Justice Walter Snow Burges

Inducted: 2006
Born: 1808
Died: 1892

Burges, Walter S. (Walter Snow), 1808-1892

Justice Walter Snow Burges (1808-1892) was a native of Rochester, Massachusetts. His uncle, Congressman Tristam Burges, a former chief justice, oriented Walter toward Rhode Island and Brown University, where Tristam was a professor of oratory.

Walter Burges graduated from Brown with honors in 1831, and then taught school for four years while studying law. He was admitted to the Rhode Island bar in 1835 and soon became prominent in his new profession. In 1836 he married Eleanor, daughter of former U.S. Senator and chief justice James Burrill, Jr. She bore him three children.

During the Dorr Rebellion Burges became a close associate of Thomas Wilson Dorr, both of whom had Whig party affiliations in the 1830s. His career subsequent to the rebellion is most interesting. Burges became federal district attorney for Rhode Island under Democratic president James K. Polk (1845-1849), served in both houses of the General Assembly, won election as state attorney general from 1851 to1854 and again from 1860 to1863.

Burges capped his distinguished legal career when he was selected by a Republican-controlled General Assembly to be an associate justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a post he held from 1868 to1881. It was to Burges that Dorr left his voluminous papers and correspondence, detailing the course of constitutional reform in Rhode Island during the 1830s and 1840s. Burges entrusted these manuscripts to historian Sidney Rider, who eventually donated them to Brown University.

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