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Chief Justice Chase T. RogersChief Justice Chase T. Rogers
Supreme Court Law Day Ceremony
May 1, 2009

Thank you for being here this morning as we celebrate Law Day and the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln. Each year when we hold our ceremony in this courtroom, we have an opportunity to step back and reflect on the reason why President Dwight Eisenhower established Law Day over fifty years ago. It is a day when we celebrate the rule of law, and what it means to be dedicated to the principle of government under law.
 


This year's theme, "A Legacy of Liberty - Celebrating Lincoln's Bicentennial" is especially significant for us, as it permits us to celebrate a Connecticut organization and a Connecticut author who have done so much to preserve the legacy of Lincoln.

Amistad America, represented today by its Chair and CEO, Mr. Gregory Belanger, is probably best known to many as the organization that sponsors the freedom schooner Amistad. What you may not know is the extent of the education initiatives that they sponsor. The message of the Amistad is based in the story of the court cases that originated in New Haven in 1839, and which were ultimately appealed to the United States Supreme Court, resulting in the release of the Mendi tribesmen who had illegally been forced into slavery. The case of United States v. La Amistad was among those the Connecticut Supreme Court highlighted at our own 200th anniversary celebration just last year. Justice Norcott's remarks on that occasion, detailing the significance of the case, included the following which I suggest to you encapsulate the reason we honor Amistad America on Law Day this year: 

            The rule of law demanded that the men be set free. For ours is a system of laws, and not of men. It was not the preference of the attorney general, or President Adams, that ultimately determined the outcome of this case. The proper operation of the rule of law in a system of government that respects the rights of all and the freedom of each could countenance no other result. The opinion also upheld the right to rebel against unlawful slavery. Finally, the opinion of the United States Supreme Court issued in 1841 signaled to the South that slavery, where it had been abolished, would remain so under the rule of law.

 

It is no wonder, then, that Connecticut is proud to have named Amistad as our state's official tall ship. She represents us well. Her voyages are an inspiration to many and have reached the far corners of the world. In 2008, when she returned from one of her many international tours, freedom schooner Amistad had sailed more the 14,000 miles, had been visited by thousands of school children, and conducted more than 50 public ceremonies and sailing events. This particular tour was designed to raise awareness of the history of the Atlantic slave trade and the stories of resistance waged by black and white abolitionists. If I may quote from Amistad's own report: "throughout the voyage, freedom schooner Amistad has worked with museums and educational outreach programs to tell the history of the trade and to highlight the significant way the legacy of that history reflects in today’s social, political and cultural character. The voyage included a special two-month stay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the original West African homeland of many of the Amistad captives. This symbolic “homecoming” was a profound experience as the crew, students and church organizations, non-governmental organizations and the governments of Britain, the United States and the United Nations worked together in a show of cooperation and the celebration of peace and reconciliation after the Sierra Leone civil war." 

Photo: Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers along with honoree Gregory Belanger, Chair and CEO of Amistad America, display the plaque given to Belanger and Amistad America for Preserving the Legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

Today we honor those who preserve the legacy of Lincoln, and I am certain that you will agree the efforts of Amistad America, through her board of directors, staff, and volunteers, ensures that the legacy will endure.

Today we also honor Professor Michael Burlingame, who is the May Buckley Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus at Connecticut College. Another Connecticut gem, Professor Burlingame has written numerous books - 14 at last count - about the life of Lincoln. His most recent two-volume work was described by a review in Publisher's Weekly as "the most meticulously researched Lincoln biography ever written". This is but the latest in a long list of accomplishments for Professor Burlingame. As an undergrad at Princeton, he studied under David Herbert Donald who, at the time, was himself among the pre-eminent Lincoln scholars. During his graduate study he was both a Fulbright scholar and Woodrow Wilson fellow. After Professor Burlingame completed his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, he joined the faculty of Connecticut College where he was a professor for 33 years until he retired in 2001. He still holds emeritus rank, and has remained with us in Connecticut - although, glancing through his public appearances, one wonders how often he really is in Connecticut!

Photo: Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers presents Dr. Michael Burlingame—the May Buckley Sadowski, Professor of History Emeritus at Connecticut College, with a certificate for Preserving the Legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

Most recently, in addition to his impressive scholarship, Professor Burlingame has served as co-chair of the Connecticut Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Established by Governor Rell in 2008, the commission has organized, supported, and otherwise ensured that Connecticut would enjoy many varied events in celebration of the bicentennial. Not surprisingly, Professor Burlingame has helped to organize and has also participated in some of the events. I encourage you to visit the web site for the commission, as it details events yet to come, including civil war encampments in Torrington and New London, and a lecture tour series in five cities throughout Connecticut that retraces Lincoln’s visit here in 1860. It is clear from his work with the commission that this is a labor of love from which we all benefit.

We are so fortunate that Professor Burlingame is able to join us today and thank you for all you have done - through your scholarship and teaching and volunteer activities - to ensure that the legacy will endure.

This year's program is special for us, as we honor Connecticut’s own. Lest you think that we do not look beyond our state for Lincoln inspiration, however, I would like to introduce the Honorable Frank J. Williams, retired chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Chief Justice Williams has authored numerous books on various aspects of President Lincoln’s life - including, most recently, an edited volume of essays, the contributors of which include Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Governor Mario Cuomo, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. I am sure you can understand why we are delighted that Chief Justice Williams is here this morning to deliver remarks that I am certain will entertain and enlighten us.

Photo: Supreme Court Justices (left to right) Peter T. Zarella, Richard N. Palmer, Christine S. Vertefeuille and C. Ian McLachlan join Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers (center) on the bench while listening to retired Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams talk about Lincoln’s Legacy.

 

 

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