The Joy of Researching and Writing About Edward B. Burling and Joseph Welch

Previous posts have reviewed many aspects of the lives of Edward B. Burling, a prominent Washington, D.C. attorney, and of Joseph Welch, a prominent Boston attorney. (See Appendices A and B.) Those posts are the result of extensive research over many years and in many places besides Internet research on my home computer. Now I share how that research and writing has brought joy to my life. [1}

In 1982 I took a sabbatical leave from my Minneapolis law firm (then Faegre & Benson; n/k/a Faegre Baker Daniels) to teach a course about law at my alma mater, Grinnell College, and in my spare time I examined materials in the College Archives about these two gentlemen.

While on a business trip to Boston in 1985 I found spare time to examine a collection of Joe Welch Papers at the Boston Public Library. While focusing on those relating to the Army-McCarthy Hearings, I happened upon letters between Welch and Burling.

In 1986 I returned to Boston to attend the Harvard Law School’s Summer Program for Lawyers and discovered  in Harvard’s collection of the papers of Learned Hand, an eminent federal judge and one of my legal heroes, that he and Burling had been law school contemporaries and life-long friends. This further spurred my interest in Burling as I read their extensive correspondence. On this occasion I also visited Welch’s law firm and interviewed some of the other lawyers who were involved in the Army-McCarthy Hearings.

When I retired from the active practice of law in the summer of 2001, one of my future projects was to review all of the information that I had gathered and write articles about the two gentlemen, and I mentioned this project in an essay about retirement that was posted on the Internet by another law school friend as part of materials for a lawyers’ seminar.

In 2005 I was inspired to finish these papers when I received a totally unexpected call from Professor Roger Newman, the biographer of Hugo Black and a member of the faculty of Columbia University. Newman said that he was the editor of the forthcoming Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law and asked if I would be interested in writing short biographies of Welch and Burling for that book. Newman said he had discovered my interest in these men from the just mentioned essay on the Internet. I said that I would be glad to do so.

I then retrieved my materials, did additional research and wrote the two 500-word biographies. (This Biographical Dictionary, which was published in 2009 by Yale University Press, was the first single-volume containing concise biographies of the most eminent men and women in the history of American law who had devised, replenished, expounded, and explained law. See Yale University Press, The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (ISBN 978-0-300-11300-6),

These sketches, however, barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say about Burling and Welch.. As a result, I did further research, including examination of several collections of original papers at the Library of Congress. My research about Burling and Welch now has been documented in multiple posts to this blog.

My interest in these two men was sparked by my sharing with them growing up in small Iowa towns, graduating from Grinnell College and prestigious law schools and becoming lawyers in major law firms in different cities and by meeting Burling in 1959 and hearing Welch speak at Grinnell in 1957. My research and writing about them enabled me to use my legal skills in projects that were personally important to me, rather than those that were driven by clients and courts. The research also produced many thrills of discovery, including some totally unrelated to these two men.

I am grateful that I have found great joy in doing this research and writing.


[1] An earlier version of this post was published as Adventures of a History Detective (April 5, 2011).

Posts about Edward B. Burling to (Appendix A)

Katherine Graham’s Connections with Harry Hopkins and Edward B. Burling (Feb. 13, 2018),

Edward B. Burling’s Early Years in Iowa, 1870-1890 (Feb. 17, 2018),

Edward B. Burling’s Years at Harvard University, 1890-1894 (Feb. 18, 2018),

Edward B. Burling: The Chicago Attorney, 1895-1917 (Feb. 19, 2018),

Edward B. Burling: The Federal Government Attorney, 1917-1918 (Feb.20, 2018),

Edward B. Burling: The Prominent Washington, D.C. Attorney, 1919-1966 (Feb.21, 2018),

Edward B. Burling’s Life-Long Friendship with Learned Hand (Feb. 22, 2018),

Edward B. Burling: The Character of the Man (Feb. 25, 2018),

The Joy of Researching and Writing About Edward B. Burling and Joseph Welch (Feb. 26, 2018),

Posts About Joseph Welch to (Appendix B)

Joseph Welch Before the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 14, 2012),

The U.S. Army’s Hiring of Attorney Joseph Welch for the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 8, 2012),

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Nemesis: Attorney Joseph Welch (June 4, 2012),

Attorney Joseph Welch’s Performance at the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 6, 2012),

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Involvement in the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 12, 2012),

President Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign Against Senator Joe McCarthy (July 27, 2017),

Joseph Welch After the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 12, 2012),

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy Encounters Langston Hughes at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater (May 13, 2012),

Legal Ethics Issues in the “Anatomy of a Murder” Movie (June 27, 2012),

The Joy of Researching and Writing About Edward B. Burling and Joseph Welch (Feb. 26, 2018),





Edward B. Burling, The Federal Government Attorney, 1917-1918

This series about the life of Edward B. Burling commenced with a post about his connections with Katherine Graham, the owner and publisher of the Washington Post, and then retreated in time to a post about his birth and early years in Iowa, 1870-1890, followed by a post about his four years at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1890-1894 and another about his 22 years as a Chicago attorney, 1895-1917.[1]

The Federal Government Attorney

In 1917, at age 47, Burling finally did manage to leave Chicago to go to Washington, D.C. Though the urging of a law school friend, he became a lawyer for the U.S. Food Administration,  which was an agency for the purchase and sale of foodstuffs and stabilizing the U.S. market price of wheat and which was directed by Herbert Hoover, another native Iowan from the small town of West Branch and, of course, a future U.S. President.

However, the two men did not get along with one another, and Ned immediately left this position to be a lawyer (and then General Counsel) for the U.S. Shipping Board, which was responsible for organizing U.S. shipyards during World War I, a position he held through the end of the war in 1918.

Burling relished the life of a top government lawyer. As he said at the time to his friend Learned Hand, “It’s like expecting a country girl who has spent her entire life milking cows to go back contentedly after she has been to the city–seen the bright lights and been screwed. That’s the way I feel–my first big screw. And I want more of it.”

At the Shipping Board Burling crossed paths with another future Grinnell College luminary, Joseph Welch, then one of its young lawyers.  Welch later observed that in 1918 he was 28 while Burling was 48 and whenever he wrote a letter for Burling’s signature, Ned’s “first act was to seize a pen and sign it. Then you would read it and often suggest a change. But that beautiful gesture of confidence gave me so much happiness,” and Welch thereafter emulated that practice.[1]

Later Connections Between Burling and Joseph Welch

Parenthetically, 36 years later, in 1954, their paths again crossed, albeit indirectly.  One of Welch’s clients in the Army-McCarthy hearings at that time, John G. Adams, thought that Welch was not doing a good job in defending him before the committee. As a result, Adams met with Burling to see if Covington & Burling could represent Adams. Burling’s response: Adams probably would not want the firm to represent him because one of its partners (Donald Hiss) was the brother of Alger Hiss, who had been convicted in 1950 for having provided classified documents to an admitted Communist, Whittaker Chambers. Having Burling’s law firm represent Adams, it was suggested, would leave the firm and Adams open to an attack by McCarthy. As a result, the law firm did not enter the McCarthy arena.

Indeed, the law firm’s connections with Donald and Alger Hiss were deep. In July 1949 Alger Hiss’ federal-court trial for perjury for testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee ended in a hung jury, splitting 8 to 4 for conviction. Burling and his law partners were upset by the lack of an acquittal, and Burling thought Hiss’ well known attorney had made serious errors in defending the case.[2]


The next installment in this series about Burling will be a summary of his distinguished career as a Washington, D.C. attorney in private practice, 1919-1966.


[1] Citations to the sources for this post are found in this blogger’s Edward Burnham Burling, The College’s Quiet Benefactor (April 2008)(18-page essay and bibliography; on file in Grinnell College’s Special Collections and Archives).

[2] Posts about Joseph Welch are listed in the “Joseph Welch and Senator Joseph McCarthy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (HISTORY).














Joseph Welch After the Army-McCarthy Hearings

Joseph Welch’s participation in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954 brought him national prominence. We have seen a summary of those hearings and his performance as the U.S. Army’s lawyer.

As a result, Welch became a celebrity. His career expanded to do new things.

Television Commentator

Welch appeared on various national television programs, most notably talking about the U.S. Constitution on the Omnibus program. A book of those commentaries was published.

Welch,The Constitution
Leonard Bernstein
Marian Anderson

In 1959 Welch provided commentary during intermissions of several televised concerts by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, then under the baton of Leonard Bernstein.  After Bernstein apparently had called Welch a “great American,” Welch responded, “I suspect you are a better judge of good music than you are of what could truly be called great Americans. Do not think for a moment, however, that it is not music to me to have you say of me what you do.”  Welch added that for him to accept money for being on a Christmas concert with Bernstein and soprano Marian Anderson was “just barely distinguishable from cheating.”

Correspondent with Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx

Welch’s television appearances had an impact on comedian Groucho Marx. In a serious article in TV Digest about the status of television programming, he said, “[I]t speaks very well of television and its audience that the man so constantly in demand for more TV appearances after the Army-McCarthy Hearings was not Senator McCarthy, but Joseph Welch.”

This article came to Welch’s attention, and he wrote to Groucho on his law firm’s letterhead that listed the names of all the 40 or so lawyers in the firm. Welch said that it had not been necessary to hire extra help “to hold at bay swarms of people anxious to get me to appear on television or in the movies.” He then expressed admiration for Groucho’s work and said it “must be wonderful to be (a) Rich, (b) Intelligent, and (c) Funny. I trust I list them in their correct order.”

Groucho responded that he was not rich, but “rich enough . . . to know that inflation is knocking hell out of what I have.”  He also said he was a “little frightened” by the imposing list of 40 lawyers on Welch’s law firm’s letterhead. Groucho said he had been sued over the years on most of the “minor charges—rape, larceny, embezzlement and parking in front of a fire plug,” but those law firms never had more than four lawyers. Groucho then asked a series of questions about life in such a large law firm.

Welch could not let this Marx missive go unnoticed. Welch told Groucho that he had misunderstood the letterhead: “All the names below the first line are the name of our professional witnesses. They hang around street corners and turn up unexpectedly as witnesses in all the automobile cases we try.”  Welch then answered Groucho’s questions about the firm:

  • Q: How do you get along in the office?
  • A:  By leaning on each other heavily and on our secretaries.
  • Q:  Do you trust each other? 
  • A:  In every area except money, property and women.
  • Q:  Does each one have a separate safe for his money?
  • A:  Yes, except I have so much money I have two safes.
  •  Q: Isn’t there some danger that you and one of your partners could both be in a courtroom, representing opposing clients?
  • A: Damned if there isn’t and every now and then somebody takes in a case where the client is against the client of another guy in this office and there is hell to pay and no foolin’.
  • Q: Do you have one community storage room for your briefcases? Or does each one sit on his own case?
  • A: I do not understand this question. I sit on what you sit on only I do more of it than you do.”

While Welch said he hoped that Groucho would visit him in Boston, Welch advised him to keep it quiet because “a highly numerous and vocal collection of people in Boston thought and still think that hanging is too good for me.”

Welch indeed matched wits with Groucho.

Movie Actor

In 1959 Welch became a movie actor when Director Otto Preminger picked him to play Judge Weaver, a Michigan trial-court judge, in the film, Anatomy of a Murder, which is still an entertaining movie.

The basic plot concerns an Army Lieutenant, Frederick Manion  (played by Ben Gazarra), who is accused of murdering a man, Barney Quill, for allegedly raping his beautiful wife, Laura Manion (played by Lee Remick). Manion’s lawyer, Paul Biegler (played by Jimmy Stewart), is assisted by his friend, Parnell McCarthy (played by Paul O’Connell), an alcoholic lawyer. They oppose the district attorney, Mitch Lodwick, and a state assistant attorney general, Claude Dancer (played by George C. Scott). Judge Weaver (Joseph Welch) presides over the trial. Several interesting issues of legal ethics are posed by the trial, which is a subject for another day.

Joseph Welch as Judge Weaver
Jimmy Stewart as Biegler
Lee Remick as Laura Manion
Duke Ellington & Jimmy Stewart

Filmed in a small, apparently all white, county seat in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the movie has an enjoyable digression. Duke Ellington, the great jazz musician, appears in one scene as Pie-Eye, a musician playing the piano with a black jazz band, at a roadhouse. Joining him on the piano is the defense attorney (Jimmy Stewart), who is a jazz aficionado.

The movie received many Oscar nominations, but lost “Best Picture” to Ben-Hur while Stewart lost “Best Actor” to Charlton Heston in the latter movie.

During the filming, Welch became a good friend of John Voelker, the author of the film script and of the  novel of the same title and a fellow attorney and a former member of the Michigan Supreme Court. They discussed the possibility of Voelker’s assisting Welch in writing an autobiography, but that never happened. In their extensive correspondence over the last 18 months of Welch’s life, Welch compared his wordsmithing as “counterfeit” coins to Voelker’s “complete access to, if not ownership of, the First National Bank of Words.”

Law Firm Partner

Welch’s graciousness, so evident in the Army-McCarthy hearings, also was present in Welch as a law firm partner.

In 1952 the Hale and Dorr law firm was faced with an issue of whether it should make a claim on the estate of a deceased partner who had paid himself more than he was entitled to, i.e., who had embezzled law firm funds. The firm adopted Welch’s proposal to make a claim for one-half the amount. Said Welch, “Let him pay for his choice of life style. But because of the nature of the partnership and because we truly liked him at his best, let us forgive a half.”

In addition, presumably in the late1950’s Welch wrote a letter to his partners at Hale and Dorr, “This is like my will to you. I have lived a successful, rewarding and happy life. I believe that I owe the firm money rather than visa-versa. In any event, since my second wife does not need any money, any moneys owing to me by the firm upon my death should be paid to you [the partners], not to my family.”

Welch also prepared what he called an “office will:” It stated, “All the rest and residue and remainder of me as a lawyer I leave to all those in Hale and Dorr that I have loved. To a very large degree they . . . have made me what I am. Such success as I have attained I owe largely to them. I have lived my whole professional life in an office free from grief, envy, and jealousy. Few lawyers have been so blessed in their associations continually all through life. For the serenely happy life I have had with all of you, I say a simple and inadequate thank you.” Welch concluded: “this is my office will and is undated. The identity of the typist is to remain a secret. It is not witnessed. But even so—no fooling. Joseph N. Welch.”

The author in his years as a practicing lawyer in large law firms has never heard of anything like these gracious comments from a partner to his or her fellow partners.


Welch’s first wife, Judith Lyndon Welch, died in 1956, and he was remarried to Agnes Rodgers Brown Welch.

Welch died on October 6, 1960, just weeks before his 70th birthday.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Involvement in the Army-McCarthy Hearings

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Prior posts have examined the substance of the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, the performance of Joseph Welch, the Army’s lawyer, in the hearings, and the Army’s hiring of Welch for this purpose.  Now we look at the role of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in these events.

During the hearings, President Eisenhower maintained his public distance from the battle between Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Army. The President believed that any public criticism of McCarthy by the President would merely enhance the Senator’s publicity value without achieving any positive purpose and that it was the Senate’s constitutional responsibility, not the President’s, to curb the Senator.

George C. Marshall

Eisenhower did so despite having an intense dislike of McCarthy and his methods. This stemmed from the Senator’s past attacks on George C. Marshall, who was Eisenhower’s friend and Army colleague and who was the former Secretary of State in the Truman Administration. The dislike was exacerbated by McCarthy’s attacks on several of Eisenhower’s top-level nominees in 1953, the first year of the Eisenhower Administration, and by McCarthy’s investigation of the Army starting in 1953. Eisenhower said privately, “I just won’t get into a pissing contest with that skunk.”

We now know, however, that the President was active behind the scenes to fight McCarthy.

Though his Chief of Staff, Sherman Adams, Eisenhower selected Welch as the Army’s attorney. Before and during the hearings, privately within the White House, Eisenhower expressed his extreme displeasure with McCarthy and was active in various ways regarding the hearings.

Robert Stevens

Moreover, Eisenhower wanted to give McCarthy enough rope to hang himself even though the Army would suffer in the short run. When the initial hearings went badly for McCarthy, the Senator suggested that there be no more television coverage. Army Secretary Robert Stevens discussed this proposal with the President, who rejected the idea, saying, “Now we have the bastard right where we want him!” The proposal was rejected. Television coverage continued. McCarthy destroyed himself.

As another example of the “hidden hand” of the Eisenhower presidency, the President invited television-journalist, Edward R. Murrow, to the White House to congratulate him for his television program’s exposure of McCarthy’s methodology.

When the hearings were over, the Army’s lawyers, Joseph Welch and James St. Clair, had a private meeting at the White House with the President. The President congratulated them on their presentation of the Army’s case and agreed with Welch that the main effect of the hearings had been to expose McCarthy’s disgraceful tactics before a national audience and that this exposure would ultimately benefit the country.1[1]

[1] Subsequent posts will review Welch’s activities after the hearings and his background. I interviewed Fred Fisher and James St. Clair in 1986 and have reviewed many source materials that document the assertions in this post. If anyone wants to see the bibliography of these sources, I will do so in another post at the conclusion of this series. Just make such a request in a comment to this or the other posts in this series.  By the way, after the hearings, Welch and St. Clair also had a private meeting with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who had been one of Welch’s law school professors at Harvard.