Richard Henry Dana

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Richard Henry Dana achieved prominence as a lawyer and author, and for his knowledge of the sea.

Dana was born August 1, 1815, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A student at Harvard University, he interrupted his studies in 1834 and spent two years as a sailor. In 1836, he returned to Harvard, graduating in 1837. He subsequently received an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1866.

Before entering a legal career, Dana taught elocution at Harvard from 1839 to 1840. He was admitted to the bar in 1840 and established a successful legal practice, demonstrating his expertise in admiralty cases.

Dana entered politics in 1848 as an organizer of the free soil party, which opposed the principles of slavery. He attended the party's convention of that same year, held in Buffalo, New York.

In 1861, Dana performed the duties of U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts, serving in this capacity until 1866. From 1867 to 1868, he participated in the treason trial against confederate President Jefferson Davis,

acting as attorney for the United States. During 1866 and 1868, he also returned to Harvard as a lecturer at the law school. In 1877, Dana was selected to represent the United States as senior counsel at the fisheries commission held at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dana is regarded as an eminent writer, as is evidenced by the enduring popularity of Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840. In this book, Dana described his experiences as a sailor, recounting his voyage from Boston around Cape Horn to California from 1834 to 1836. He also authored The Seaman's Friend (1841) and To Cuba and Back (1859), and he edited Wheaton's Elements of International Law (1866).

"In order that justice may be done to the weakest, and that in any hour of frenzy or mistake, we may not touch the hair of [his]head, we will give him a tribunal which shall be independent of the fluctuations of our opinions or passions."
—Richard H. Dana

He died January 6, 1882, in Rome, Italy.

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Richard Henry Dana, 1787–1879, American poet and essayist, b. Cambridge, Mass.; son of Francis Dana. After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1811. Critic and poet, Dana was a founder and editor of the North American Review and also contributed to other periodicals. His best-known poem, The Buccaneer, appeared in 1827. See his collected Poems and Prose Writings (1850). His son, Richard Henry Dana, 1815–82, b. Cambridge, Mass., was also a writer and a lawyer. After spending two years (1831–33) at Harvard, he shipped as a common sailor around Cape Horn to California. The narrative of this voyage, published as Two Years before the Mast (1840), was written to secure justice for the sailor and has become an American classic of the days of sailing ships. Returning to Harvard, Dana graduated in 1837 and entered law practice. He handled many maritime cases and published The Seaman's Friend (1841), a standard manual of maritime law. Active in politics, he helped found the Free-Soil party.

See his journal, ed. by R. F. Lucid (3 vol., 1968); biography by C. F. Adams (1890).