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During this presidential election year, the New York City Bar’s library is exhibiting rare books and manuscripts from its collection that relate to the American Presidency. The first case features important books that document the defining influence of the early presidents on the Constitution and the Republic.  The second case focuses on presidential elections, presidential history and selected controversies in which Bar Association members played a role.


copy of presidents washington in color

Marshall, John. Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the American Forces.Compiled Under the Inspection of the Hon. Bushrod Washington, From Original Papers Bequeathed to Him by His Deceased Relative. By John Marshall. Philadelphia: C.P.Wayne, 1804.

Marshall wrote this classic biography with the expectation of large monetary gain. However, Thomas Jefferson, his most prominent opponent, prohibited federal postmasters from taking orders for it, thus deflating Marshall's hopes for profit. The work provides many insights, especially in its treatment of the period immediately preceding the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

john adams

Adams, John. A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. Philadelphia, 1797.

This is a third edition copy one of the most important and widely read of the many writings of the second President of the United States. His important defense of the Constitution played an influential role in the development of American political theory. He advocates a doctrine of separation of powers, a system of checks and balances and a legislature of two houses. The work's timely publication influenced the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

thomas jeffersonJefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. Second American edition. Philadelphia: Printed for Mathew Carey , November 12, 1794

Originally written in 1781, this is the only book ever published by the third President, Thomas Jefferson. Containing an eloquent presentation of Jefferson's principles, it is one of the best indications of his wide-ranging conflicted views on the present and future of the new American nation.  Jefferson expounds on slavery, education, religious freedom, representative government, and the separation of church and state.

Madison, James. The papers of James Madison : purchased by order of the Congress, being his correspondence and reports of debates during the Congress of the Confederation, and his reports of debates in the Federal Convention; now published from the original manuscripts,james madisondeposited in the Department of State, by direction of the Joint Library Committee of the Congress.  Washington : Langtree & O'Sullivan, 1840.

A leading theorist of republican government, Madison was convinced that the Articles of Confederation were too weak to bind the states together in the face of domestic and foreign threats, and was instrumental in persuading Congress to summon a convention to revise them. At the 1787 convention held in Philadelphia, Madison played a leading role in drafting the Virginia Plan that became the basis for the structure of the new government. His journal of the proceedings constitutes the sole record of the debates.

Buren, Martin Van. [Holland, William M]. The Life and Political Opinions of Martin Vanpresident van burenBuren, Vice President of the United States. Hartford, [Ct.]: Belknap & Hamersley, 1835.

This is the scarce first edition of the first biography of Van Buren. Van Buren was elected Vice President on the Jacksonian ticket in 1832, and won the Presidency in 1836. Holland follows the life of the Vice-President from his upbringing in upstate New York, the son of a struggling farmer and tavern-keeper.  In 1904 Silas Brownell, the City Bar’s Recording Secretary from 1878-1916, donated to the Association of the Bar, a collection of books from the law library of President Van Buren.

Herndon, William H., with Jesse William Weik. Herndon's Lincoln. The True Story of a Great Life. The History and Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln. Chicago: Belford, Clarke, and Co., 1889.

More books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other United States President.  Herndon’s book is considered the most authoritative single source for Lincoln’s early period and one of the great American biographies.  It is an idiosyncratic but classic account of the man who probably knew him the best during his formative years.


Cartoon illustrating Election Day, 1864 by Thomas Nast (1840-1902)
(Vinson, J. Chal, Thomas Nast, Political Cartoonist. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1967)

election day - nash

This drawing by the brilliant political cartoonist of the 19th century, Thomas Nast, first appeared in Harpers Weekly on November 2, 1864. It satirizes the 1864 Presidential election between Democrat George McClellan, former commander of the Union Army of the Potomac and President Abraham Lincoln as a fight between a nation at peace and a return to southern rebellion. Columbia, guarded by the American Eagle, soldiers and respectable citizens supports Lincoln’s reelection. In the upper left, the angel of peace is held captive by demons of “Southern Rebellion” and “Traitors North.” The Democratic voter in the lower-right insert is a stereotypical caricature of a disheveled Irish-American who is shown being guided by a reporter from the pro-Confederate London Times. The lower center panel reminds voters of the bloody sacrifice made by Union soldiers on their behalf.

McKee, Thomas Hudson.  The national platforms of all political parties, with the names of all candidates at each presidential election from 1789-1892, showing the vote for each candidate. Ed. by Thomas Hudson McKee Washington, The Statistical Publishing Company, 1892.

These handy little books are an invaluable source on the presidential election process. Andrew Jackson (Democrat) and Henry Clay (National Republican/Whig) were, in 1832, the first presidential candidates nominated by national party conventions. Prior to that time, candidates for the presidency had been chosen by a congressional caucus system.

Abraham Lincoln.  Trial of Abraham Lincoln by the Great Statesmen of the Republic: A Council of the Past Tyranny of the Present. The Spirit of the Constitution on the Bench – Abraham Lincoln, Prisoner at the Bar, His Own Counsel.  New York: Office of the Metropolitan Record, 1863.

First edition pamphlet containing a mock trial in which Lincoln was charged with treason and having committed, among other unconstitutional acts, the following: Declared war against Sovereign States…arrested citizens without process of law; suppressed liberty of speech; placed military power above the civil power and overthrown State Sovereignty. At the conclusion of the trial, the Court addressed Lincoln as follows “…You have been given the opportunity of saving a nation, but you have stabbed it to the heart.  You have converted your country into a despotism.”

Andrew Johnson History of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, by the House of Representatives, and his trial by the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors in office, 1868 by Edmund G. Ross. Santa Fe, N.M.: New Mexican Print. Co., 1896.

president johnsons impeachment trialOne of the most conspicuous attempts in the United States to circumvent the intent of the Constitution's framers took place in 1868, when the Radical Republicans in control of the House of Representatives impeached President Andrew Johnson in anobvious attack on the federal system of checks and balances. The trial lasted from March to May 1868 with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding. President Johnson did not attend, but was represented by his Chief Counsel, New York City Bar leader William M. Evarts. In its first vote the Senate divided, 35 to 19, in favor of conviction, 1 vote short of the required two-thirds. Ten days later, after votes on two more articles fell short by the same margin, the Radicals abandoned their efforts.

Haworth, Paul Leland The Hayes-Tilden Disputed Presidential Election of 1876. Cleveland: Burrows Brothers Company, 1906

hayes poster

Samuel Tilden (Democrat), Governor of New York and a founding member of the City Bar, defeated Ohio’s Rutherford Hayes (Republican), in the popular vote and received 184 electoral votes to165 for Hayes with 20 electoral votes disputed. Each party claimed victory in the remaining three states. William Maxwell Evarts, the City Bar’s first President, served as chief counsel for the Republican Party in the electoral college controversy and Charles O’Conor, who opposed Evarts in the famous Lemmon Slave Case, led the cause for the Democratic Party. An Electoral Commission appointed by President Ulysses Grant awarded the electoral votes to Hayes. Some historians believe a deal was brokered to avoid a constitutional crisis so soon after the Civil War. Part of the deal included Hayes agreeing to remove federal troops from the South, ending reconstruction and effectively pushing African Americans out of government. Eight days later Evarts was appointed Secretary of State.

Membership applications  to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
John W. Davis (November 1921),  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (March 1921) and Charles Evans Hughes (April 1886)

After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1904, Roosevelt clerked at the Wall Street firm of Carter, Ledyard and Milburn. Six years later, at the age of 28, he became a candidate for the New York State Senate, narrowly winning election. In 1920, Roosevelt was nominated for Vice-President on the Democratic ticket with Governor James Cox of Ohio. After losing the election, he returned to the practice of law on a part-time basis, and headed the New York office of Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland.  Roosevelt served as the 48th Governor of New York State from 1929-1932 and the 32nd President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945.

Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Committee on Federal Legislation.
abcny laws of impeachmentThe Law of Presidential Impeachment. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

In response to the possible impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon, the Association’s Executive Committee passed a resolution on November 7, 1973 supporting the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the President’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. This significant report by the Association’s Committee on Federal Legislation concluded that grounds for impeachment were not limited to or synonymous with crimes, but rather included any action that would undermine the integrity of government. This report first appeared in volume 29 of the Record of the Association of the Bar.

The American Presidency

Five members of the New York City Bar Association were candidates for the Presidency. Samuel J. Tilden lost by one electoral vote to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; Charles Evans Hughes was defeated by Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and John W. Davis lost to Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States for an unprecedented four terms and held the office from 1933 to 1945.  Richard Nixon, the nation’s thirty-seventh President from 1969 to 1974. was a member of the Association of the Bar from 1964-1969.  Numerous members of the New York City Bar Association have been actively involved in presidential politics; some have served as members of the presidential cabinet, others as trusted presidential advisors.  Here is a select list of prominent cabinet members.

Cabinet members

Herbert Brownell - Attorney General 1953-57

Andrew Cuomo - Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 1997-2001

John Foster Dulles – Secretary of State 1953-59

William M. Evarts - Attorney General 1868-69, Secretary of State 1877-81

Arthur J. Goldberg - Secretary of Labor 1961-62

Charles Evans Hughes - Secretary of State 1921-25

Robert P. Patterson  - Secretary of War 1945-47

Samuel Pierce Jr. - Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 1981-89

Elihu Root  - Secretary of War 1899-1904,  Secretary of State 1905-09

Henry L. Stimson - Secretary of War 1911-1913, Secretary of State 1929-33
Secretary of War 1940-45

Cyrus Vance - Secretary of State 1977-80