polygonal library. I fear there is more of this English in these papers than accords with my present views of the Law of Copyright.”

Described as “somewhat to the left of most of his university colleagues,” Chafee wrote extensively in defense of personal liberty and freedom of the press. In 1952 at a Senate subcommittee meeting, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy named Chafee a person “dangerous” to the United States. His publications included Freedom of Speech in 1920, Free Speech in the United States in 1941, and Government and Mass Communications in 1947. His last book was The Blessings of Liberty in 1956. He retired in July 1956, and died in Boston on February 8, 1957. In the Chafee Garden at the rear of the Rockefeller Library the words on the commemorative plaque are, “Distinguished Undergraduate & Devoted Alumnus - Lover of Good Talk and Good Books - Stimulating Companion & Loyal and Kindly Friend - Noted Scholar and Jurist - Unfaltering Champion of Freedom of Speech - Influential and Beloved Teacher - Courageous Preserver of the Blessings of Liberty.”

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.


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