Eulogy of the Dog
September 23, 1870
George Graham Vest served in the United States Senate for twenty-four years, from 1879 to 1903, but the act for which he is best remembered is a speech delivered in an insignificant court case while he was still a lawyer in rural Missouri.
Born in Kentucky in 1830, Vest moved in the 1850's to Missouri, where he practiced law and served in the state legislature. During the Civil War, he was a member of the Confederate Congress. After the war, he practiced law until his election to the Senate as a Democrat.
The lawsuit that brought him immortality concerned the shooting of "Old Drum," the best hunting dog of a local farmer. A neighbor who suspected that Old Drum was moonlighting by killing his sheep gave orders to shoot the dog if it appeared on the property again. When Old Drum was found dead near the neighbor's house, the farmer filed suit, seeking damages of fifty dollars. After a jury awarded twenty-five dollars, the neighbor successfully appealed the ruling. The dog's owner, however, succeeded in his motion for a new trial and hired two skilled lawyers, one of them George G. Vest.
Vest's summation to the jury (pdf) at that trial has become familiar to dog lovers across the country through succeeding generations. Rather than discussing the details of the case, he eloquently praised the loyalty of a dog to his owner in terms that brought tears to the eyes of the jury and of those who have read his brief remarks in the years since. As a result, the owner was awarded damages, although the amount--whether the original twenty-five dollars or much more--is unclear.
Afterward, the speech took on a life of its own, being reprinted both in this country and abroad. So famous did it become that, in 1958, the town of Warrensburg, Missouri, where the speech took place, erected a bronze statue to honor Old Drum and George G. Vest. Over the years, the brief oration has been included in a number of anthologies, often with slight variations in wording and punctuation. The version presented here was inserted in the Congressional Record as part of a speech delivered by Senator Robert C. Byrd on April 23, 1990.
In the Senate, the witty and sarcastic George Vest was an effective debater, although as a Democrat he was generally in the minority. For example, he fought the anti-polygamy laws aimed at the Mormons, opposed woman suffrage, and objected to the acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He delivered his last speech to the Senate in January 1903, attacking the coal trust that was keeping the price of fuel artificially high even in a bitterly cold winter. According to an observer, the tiny, wizened Vest, old and terminally ill, stood propped up beside his desk and by the sheer force of his passion and his arguments shamed the majority Republicans into removing the duty on coal. Vest retired from the Senate in March of that year and died in the summer of 1904.
Reprinted from Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989: Classic Speeches, 1830-1993. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1994.