Edward B. Burling’s Life-Long Friendship with Learned Hand

This series about the life of Edward B. (“Ned”) 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, another post about his 22 years as a Chicago attorney, 1895-1917, a post about his two years as a federal government attorney in Washington, D.C., 1917-1918 and another about his 48 years as a prominent private attorney in Washington D.C., 1919-1966.[1]

Friendship with Learned Hand

Learned Hand

Burling and Learned Hand met for the first time in their first year at Harvard Law School in 1891 and thereafter developed a life-long friendship while Hand was an eminent federal judge. [2] Burling once said, Hand was “much more intelligent [than other people and] appreciates me and understands me. [He is] … the only worthy recipient of my most intimate confessions.” These confessions included the following:

  • “One of my present theories is that it doesn’t pay to be good.”
  • “I know [in 1925] I do not want to practice law. I know I do not want to be a judge. I know I want to have pleasant, amiable, witty, gay people around me. I know I am tired of politics . . . . I want poetry, love, wine, interesting books, wide, comfortable bed with fresh bed clothing, looking out into gardens with bloomi ng trees . . . . I want to be moderately rich and have nice food and a smooth running automobile. . . . Somehow I feel I am going to get what I want.”
  • In 1959, Burling lamented that he was “afflicted with what you call  ‘frivolousness’ ” and that “this human pilgrimage seems to me really more awful, more terrifying and more pathetic than it does to most other people. I cannot bear to admit how terrible it really is. Therefore, I act in a rather silly fashion. I do the inappropriate thing. I offend the earnest, godfearing company. What I am apt to say sounds in bad taste.”

In 1925, Burling and Hand exchanged comments about the good life that were prompted by questions from a young man who was thinking about applying for a Rhodes Scholarship. Burling, advising the young man not to apply and instead to go into business, said that he believed four things were good: (1) “Freedom from compulsion by others, whether economic, social or political.” (2) “An active mind that keeps being interested in the changing panorama and its own operation.” (3) “Direct contact with nature.” (4) “The society of the few people of whom you are really fond.” This list, Burling added, did not include “success, power, achievement, position, least of all ‘service to humanity.'”  Hand disagreed, saying that the man should apply for the Scholarship and that “the life of the mind offers the most permanent and lasting satisfactions.”

Burling also shared with Hand observations about the political events of the day, including the following:

  • After the end of World War I Burling criticized the League of Nations as proposed by President Woodrow Wilson because it was not like the league Teddy Roosevelt had proposed, i.e., it was “not an association between nations freely entered into for the purpose of preserving boundaries established by tradition and usage”and instead was “an alliance for the purpose of perpetuating a military ascendancy over defeated nations.”
  • After the 1928 Republican Party convention, Burling said, “Never was a man of God [Herbert Hoover] more ably assisted by gentlemen who are not unknown in more worldly haunts.” Hoover “will smother Al. Smith–He is an extraordinary phenomenon. He will dominate American affairs for 8 years and after that will be the arbiter. . . . [You] will also see Hoover playing the game very successfully. . . . It will be the most powerful administration in the memory of man–and he will be a good party man. He will run the party. A man of God who is practical–you cant [sic] beat that combination.” (Emphasis added.) Apparently Burling had forgotten his inability to get along with Hoover at the U.S. food Administration in 1917. Ned also did not anticipate the Great Depression and FDR.
  • Soon after the start of what became World War II, Ned observed that “the thing for old men to do is to be as gay as we can be and just recognize that all things are subject to change. . . . There is something in us that craves permanence, finality; and yet we should be able to see that it is and always has been an idle dream. I am not in the least an optimist. . . . I think it is quite possible that for centuries the world will get worse, and that the world will be ruled by murder, treachery, brute force, but if that is the kind of animal man is, the thing to do is to recognize it and made such adjustments to it as are necessary. We always knew that in the past civilization had fallen before inroads of vigorous barbarians. What we did not foresee was that barbarians may organize in our very midst. But if that is what it is, we must deal with it as it is. . . .” Burling continued, “Although . . . society may proceed downward for centuries, I am rather inclined to think that will not be true. I rather think that this is like the eruption of a violent disease, and that the disease will subside. I think there must be many many people in the world who would like to surpress the armed murderer [Hitler?], and I believe that sometime they will be able to assert their power and that there will be an armed force controlled in the interest of a peaceful world that will keep the law breakers down.”
  • In the Spring of 1950 while touring Europe, Ned thought it not apparent “why the U.S.A. is first power in the world. Europe as a whole seems to me to have a sturdier population with more dependable qualities, the soil is fertile and it has all the natural resources. In the long run it may be that Europe will maintain its primacy.”
  • In the summer of 1952 Ned reacted to the presidential nominations of Adlai Stevenson and Dwight D. (“Ike”) Eisenhower. Stevenson, he believed, “will be hard to beat. His two speeches before the [Democratic] Convention were different from most political addresses. In the contest with Ike, he is going to be on his own ground. Ike is a novice. But in any case we are fortunate in having two such candidates.”
  • Ike and Nixon, of course, won the 1952 election, and four years later, Ned reflected on a re-run of the 1952 election.  He was most pleased by “the way Truman fell on his face [at the Democratic Convention]. He seemed to me like a bouncy monkey on a stick” or “a very cheap little ward politician.” Ned added, “The charm that Eisenhower’s personality exerts is an extraordinary phenomenon. But the Republican Party is relying too much on that. . . . After all, since 1952 the Democrats have been winning about every election–local and national. And [Adlai] Stevenson is a much abler campaigner that he was four years ago. And many, many people will not vote Republican because of Nixon.”
  • During the 1964 presidential campaign, Ned supported Lyndon Johnson, the Democrat, against Barry Goldwater, the Republican. At a White House dinner, Burling told Johnson that as the sole survivor of the Bull Moose Party, Burling could assure Johnson that he had the unanimous support of that Party.
  • Just after the inauguration of Lyndon Johnson as President in January 1965, one of Burling’s friends reported that at the annual dinner of one of their clubs, Richard Nixon had given a very witty “acceptance” speech for their satirical nomination of him for President. Nixon described himself as “the most over-nominated and under-elected man in history.” Nixon continued by saying that  he was opposed to the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren because at 73 the justice was an old man and instead should be retired by setting age 72 as a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court Justices and that “Bobby Kennedy was engaged in the process of becoming the father of his country.”

Conclusion

The above tidbits were discovered in my rummaging through Judge Learned Hand’s file of correspondence with Ned that was part of the Hand Papers at the Harvard Law School Library. When I finished reading the file, I was disappointed that most of the letters discussed what seemed like trivial matters and did not engage in intelligent discussions of the important issues of the day. I had forgotten that they were dear friends who enjoyed staying in touch and looking forward to  being together again.

The next and penultimate chapter in this account of the life of Burling will discuss the character of the man.

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[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] The definitive biography of the judge, Learned Hand: The Man and the Judge (2d ed., Oxford University Press, 2011), was written by Gerald Gunther (1927-2002), a prominent constitutional law scholar and professor at Stanford Law School.

 

 

 

 

Edward B. Burling, The  Prominent Washington, D.C. Attorney, 1919-1966

This series about the life of Edward B. (“Ned”) 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, another post about his 22 years as a Chicago attorney, 1895-1917, and a post about his two years as a federal government attorney in Washington, D.C., 1917-1918.[1]

Burling’s Private Legal Career in Washington, D.C.

In 1919, Burling co-founded the Covington & Burling law firm (C&B and n/k/a Covington) and thereafter served as its de facto managing partner. In the words of his partner and former U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, Ned helped to create “a practical organization, engaged in achieving practical ends, for real people, who were in real trouble.” To that end, Burling hired talented recent law school graduates, gave them responsibility as soon as possible and compensated them on the basis of merit, rather than seniority.” Burling also developed a personal practice focusing on corporate transactions and federal taxation.

C&B’s first big case shortly after its founding was a contingent fee case for the Kingdom of Norway against the United States for $16 million arising out of the U.S. taking of contracts for ship construction during World War I. For assistance, Burling hired his old law school friend, George Rublee, and the 28-year old Acheson, who had just finished a clerkship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Recognizing Acheson’s talents, Ned asked him to argue an important and difficult issue in the six-week hearing before the arbitral panel at the Peace Palace at The Hague. During the young Acheson’s argument, Burling slipped him a terse note: “Shut up.” Acheson, however, ignored this order and continued the argument, which lead to an important concession by the other side (the U.S.). The result was a 1922 award of nearly $US 12 million to Norway and a subsequent Norwegian knighthood for Burling.

Later Burling ironically pointed out that after Acheson made his very first court argument at the Peace Palace, the rest of his legal career would all be downhill. Fortunately for the law firm and the U.S. that was not true. Whenever Acheson was not holding high positions in the U.S. Government, he was practicing law at C&B. Through it all, Acheson and Ned had a strong friendship. Shortly after Acheson became Secretary of State in 1949, Burling wrote to him,

  • “I have been impressed by the growing kindness and consideration for others that you have shown. The absence of any feeling of importance is rare in one who has attained the high office that is yours. And at the same time a growing strength is apparent. Your head has always been better than other heads but once you were inclined to defer to more assertiveness. You show less of that trait. And you have no reason to yield your opinion when you have come to a considered conclusion. You have a right to believe that your conclusion is probably better than what will be offered by anyone else. So trust in yourself and go ahead and do a swell job for the world.”

A year later, Burling observed that Acheson was “one of our great men. Great, I mean, looking at the entire history of our country. I am greatly impressed by the way he has grown. He is a powerful figure.”

As noted in previous post about Burling and Katherine Graham, on October 3, 1996, Edward B. Burling died at age 96 in Washington Hospital Center. According to an editorial in his honor in the Post that Graham may have helped write,  Burling was the city’s “grand old man of the law [who from] the days when he was graduated from Harvard Law School in 1894, with one of the best records ever made there, he had been an outstanding legal scholar. And with the law as the base of his operations, he also  exerted a substantial influence in the fields of business, government and community relations.”

The editorial also stated that at the C&B law firm the “scholarly and retiring Mr. Burling, who made a specialty of cultivating and training brilliant young lawyers, was chiefly responsible  for keeping the firm’s performance  at a high level of professional excellence.”

Covington is still one of the world’s preeminent law firms with over 1,000 lawyers in 12 offices in the U.S. and around the world, and it remains dedicated to the founders’ values of excellence, tolerance, integrity and commitment to public service and professionalism [1]

Conclusion

We next will look at some of the highlights of Burling’s life-long friendship with Learned Hand.

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[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).

 

 

 

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]

Conclusion

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.

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[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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward B. Burling: The Chicago Attorney, 1895-1917

This series about the life of Edward B. (“Ned”) 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.[1]

The Chicago Attorney

After finishing Harvard Law School with such a distinguished record, Ned had high hopes of obtaining a job as a young lawyer and earning good money. But that did not happen, given the law firm practices of the day.

Instead in 1895 he started with a Chicago firm at barely more money than he had made in 1887 at the Eldora grocery store. He continued to engage in the private practice of law in Chicago plus serving as Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago through 1917, eventually making more money doing the typical work of most lawyers of the time and engaging in profitable real estate development in the Winnetka area on the North Shore.

He got married in 1902 to Louisa Green Peasley, the daughter of a wealthy and well connected Chicago businessman, and they had two sons, Edward Burling Jr. (1908) and John L. Burling (1912). But Ned was bored with his Chicago life.

In his efforts to leave Chicago, Burling in 1915 sought the Washington, D.C. position of General Counsel of the then new Federal Trade Commission with the support of Louis D. Brandeis, then a practicing Boston attorney, and Cyrus McCormick, the son of the inventor of the grain reaper and the owner of the International Harvester Company. But Ned did not receive the appointment and thus remained in Chicago for the next two  years.

During his Chicago years, however, Burling got a taste of politics. In 1896 he was a spectator at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to hear William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, and in 1912 Burling was active in the Bull Moose Party that nominated Theodore Roosevelt for President. His allegiance to “the Rough Rider” persisted. In 1921, he told Learned Hand that Ned agreed “with everything that T.R. ever said” on political subjects, and throughout his life Ned often joked that he was  that Party’s sole survivor.

In the summer of 1911 Burling and his family spent the summer at the Cornish Colony in Cornish/Plainfield, New Hampshire and later bought a summer home in the Colony where they went every summer. It was a gathering place for artists, musicians, writers, journalists, lawyers and businessmen, including Judge Learned Hand (Ned’s great friend), Ethel Barrymore and President Woodrow Wilson.

Shortly before Burling left Chicago in 1917, he made an investment that proved to be one of the most important events in his life. He started a small surplus trading company that eventually became one of the largest metal-cutting tool manufacturers in the U.S.[1]

Conclusion

The next chapter of this recounting of the life of Burling will cover his two years as a federal government attorney in Washington, D.C.

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[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).

 

 

Edward B. Burling’s Years at Harvard University, 1890-1894

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. Now we look at his four years at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1]

 Harvard College, 1890-91

For the  academic year, 1890-91, a wealthy relative (Perkins Bass) paid for Ned (and his brother James) to attend Harvard College, where they each earned another B.A. degree in 1891. Again Ned worked hard at his courses, earned good marks and made no friends.

Harvard Law School, 1891-94

In the Fall of 1891, at the suggestion, and again with the financial assistance, of Perkins Bass, Ned started at the Harvard Law School. The three years there, in contrast to his other years of higher education, were “very happy, satisfactory.” He did very well in his classes and was a member of the Harvard Law Review, finishing with “highest honors” and a LL. B. degree in 1894. Moreover, Ned became good friends with classmates, especially with Learned and Augustus Hand, both of whom became noted federal judges, and with George Rublee, who became a public-spirited U.S. lawyer who involved himself with state and national political reform during the Progressive Era (1910-1918) and with international affairs from 1917 to 1945.

Immediately after law school, Perkins Bass financed a nine-month tour of Europe for Ned to accompany one of the Bass sons. Later Ned commented that the trip turned out to be a handicap or burden, rather than a blessing, because it exposed him to the glamorous life of the wealthy and “diverted my attention from my main undertaking, which was to earn a living.”  As that old song goes, “How are you going to keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree [Paris]?”

Conclusion

The next installment of the Burling saga will discuss his years as a Chicago attorney, 1895-1917.

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[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). A subsequent post will discuss Burling’s life-long friendship with Learned Hand.

 

 

 

 

 

Edward B. Burling’s Early Years in Iowa, 1870-1890

Edward B. Burling (known familiarly as “Ned”) had a distinguished career as a prominent lawyer in Washington, D.C. and as we saw in a prior post was a friend of Katherine Graham, the owner and publisher of the Washington Post, whom Merl Streep played in the current film “The Post.”

Now we commence a chronological examination of Burling’s life. This first installment looks at his humble and modest early years in Iowa. [1]

Eldora, Iowa, 1870-87

Burling was born in the small, frontier village of Eldora, Iowa in 1870, during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant and just five years after the end of the U.S. Civil War, and Ned grew up there in very limited circumstances.[2]

His father, Edward Burling, after his clothing store went bankrupt, apparently never did much work while Ned’s mother, Lucy Burnham Burling, worked hard to raise four children and to send all of them to college, three to Grinnell– James P. (Class, 1889), Ned (Class, 1890) and Helen (Class, 1895). [3]

Thereafter Ned did not forget Eldora. He built a house in the town for his mother in the early 20th century and afterwards returned to visit her several times a year. The surrounding countryside, he said, “is lovely to look at . . . and is the country my eyes first rested on. And that always makes a difference.”

Ned carried a life-long love for his mother and hostility towards his father, who also was named Edward. The son even said, “Meeting him [his father] was a great misfortune for my mother,” who after marrying his father was “very poor.” But having “a ne’er-do-well father,” Ned often said, meant that “he had no psychoses and no omnibrooding [sic] presence to oppress.” [1] To the surprise of this author, Ned apparently never expressed remorse over his not having reconciled with his father before the latter’s death in 1907.

Although Ned’s Burling family is regarded as a major American family whose origins in America go back to the late 17th century, Ned’s dislike of his father carried over to all his Burling ancestors, in contrast to his mother’s family, the Burnhams. As Ned said, “The Burlings, it always seemed to me, were shallow, showy, pleasant, agreeable, irresponsible. The Burnhams were the opposite in every respect, careful, prudent, earnest, intelligent, honorable, high minded.”

This personal background undoubtedly underlay Ned’s  rejecting Grinnell College President Howard Bowen’s suggestion that the Library be named after the successful lawyer alum himself who had made the  major financial contribution for the new library in 1959-60. Instead Burling insisted that it be named in honor of his mother without any mention of his father. Perhaps Ned secretly contemplated having the Library named “The Burnham Library.”

Ned claimed that his concern for his mother’s poverty inspired him at an early age to earn money and that after the age of 14 he always paid for his own board. As a teenager he got a job at an Eldora grocery store where he soon learned finance and human nature, years he later described after all of his successes in law as “the most important years of my life.”

Grinnell, Iowa, 1887-1890

It, therefore, was with great reluctance that Ned left Eldora and the promise of a job with an express company to go to another small Iowa town, Grinnell, at his mother’s insistence that he obtain a college education.[4]

Because of the inadequacies of his Eldora 8th grade education, he first had to attend the Grinnell Academy, completing in one year its secondary-school course of three years of Latin and one year of Greek.

In his subsequent desire to finish college as soon as possible in order to start making money again, Burling finished his college courses in two years, earning a B.A. in 1890. He did not “enjoy any part of the three years [at Grinnell]. I was poor, inadequately fed, with a blotched complexion, badly dressed, unattractive to the girls.”  He claimed not to have participated in any extracurricular activities, yet the college annuals list him as being a member of the Grinnell Institute (men’s literary society) and the Critical Association (classical studies group) and having the role of Oedipus Rex in a production of that play.[2] His downplaying the influence of Grinnell is belied by his later admission that he had first “found himself” at Grinnell.

The Academy and the College in those years, 1887-90, were very small. Fewer than 200 students attended the Academy; fewer than 300, the College. Only four buildings (Alumni Hall, Blair Hall, Chicago Hall and Goodnow Hall) served the students with one dormitory for women (Ladies Boarding Hall). Other women and the men had to live in private boarding houses.

 Conclusion

The next installment of the Burling saga will move to Massachusetts and Ned’s five years at Harvard’s  College and Law School.

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[1] The references for this post can be found in the blogger’s “Edward Burnham Burling: The College’s Quiet Benefactor” (April 2008), a copy of which is in Grinnell College’s Special Collections and Archives. https://www.grinnell.edu/libraries/archives  One of the sources is now online: Jane Thompson-Stahr, The Burling Books: Ancestors and Descendants of Edward and Grace Burling, Quakers 1600-2000] (Vol. I)I(2001).

[2] In 1870, the year of Burling’s birth, Eldora’s population was 1,268, and its population peak of 3,553 occurred in 1940.   The town’s official website is https://www.eldoraiowa.com.

[3] James P. Burling also was a distinguished Grinnell and Harvard graduate; he became a Congregational minister and received a Grinnell honorary D.D. in 1914. (Burling Books at 901-05.) Two of his children were also Grinnell alums– F. Temple Burling (Class, 1917) and Helen Burling Kronwall (Class, 1920)–as were two grandchildren–James P. Burling II (Class, 1952) and Nicholas B. Kronwall (Class, 1957)–and one great-grandchild–F. Temple Burling (Class, 1985). (Burling Books at 905, 1079-81, 1207-09. Yet Brother Ned apparently ignored James’ happy home life while disparaging James as unenergetic and unambitious. (Burling Books at 902.)

[4] The population of the town of Grinnell, 1897-1890, was approximately 3,000. It now has an estimated population of approximately 9,000.

Katherine Graham’s Connections with Harry Hopkins and Edward B. Burling

As the owner and publisher of the Washington Post in the current move, “The Post,” Katherine Graham, as played by Meryl Streep, is an important participant in the real-life drama of the Post’s publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers. The film also has glimpses of her involvement in the Washington social scene, including  friendships with John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy OnassisRobert F. KennedyLyndon B. JohnsonRobert McNamaraHenry KissingerRonald Reagan, and Nancy Reagan among many others. Below are photographs of Graham herself and of Meryl Street as Graham.

Graham’s memoir, Personal History from 1997, mentions her connections in 1941 with Harry Hopkins (HH) and Edward Burling, both Grinnell College alums.[1] Their photographs are below.

Harry Hopkins
Edward B. Burling

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Preparation for War, 1941

In or about late May 1941 Katherine’s husband, Phillip (“Phil”) Graham, was finishing clerkships for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stanley F. Reed (1939-40) and Felix Frankfurter (1940-41) and finding his next position in the midst of the increasing threat of the U.S.’ becoming involved in what became World War Ii. In that search Phil met with Robert Lovett, then Assistant Secretary of War for Air, who suggested Phil see about working for HH, who was President Roosevelt’s principal assistant.

That June Phil met with HH, who was in failing health, at his bedroom/office in the White House. HH immediately asked, “Why the hell aren’t you in the Army?” Phil responded that the Head of Naval Intelligence had advised him to wait a few months before deciding how to become directly involved in the war effort. Eventually HH suggested that Phil talk with Oscar Cox about working for him at the Lend-Lease Administration while spending three days a week with HH.

Phil already had tentative arrangements to work for Cox and did so shortly thereafter. Cox said that working directly for HH probably would not have worked out. According to Cox, “HH was a peculiar cuss, worked very irregularly, and probably would never get a real assistant.”

While at Lend-Lease, apparently in August 1941, Phil (age 26) and Joe Rauh, Jr.,(age 29), the latter of whom later became a prominent civil rights lawyer, sent a memo to President Roosevelt advising immediate and significant increases in U.S. production of bombers for the war. HH immediately responded: “You shouldn’t bother the President with things like this and besides it isn’t true.” Phil and Joe were worried that their Washington careers were over so they went to see Bob Nathan, director of research at the Office of Production Management and learned that U.S. production of bombers was even worse than they had thought.

That same summer, on a Sunday afternoon, Phil and Katherine went for lunch at the Virginia log cabin owned by Burling. Also present was Robert Patterson, the Undersecretary of War, and according to Katherine’s memoir, “the arguments on preparedness were being waged at the top of everyone’s lungs. Of course, I worried that Patterson was unused to this mode of discourse and would think that everyone arguing was insane, and when we got home I told Phil that their manners in front of this august figure had been appalling.” (Emphasis added.) Whose manners was she referencing? The Burlings? Everyone at the gathering except for Mr. Patterson?

Personal Involvement with Mr. Burling

In the Fall of 1959 while attending the Washington Semester at American University  I called Mr. Burling to thank him for his generous donation to Grinnell College for its new library that is named in honor of his mother.  At his invitation, I joined him at his law firm for an enjoyable conversation over coffee and then after being picked up by his personal chauffeur, at his Cabin on a Sunday afternoon. Little did I know at the time that such a Sunday afternoon had become a famous Washington institution. I do not recall our conversations other than my talking about my studies at Grinnell and AU, but I do remember how Burling, then 89 years old and clad in a wool plaid shirt, vigorously chopped wood on a beautiful fall afternoon. (Now I wish I had been journaling to document these meetings.)

 Edward Burling’s Death[2]

On October 3, 1996, Edward B. Burling died at age 96 in Washington Hospital Center. According to an editorial in his honor in the Post that Graham may have helped write,  Burling’s “greatest diversion was a primitive log cabin that he built some 40 years ago on the shore of the Potomac near McLean. During the ‘30s and ‘40’s the cabin served as a meeting place for scores of scholars and diplomats and leaders. ‘They would gather to chop wood, eat well, and settle the problems of the world,’” said one of his law partners.

His obituary in the Post also mentioned that his introduction to politics came when he sat on a rafter at the 1896 Chicago convention of the Democratic Party and heard William Jennings Bryan deliver his famous “Cross of Gold” speech. Later Burling supported Teddy Roosevelt’s presidential candidacy in 1912 for the Progressive Party (a/k/a the Bull Moose Party), and subsequently Burling often described himself as the sole survivor of that Party. A few months after the end of World War I, Burling co-founded what became the prominent Covington & Burling (“C&B”) law firm (n/k/a Covington). He strongly opposed FDR’s New Deal and often joked that the law firm’s success was due to those measures. He was a lifelong Republican yet was a strong supporter of Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election against Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee.

The very unusual Post editorial about Burling that was simply entitled “Edward B. Burling” said he was the city’s “grand old man of the law [who from] the days when he was graduated from Harvard Law School in 1894, with one of the best records ever made there, he had been an outstanding legal scholar. And with the law as the base of his operations, he also  exerted a substantial influence in the fields of business, government and community relations.”

The editorial also stated that at the C&B law firm the “scholarly and retiring Mr. Burling, who made a specialty of cultivating and training brilliant young lawyers, was chiefly responsible  for keeping the firm’s performance  at a high level of professional excellence.”

The Burling cabin captured further comment in the editorial.  “For many years his cabin on the Potomac . . . was a center of cerebral ferment on  Sunday afternoons. Following a morning tramp through the woods and a hearty meal he loved to join in lively debate with judges, lawyers, government officials and others in the quiet surroundings of ‘The Cabin.’ These sessions will long be remembered by a vast number of his associates and friends in high places.”  The conclusion of the  editorial stated, “His great achievement was not merely longevity, but a sustained flow of energy and ideas and a passionate interest in the problems of humanity. His monument is already built in the minds of his associates and in the annals of this world observation post.”

Conclusion

Inspired by my brief encounter with Mr. Burling, his generosity to our alma mater Grinnell College and my interest in history, I later conducted research about him and wrote his biographical sketch in The Yale Biographical  Dictionary of American Law (p. 85) and a short article about him for The Grinnell Magazine and a longer essay that is on file with the College’s Archives.[3] These matters will be explored in  subsequent posts.

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[1] Katherine Graham, Personal History at 133-35 (Knopf, 1997).

[2] Obituary, Edward F. [sic] Burling, dies at 96; Founder of District Law Firm, Wash. Post, p. B4 (Oct. 4, 1966); Editorial, Edward B. Burling, Wash. Post (Oct. 5, 1966).

[3]  Edward Burnham Burling, Grinnell’s Quiet Benefactor, Grinnell Magazine, Summer 2009, at 21; 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). The last of these has citations to the sources.