Captain Jackman’s snow job

Captain Jackman’s Snow Job

The Concord School District wants residents living around the new Christa McAuliffe Elementary School to clear their sidewalks so it will be easier for children to walk to school. Officials should contact the city of Concord instead.

Thank Lyman Jackman for the court decision that required the city of Concord to clean the sidewalks and its distillation of the Live Free or Die philosophy.

The 1898 decision was important in February of 2013 because of the month’s enormous snowfall. The 24 inches of snow that fell on Concord Feb. 9, recorded by the National Weather Service, was second only to the all-time record of 27.5 inches set in the historic blizzard of 1888. Back then the city required residents to shovel their own sidewalks.

The guy responsible for the ruling, Jackman, fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run, rose to the rank of captain, and endangered his eyesight as a prisoner of the Confederates’ notorious Libby Prison. Back in Concord after the Civil War, Jackman and Thomas M. Lang set up an insurance agency. Crosscurrents

of Change: Concord, N.H. in the 20th Century relates that Jackman overcame a devastating challenge. An 1885 New Hampshire law specified that when a building burns to the ground, the company insuring it must pay the face value of the insurance policy. Confronted with what appeared to be little more than a logical requirement, 58 insurance companies pulled out of New Hampshire.

Jackman met the crisis by setting set up his own insurance company, which survives today as Concord’s Phenix Mutual Insurance Co.  City officials should have learned that Captain Jackman was not easily discouraged.

A decade after that 1888 blizzard, snow fell and city officials ordered Jackman to clean his sidewalk. Jackman refused. Concord Police Court fined the captain $5. Jackman hired Samuel C. Eastman, one of the city’s most prominent lawyers, and appealed. The state Supreme Court upheld Jackman in a decision that revealed New Hampshire’s fiercely independent spirit.

Concord’s 1849 snow-shoveling ordinance, growled Associate Justice Isaac N. Blodgett, constituted “such a manifest violation of rights secured to every citizen that it cannot be upheld.”

Judge Blodgett accepted Eastman’s argument that requiring a resident to shovel his sidewalk was “nonetheless a tax because it demands the duty in labor and not in money.” In shrugging off whether Boston’s similar snow-shoveling law set a precedent, Blodgett observed that Massachusetts also has an income tax and New Hampshire, of course, does not.

Wrote Judge Blodgett:

“We are of opinion that the city of Concord could not by its ordinance impose upon the defendant the labor or expense of removing the snow from the sidewalk adjoining his premises, and which constituted a part of the highway itself. Having contributed his proportional share of the public expense of keeping the highway in a suitable condition for the public travel; we are not aware of any constitutional principle upon which more can be lawfully expected of him.

“Nor should there be.”