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Dutton's father, a farmer in a small way, moved when Henry was a child to Northfield, where the boy attended the district school but more often assisted in the farm work.
In 1812 he engaged in teaching, at the same time continuing his studies in order to enter Yale College, which he accomplished in 1816, graduating with honors in 1818.
He was in debt when he left college, but proceeding to Fairfield, he became principal of the academy there and in two years had paid off all his liabilities.
In 1821 Dutton became a tutor at Yale, continuing his legal studies in his spare time, and was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1823. He opened his law office at Newtown, Fairfield County, also undertaking private tuition of Yale students.
He represented his district in the General Assembly for two terms, but in 1837 removed to Bridgeport. Here he quickly came to the fore, became state’s attorney for Fairfield County, and represented Bridgeport in the legislature during two terms.
In 1847 he was appointed Kent Professor of Law at Yale, and removed accordingly to New Haven, where he continued also to practise. In the same year he was appointed one of the commissioners to revise the state statutes, an undertaking which entailed great care and application since there had been no revision for twenty-five years. The task, however, was completed within a year.
In 1849 he was elected to the state Senate, serving one term, at the conclusion of which he was elected representative for New Haven in the lower house. In 1852 he became judge of the New Haven County court, remaining such for one year. In 1854 the legislature appointed him governor of the state, the electorate having failed to make a choice at the preceding election, and he held the position for a full term. In 1861 he was chosen judge of the supreme court of errors and of the superior court of Connecticut, to fill a vacancy, and continued to occupy a seat on the bench until February 12, 1866, when, having reached the statutory age of, seventy years, he retired. During his tenure of judicial office he had maintained his association with the Yale Law School and on his retirement from the bench devoted his energies chiefly to its affairs. He died at New Haven.
Somewhat advanced in his ideas on law reform, while he was a member of the legislature he procured the passage of a statute permitting in civil cases parties in interest to testify. He was also sponsor of a bill giving the superior court sole jurisdiction in divorce. He was author of The Connecticut Digest (1833), and A Revision of Swift’s Digest of the Laws of Connecticut, in which he was assisted by N. A. Cowdrey.
Dutton was quick to grasp a point, fertile of resource, and at the bar, on the bench, and in the lecture room was adequate for any emergency. As an advocate his strength lay in his ability to present facts forcibly and lucidly to a jury from the practical commonplace standpoint, and as a judge he was expeditious, courteous, and eminently receptive.
In 1823 Dutton married Elizabeth Elliott Joy.