Ebenezer Lane
b. September 17, 1793
d. June 12, 1866
21st Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio
Term
December 18, 1830
to February 16, 1845

EBENEZER LANE

Ebenezer Lane was born on Sept. 17, 1793, in Northampton, Mass. to Captain Ebenezer and Marian Chandler Lane. Marian Lane was the daughter of Connecticut Gov. Matthew Griswold. At age 8, Lane enrolled at a boarding school in Leicester, Mass. to prepare for college. He entered Harvard University at age 14 and graduated in 1811. His alma mater awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1850.

After graduating from Harvard, he moved to Lyme, Conn., where he studied law with his uncle, Judge Matthew Griswold. He began practicing law at Norwalk, Conn. on Sept. 14, 1814. In 1815, he moved to Windsor Hill, Conn. to practice law. On May 21, 1816, he was commissioned as a notary public for Hartford County, Conn. by Gov. John Cotton Smith.

Concluding that there were too many lawyers in Connecticut, Lane joined an expedition led by his stepbrother Herman Ely to establish a town on Ely’s 10,423 acres in what is now Lorain County, Ohio. They arrived and established the town of Elyria on the banks of the Black River on March 17, 1817. Since there was little need for legal work, Lane bought 64 acres from Ely and began farming.

Lane was appointed prosecuting attorney of Huron County in May 1819. His appointment necessitated a move to Norwalk, the county seat. He continued to build his legal reputation, and, on Jan. 8, 1822, he was admitted to practice before the U.S. Circuit Court located in Columbus. On Feb. 17 1824, the Ohio General Assembly elected Lane president judge of the Second Judicial Circuit for a seven-year term. Starting his service on April 19, 1824, Lane traveled to all the counties, often on horseback or in light wagons if the roads were improved. Without the benefit of law libraries, Lane relied on his knowledge of the law and legal precedent to determine his judgments.

The Ohio General Assembly elected Lane to the Supreme Court of Ohio on Dec. 18, 1830, for a seven-year term. He received his commission from Gov. Duncan McArthur on Dec. 31, 1830 and his opinions are in volumes 4 to 13 of Ohio Reports. He served as Chief Justice from 1840 to 1845.

An important case regarding the right to vote in 1842 was Parker Jeffries v. John Ankeny et al. The 1802 Ohio Constitution conferred the right to vote on white people only. The plaintiff, Parker Jeffries, was not allowed to vote, because his father was white and his mother was one-half white and one-half American Indian. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that he was a lawful voter. Lane wrote in the majority opinion, “…That all nearer white than black, or of the grade between the mulattoes and the whites, were entitled to enjoy every political and social privilege of the white citizen; that no other rule could be adopted, so intelligible and so practicable as this; and that further refinements would lead to inconvenience, and to no good result.” In Lessee of the City of Cincinnati v. the First Presbyterian Church (1838), Lane delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court that the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects governments from being sued unless they agree to, does not apply to towns or cities. Therefore, they must abide by the statute of limitations, the maximum period an individual, corporation or government can wait before filing a lawsuit. Towns or cities cannot file a lawsuit against an organization years after the statute of limitations expired.

His contribution to Ohio jurisprudence was perhaps summarized by his attorney friend, C.L. Latimer:

“He came to the Bar when the jurisprudence of Ohio was yet not settled, and brought to its cultivation great general ability, patient research, both in civil and common law and logical power and acumen. His thorough knowledge of the civil law and his varied and extensive and accurate historical learning, qualified him to compare the systems of our several states and of other countries and to educe the great principles which lie at the foundations of all systems of jurisprudence. Ohio will never fully understand how much she is indebted to Judge Lane and those like him, who, before and with him, wrought at the foundation of our social security and general happiness and progress as a State.”

Lane was re-elected by the Ohio General Assembly to two more seven-year terms. He served as Chief Justice from December 1840 to his retirement. On Dec. 20, 1844, the Ohio Senate received a message from Gov. Thomas W. Bartley that Lane resigned effective Feb. 16, 1845.

The 1840s saw the beginning of the railroad construction boom throughout Ohio. Lane foresaw that the railways would be profitable and important to the economy of Ohio. From 1845 to 1855, he served as president of the Columbus and Erie, the Mad River and Lake Erie and the Junction Railroads. On June 7, 1850, he became president of the Junction Railroad Company, which operated between Cleveland and Toledo. He also formed the law firm of Lane, Stone and Lane with Walter F. Stone (who later became a Supreme Court Justice) and his son, William G. Lane. The Central Railroad of Illinois elected him counsel and resident director in November 1855. He moved to Chicago, where he worked until March 16, 1859, when he resigned in favor of his desire to travel through Europe in his retirement.

Lane married Frances Ann Griswold of Lyme, Conn. on Oct. 11, 1818 and they had three children.

Retiring to Sandusky, Lane devoted the remaining years of his life to his academic studies. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society elected him a member in 1856. Lane also was a member of the New York Historical Society, the Ohio Historical Society and the Chicago Historical Society.  

Lane died on June 12, 1866. Although members of the Episcopal Church, the funeral was at his home in Sandusky on June 14, 1866. He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Sandusky.