Nathan Dane, an American jurist, born in Ipswich, Mass., Dec. 27, 1752, died in Beverly, Feb. 15, 1835. He graduated at Harvard college in 1778, studied law in Salem, and commenced its practice in Beverly in 1782, where he resided until his death. From 1782 to 1785 he was a member of the house of representatives of Massachusetts; in 1785, '86, and '87, a delegate to the continental congress; in 1790, '94, '96, '97, and '98, a member of the senate of Massachusetts; in 1795, a commissioner to revise the laws of that state; in 1811, to revise and publish the charters which had been granted therein; and again in 1812, to make a new publication of the statutes. In 1794 he was appointed a judge of the court of common pleas for Essex county, and took the oaths of office, but almost immediately resigned. In 1812 he was chosen a presidential elector; in 1814 he was a member of the Hartford convention, and in 1820 of the convention for revising the constitution of Massachusetts; but a deafness which had been growing upon him for some years had at this time so much increased that he declined to take his seat in the convention. As a lawyer, he was among the most learned in the state, and his large and diversified experience gave him great ability and success.
While a delegate from Massachusetts to the continental congress in 1786, he drafted the ordinance providing for the government of the vast territory north and west of the Ohio river, which was adopted by congress without a single alteration, July 13, 1787. The clause in it which has been the subject of most frequent and emphatic remark is that which provides "that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory." He also incorporated in this ordinance a prohibition against all laws impairing the obligation of contracts, which the convention that formed the constitution of the United States a few months afterward extended to all the states of the Union, by making it a part of that constitution. In 1829 he gave $10,000 (adding $5,000 more in 1831) for the foundation of the Dane professorship of law in the law school of Harvard university, with the request that his friend Judge Story should occupy the chair, which he did until his death. During 50 years he devoted his Sundays (the hours of public worship alone excepted) to theological studies, generally reading the Scriptures in their original languages.
He published an "Abridgment and Digest of American Law (9 vols, large 8vo, 1823-'9).