Giving Thanks for Jazz Musicians

I gave thanks to the many jazz musicians who have enriched my life over the years. Here are comments about those who have been most important for me.

Herbie Hancock[1]

As a student at Grinnell College, 1957-61, I started to become acquainted with jazz. This introduction was provided by a fellow Grinnell student, Herbie Hancock, who organized several jazz combos that gave concerts during his time at the College. This period is discussed in his memoir, Possibilities.

My sophomore year, Hancock frequently came to the floor of my residence hall to spend time listening to Miles Davis records on the high-fi of my classmate, John Scott, while John played along on his trumpet. The next year on campus John was the trumpeter in the Herbie Hancock Quintet, which played three pieces by John and another three that the two of them together had composed. At the time, Herbie regarded this as the best group he had formed at the College.

Immediately after leaving Grinnell, Herbie started a career as a professional jazz artist that has proved to be immensely successful and influential, and I started to collect many of his CDs. Now I have at least the following in my collection: Taki’ Off (1962); Maiden Voyage (1965); Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner (1976); The Piano (1979); Quartet (with Wynton Marsalis, Ron Carter & Tony Williams) (1982); A Tribute to Miles (1994); Herbie Hancock Quartet Live (1994); The New Standard (1996); Gershwin’s World (1998); Directions in Music (with Michael Brecker & Roy Hargrove) (2002); Possibilities (2005); River: the joni letters (2007); and The Imagine Project (2010).

Herbie’s career has gone through many different phases, and I have to confess that his earliest phase with Taki’ Off and Maiden Voyage is my favorite. In recent years I have attended his concerts at the Minnesota Zoo and the University of Arizona in Tucson, and although the music is still amazing, I do not like this style as well.

Hancock has received many well-deserved awards, including the following: UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador (2011); Kennedy Center Honors Award (2013); Harvard University’s Charles Elliot Norton Professor of Poetry (2014), when he gave the Norton Lecture, “The Ethics of Jazz;” and honorary degrees from Washington University in St. Louis (2015) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2018).

Miles Davis[2]

In 1963, only a few years after leaving Grinnell, Herbie joined the Miles Davis combo where he remained until 1968, and I started to learn about, and like, Miles’ music. My favorite Miles’ album, Kind of Blue, was recorded in 1959 before Herbie joined the combo; it features saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. This album “has been regarded by many critics as the greatest jazz record, Davis’s masterpiece, and one of the best albums of all time. Its influence on music, including jazz, rock and classical genres, has led writers to also deem it one of the most influential albums ever recorded.” And it is one of the best-selling jazz records of all time.

Dave Brubeck[3]

Dave Brubeck was popular when I was in college although I do not recall his group playing at Grinnell during those years.

According to John Edward Hasse, curator emeritus of American music at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, “In the 1950s, it seemed that Brubeck was everywhere—on college campuses and world stages, on records, radio and TV—becoming a household name. He forged a singular trail in American culture as a musical magnet, popular pianist, and—his supreme calling—composer. . . . In 1958, his quartet jelled as the now-classic foursome—the tightest of his career—with the supremely lyrical alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, the versatile drummer Joe Morello, and the solid bassist Eugene Wright.” (One of the reasons I especially liked Brubeck’s group was Desmond’s artistry on the saxophone, which I had played in my high-school band.)

Hasse continues. Before a “1958 concert in Istanbul, Brubeck encountered a folk dance in an unfamiliar rhythm. ‘I was on my way to a radio station to be interviewed in Turkey,” said Brubeck . . . . There were street musicians playing in 9/8.’ That unfamiliar beat inspired him to compose Blue Rondo à la Turk around the rhythm. His recording of it works magically, in part because of a contrast: Brubeck’s firm piano playing grounds the performance, while Desmond’s ethereal lines lift it skyward.” (This is another of my favorites.)

Brubeck’s Time Out album jacket says, “Blue Rondo A La Turk plunges straight into the most jazz-remote time signature, 9/8, grouped not in the usual form (3-3-3) but 2-2-2-3. When the gusty opening section gives way to a more familiar jazz beat, the three eighth-notes have become equivalent to one quarter-note, and an alternating 9/8-4/4 time leads into a fine solo by Paul Desmond. Dave follows, with a characteristically neat transition into the heavy block chords which are a familiar facet of his style, and before long Rondo A La Turk is a stamping, shouting blues.. Later the tension is dropped deliberately for Paul’s re-entry, and for the alternate double-bars of 9- and 4- time, which heralds the returning theme. The whole piece is in classical rondo form.”

My other favorite tune on this album isTake Five,” which is described in the jacket as a “Desmond composition in 5-4, one of the most defiant time signatures in all music, for performer and listener alike. Conscious of how easily the listener can lose his way in a quintuple rhythm, Dave plays a constant vamp figure throughout, maintaining it even under Joe Morello’s drum solo. . . . “Take Five really swings.”

To the surprise of all, the Time Out album “became a bestseller, earning a gold record, and spawning a radio hit with Desmond’s Take Five.” As Hasse says, this was the “first jazz album to sell one million copies, Time Out was a breakthrough—all-new material in meters that challenged listeners.”

More generally, Brubeck by “eschewing the prevailing bebop style, . . . developed his own piano sound, marked by block chords, a solid touch, polyrhythms, polytonality (harmonies in two different keys at the same time), and experiment. His music and career sparked frequent controversy—over his classicism, sense of swing, and commercial success. Yet, as a warm and gracious performer, he made many friends for modern jazz.”

The Modern Jazz Quartet[4]

 Another favorite jazz group of mine is The Modern Jazz Quartet. I have the group’s CD’s: La Ronde Suite (2001);; Paul Desmond with the Modern Jazz Quartet in Concert at Town Hall, N.Y.C. (1990); and Modern Jazz Quartet for Ellington (1988).

Keith Jarrett[5]

The piano playing of Keith Jarrett also has appealed to me, and I was shocked and saddened recently to learn that his last concert was in February 2017 at Carnegie Hall. That concert was previewed by the New York Times: “The regnant solo piano improviser of the last 50 years, Mr. Jarrett recently released ‘A Multitude of Angels,’ a set of four unaccompanied concert recordings. With a lapidary touch, Mr. Jarrett ranges from Romantic pastiche to Coplandesque major harmonies to runs of boisterous swing, often in one free improvisation. He is known for unsportsmanlike behavior on the bandstand (coughs from the audience have led him to stop a concert halfway through). But his rare concerts are worth attending just the same.”

That 2017 concert was opened by Jarrett’s “indignant speech on the political situation [the recent inauguration of Donald Trump] and . . .  relentless [political] commentary throughout the concert. He ended by thanking the audience for bringing him to tears.”

His next concerts were cancelled for “unspecified health reasons” and thereafter he has not had any other concerts. Only this October did he reveal that he had suffered strokes in February and May 2018 that had paralyzed him and left him unable to play the piano. Thus, he is likely never to be able to play the piano again. As he recently told a journalist, “But when I hear two-handed piano music, it’s very frustrating, in a physical way. If I even hear Schubert, or something played softly, that’s enough for me. Because I know that I couldn’t do that. And I’m not expected to recover that. The most I’m expected to recover in my left hand is possibly the ability to hold a cup in it. So it’s not a ‘shoot the piano player’ thing. It’s: I already got shot.”

Jarrett’s recording of The Koln Concert in 1975 in Koln, Germany, is “a sonorous, mesmerizing landmark that still stands as one of the best-selling solo piano albums ever made.”

In 1998 Jarrett rejoined DeJohnette and the virtuoso bassist Gary Peacock for a concert, the recording of which was released a decade later as After the Fall that captures a spirit of joyous reunion.

Other Jazz Favorites

 Other jazz favorites of mine include Gary Burton (vibraphone), Chick Corea (piano), Duke Ellington (composer, arranger, jazz orchestra leader, pianist), Bill Frissell (guitar), Nachito Herrera (Cuban pianist, combo leader and friend), Stan Kenton (pianist, composer, arranger and band leader), Gonzalo Rubalcabo (Cuban pianist) and Omar Sosa (Cuban pianist).

Conclusion

A prior post mentioned my pleasure at listening to pieces by Vivaldi and Rubinstein on SeriusXM’s “Symphony Hall” as I was driving on errands. My other favorite channel on SeriusXM for such excursions is “Real Jazz” and when it plays my favorite Hancock and Brubeck tunes, I love to hum along and even match their unusual rhythms.

Thank you to all of the jazz musicians who have make this possible. I also must express my concern for all the orchestral and jazz musicians who have been and still are being prevented by the COVID-19 pandemic from public performances (except for smaller group, usually free, virtual concerts) and from earning income to support themselves and their loved ones. All lovers of these forms of music should include them in charitable giving.

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[1] ‘Cool’ Five Plays Oldies, Moderns, [Grinnell] Scarlett & Black at 3 (April 22, 1960); Hancock, Possibilities a 24-29, 40, 72, 120, 146   (Viking Books 2014); Herbie Hancock [Biography], Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz; Herbie Hancock, Wikipedia; Herbie Hancock discography, Wikipedia; Wendell, Experiencing Herbie Hancock (Rowman & Littlefield 2018).

[2] Miles Davis, Wikipedia; Kind of Blue, Wikipedia; Miles Davis Discography, Wikipedia.

[3] Hasse, Dave Brubeck, Beyond ‘Take Five,’ W.S.J. (Nov. 28, 2020); Clark, Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time (DeCapo Press 2020).

[4] Modern Jazz Quartet, Wikipedia. Modern Jazz Quartet Albums, discogs.org.

[5] Chinen, Keith Jarrett Confronts a Future Without the Piano, N.Y. Times (Oct. 21, 2020); Pop, Rock and Jazz in NYC This Week, N.Y. Times (Feb. 8, 2017); Chinen, Keith Jarrett Commemorates a Great Night in Newark, and a Band’s Legacy, on ‘After the Fall,’ WBGO.org (Feb. 28, 2028). I still have the following Keith Jarrett CD’s: Works (ECM 1985); Bye Bye Blackbird (1991)(with Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnnette); La Scala (1995); The Melody At Night With You (1998); Inside Out (2001)(with Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnnette); The Out-of-Towners (2001)(with Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette); Radiance (2002); Jasmine (2007)(with Charlie Haden).

Election Message from James H. Lowry

James H. Lowry, a Grinnell College classmate (1961), friend, and accomplished social activist and business executive, has written the following inspiring election message which he asked me to share. (Here is his biography in The History Makers (the nation’s largest African-American video oral history collection).

“As we near Election Day 2020, I’ve been reflecting on my own relationship with politics and the importance of exercising perhaps our most sacred civic duty, voting. In my new book, Change Agent: A Life Dedicated to Creating Wealth for Minorities, I recount how early on in my life and career I was inspired by politics. From kitchen table talks with my mother, Camille, and big brother Bill about who she wanted to vote for, witnessing the passing of Civil Rights legislation and policy under the Kennedy Administration, and working closely with Senator Robert Kennedy to implement the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in 1967, I saw the benefits and possibilities of politics from the very beginning. But even then, I knew the fight was just beginning.”

“Under the Obama administration, I felt immense pride in the Claims Resolution Act, granting payouts to BIPOC farmers, and the Fair Sentencing Act that served to reduce incarceration disparities. But still I knew, the fight was just beginning.”

“In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that mandated states to secure federal permission before changing voting laws or practices. Now, in 2020, as our country continues to grapples with a global pandemic thats requiring most Americans to vote from home, we’ve seen states refuse mail in ballots to their electorates, our national postal service gutted under political motivations, false ballot dropboxes in California, and a president that uses every platform he has to sow division while simultaneously undermining our democracy by questioning the legitimacy of our electoral process.”

“As we draw nearer to potentially the most consequential election of our lifetimes, I implore you to make a plan! Whether it be taking your mail-in ballot to a ballot drop box today, going in person early between now and Nov 2nd, or taking the necessary precautions to keep you and your family safe on Election Day, make sure you use your ballot and voice are heard! The fight isn’t over, it is just beginning!”

“If you’re unsure what steps you need to make your voting plan, go to www.vote.org and begin the process of making your voice heard! We’re all counting on us to win this fight!”

 

 

 

Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery 

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) recently has been criticizing The 1619 Project ‘of the New York Times. The Project, he said, was “a racially divisive, revisionist account . . . that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which the nation was founded” although slavery “was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.”[1] The latter comment was made by the Senator in a recent interview by Tucker Carlson of FoxNews, in which Cotton claimed to draw support from prominent American historians, one of whom was Sean Wilentz of Princeton University.

Wilentz’ Response to Cotton[2]

Although four other American historians and I have “fundamental publicized objections to the project, . . . these in no way mitigate Cotton’s serious misrepresentations of the historical record for evident political gain.”

“Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has introduced a bill in Congress that would punish school districts that use The New York Times’s 1619 Project in their curriculum by withholding federal funding. In so doing, he announced in a newspaper interview that America’s schoolchildren need to learn that the nation’s Founders said slavery ‘was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.’ His statement is as preposterous as it is false: presuming to clarify American history, Cotton has grievously distorted it.”

“None of the delegates who framed the Constitution in 1787 called slavery a ‘necessary evil.’ Some of them called slavery an evil, but not a necessary one. Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, for example, declared to the Constitutional Convention that he would ‘never concur in upholding domestic slavery,’ that ‘nefarious institution’ based on ‘the most cruel bondages’—’the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.’ The great majority of the Framers joined Morris in fighting to ensure that slavery would be excluded from national law.”

“James Madison, the most influential delegate at the convention, explicitly repudiated the idea of building the union on slavery, stating that it would be ‘wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.’ Though himself a slaveholder, Madison wanted to guarantee that the Constitution, while it might tolerate slavery in the states where it existed, would neither enshrine human bondage in national law nor recognize it as legitimate.”

“A minority of the Framers, from the lower South, disagreed, but they believed slavery was no evil at all. ‘If slavery be wrong,’ Charles Pinckney of South Carolina declared, ‘it is justified by the example of all the world.’ Far from a necessary evil, Pinckney thought slavery was a necessary good, as it had been for time immemorial. ‘In all ages,’ he claimed, ‘one half of mankind have been slaves.’”

“There was, to be sure, one delegate who resembled Senator Cotton’s description: Pinckney’s cousin, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, also from South Carolina. At one point in the convention debates, a perturbed Cotesworth Pinckney registered a complaint, seeming to desire, Madison noted, ‘that some provision should be included in favor of property in slaves.’ That would have based the Union firmly on the constitutional right of slavery. And Cotesworth Pinckney did come close to calling slavery a necessary evil, noting that without it the Carolina economy could not survive (which was technically correct). But the convention majority, far from agreeing with anything he said, dismissed his objection out of hand.”

“The Constitution was hardly an antislavery document. Through fierce debates and by means of backroom deals, the lower South slaveholders managed to win compromises that offered some protection to slavery in the states: the notorious three-fifths clause giving an allotment of House seats and Electoral College votes based on a partial counting of enslaved persons; a twenty-year delay in authorizing Congress to abolish the nation’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade; and a fugitive slave clause. Most importantly, the Constitution by implication barred the new federal government from directly interfering with slavery in the states where it already existed.”

“But neither did the Constitution, as Senator Cotton wrongly claims, establish slavery as necessary to the Union. It’s true that a few proslavery delegates threatened that their states would refuse to join the Union unless their demands were met. This occurred with particular force with regard to the Atlantic slave trade. A majority of convention delegates wanted to empower the national government to abolish the horrific trade, striking the first blow against it anywhere in the Atlantic world in the name of a sovereign state. Appalled, the lower South delegates, led by South Carolina’s oligarchs, threatened to bolt if the convention touched the slave trade in any way, but the majority called their bluff.”

“In the end, the proslavery delegates carved out the compromise that prevented abolishing the trade until 1808, salvaging a significant concession, though there could be little doubt that the trade was doomed. Even with this compromise, the leading Pennsylvania abolitionist Benjamin Rush hailed the slave trade clause as ‘a great point obtained from the Southern States.’ His fellow Pennsylvanian and a delegate to convention, James Wilson, went so far as to say that the Constitution laid ‘the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country.’”

“History, of course, proved Wilson wrong—but not completely wrong. With the rise of the cotton economy, based on the invention of the cotton gin, which Wilson could not have foreseen, American slavery was far from stymied, but grew to become the mightiest and most expansive slavery regime on earth, engulfing further territories—including Cotton’s own Arkansas.”

“The Framers’ compromises over slavery had little to do with it, however. The problem was not primarily constitutional but political: so long as a substantial number of Northerners remained either complacent about slavery’s future, indifferent to the institution’s oppression, or complicit in the growth of the new cotton kingdom, the Constitution would permit the spread of human bondage.”

“Even so, in fact, the Constitution contained powerful antislavery potential. By refusing to recognize slavery in national law, the Framers gave the national government the power to regulate or ban slavery in areas under its purview, notably the national territories not yet constituted as separate states. The same year that the Framers met, the existing Congress banned slavery from the existing territories north of the Ohio River under the Northwest Ordinance, a measure reflected in the Constitution, which the new Congress quickly affirmed when it met in 1789. Later antislavery champions, including Abraham Lincoln, always considered the Northwest Ordinance to be organic to the Constitution; proslavery advocates came to regard it as an illegitimate nullity.”

“In time, as antislavery sentiment built in the North, the condition of slavery in the territories and in connection with the admission of new states became the major flashpoint of conflict, from the Missouri crisis of 1819–1821 to the guerrilla warfare of ‘Bleeding Kansas.’ Proslavery champions like John C. Calhoun of South Carolina invented an argument that denied the Congress any power over slavery in the territories; Lincoln and his fellow Republicans refuted that argument. And upon Lincoln’s election as president in 1860, this constitutional issue was enough to spark the secession that led to the Civil War and Emancipation.”

Senator Cotton has some mistaken things to say about that history, too. The Framers, he asserts, built the Constitution ‘in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.’ This absurdly imputes to the Framers powers of clairvoyance. Although Lincoln sometimes suggested that the Framers had purposefully designed slavery’s abolition—even Lincoln could wishfully exaggerate—the Constitution hardly ensured slavery’s doom. It took Lincoln’s and the antislavery Republicans’ concerted political efforts to vindicate the Constitution’s antislavery elements that set the stage for what Lincoln in his ‘House Divided’ speech of 1858 called ‘ultimate extinction.’”

“Far from establishing a Union based on what Senator Cotton calls the ‘necessary evil’ of slavery, the Founders fought bitterly over human enslavement, producing a document that gave slavery some protection even as it denied slavery national status and gave the federal government the power to restrict its growth—and so hasten its demise. The slaveholders, unable to abide that power, eventually seceded in an effort to form a new slaveholders’ republic, with a new Constitution built entirely on slavery: its cornerstone, as the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declaimed, was ‘the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.’”

“As far as a Union founded on the ‘necessary evil’ of slavery is concerned, Cotton appears unaware of how profoundly the Constitution of the United States of America differed from that of the Confederate States of America.”

Wilentz’ Longer Account of the U.S. History of Slavery[3]

In November 2019, Wilentz, delivering the fourth annual Lecture in honor of Philip Roth, drew upon the novelist’s insight that history was “the relentless unfolding of the unforeseen” or “where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page [of history] as inevitable.” For “the centrality of slavery to American history,” Wilentz says, “the United States was defined, from the start, neither by American slavery alone or by American antislavery but in their conflict” and “few things if any in modern history were more unexpected than the eradication of human bondage in the Atlantic world.”

This was so even though “the ideals that propelled the American Revolution shared crucial origins with the ideals that propelled antislavery. Yet American slavery did not die out as most expected” with “revolutionary America” as a “hotbed of antislavery politics.” In fact, slavery “expanded, turning the American South into the most dynamic and ambitious slavery regime in the world” with “slaveowners [stiffening ] their resolve to affirm their property rights in human beings” and coming “perilously close to establishing an American empire of slavery.”

Conclusion

These ideas of Wilentz help us understand why he and the other four prominent American historians dissented from at least one of the major premises of The Project of 1619, which will be discussed in a future post.[4]

Although I was a history major many years ago at Grinnell College, I do not have the intimate knowledge of the slavery and antislavery conflicts that are discussed by Professor Welentz. Nevertheless, I wonder whether he is overreacting to Senator Cotton’s comment.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia convened in 1787 to consider whether and how to amend the existing Articles of Confederation after Alexander Hamilton’s report on the  unsuccessful attempt to do so at the Annapolis Conference of 1786 coupled with his forceful criticism of those Articles and recommendation of the calling of a convention to “render the constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the union.”[5]

For the first two months or so of the Constitutional Convention there were debates between delegates from large and small states, between those favoring states-rights and those wanting a strong national government. “By the end of June the convention seemed in danger of dissolving, with nothing accomplished.” That, however, was prevented when the Convention accepted a proposal by Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut (“the Great Compromise”) for equal representation of the states in the Senate and proportional representation by population in the House. Thereafter other compromises were reached, including counting three-fifths of the slaves for representation in the House.[6]

In other words, many compromises were necessary in order to obtain agreement on the new Constitution before it could be submitted to the states for ratification. Some of those compromises accommodated slavery while others did not. As Wilentz said, the Constitution “gave slavery some protection even as it denied slavery national status and gave the federal government the power to restrict its growth—and so hasten its demise.” In short, compromises with the evil of slavery were necessary in order to create the new Constitution.

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[1] Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020);  Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of The 1619 Project, dwkcommenataries.com (Aug. 10, 2020).

[2] Wilentz, What Tom Cotton Gets So Wrong About Slavery and the Constitution, N.Y. Review of Books (Aug. 3, 2020).

[3] Wilentz, American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unforeseen,’ N.Y. Review of Books (Nov. 19, 2019).

[4]  See Historian Wilentz and New York Times Editor Exchange Views About The 1619 Project, dwkcommentaries.com (forthcoming Aug. –, 2020).

[5] Williams, Current & Freidel, A History of the United States [To 1876], pp. 170-72  (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1959.) (This is my book from college and comments from others with more detailed knowledge of the Constitutional Convention are solicited.)

[6] Id. at 172-77.

Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends 

The imminent threat of death facing all of us from the COVID-19 Pandemic should prompt a desire to reconnect with family members and friends, including forgiving and reconciling with them and asking for the same from them for your misdeeds.[1]

My wife and I have been doing that. My own family is small. We have good relations and frequent contacts, now only by email, telephone and Skype, with our two sons and daughters-in-law and five grandchildren, as well as a former daughter-in-law. The only other members of my own family are two cousins (sister and brother)and some of the children of three deceased cousins. I have good relations with one of the living cousins, but they are infrequent because we live in different parts of the country. I, therefore, was very pleased last year when she came to my 80th birthday party. The other cousin also lives in yet another part of the U.S., but for reasons unknown to me, he refuses to have any communication with me (and others, I am told). Nevertheless, I still try to reconnect with him. Recently I reconnected with a daughter of one of my deceased cousins that led to my posting of a moving poem by her deceased sister. [2]

I also have been initiating contacts with my former high school classmates from Perry, Iowa and we are talking about having a mini-reunion since we did not have one for the 60th anniversary of our high school graduation.[3]

Similarly I have been re-initiating contacts with some of my best friends from Grinnell College. So far we are not talking about a physical reunion after the pandemic shelter-in-lace regime is over. But we are sharing memories and I have been engaging in research and writing obituaries for recent deceased classmates.[4]

In addition, I have been communicating with classmates from the University of Chicago Law School. Last fall before the pandemic, I went to Chicago to attend a dinner honoring one of those classmates, David Tatel, now a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and for a small luncheon gathering of David and other classmates. These meetings and conversations are enjoyable and memorable.[5]

Now I have to initiate contacts with friends from my two years of study at Oxford University [6] and from my four years with a Wall Street law firm[7] and the following 31 years with a Minneapolis law firm.[8]

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[1] The current pandemic and sheltering-at-home have prompted ongoing reflections on living through the pandemic, which are recorded in the following posts to this blog: Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses (Mar. 23, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (03/22/20) (Mar. 24, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 3):1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 4): “Life” Poem (Mar. 28, 2020); Pandemic  Journal (# 5): POLST (Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) (Mar. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 6): Maintaining Physical Fitness (April 1, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 7): Latest Statistics (April 2, 2020).

[2] Pandemic Journal (# 4): “Life” Poem (Mar. 28, 2020).

[3] Growing Up in a Small Iowa Town, dwkommentaries.com (Aug. 23, 2011).

[4]  My Grinnell College Years, dwkcommentareis.com (Aug. 27, 2011). I have been surprised to discover that writing obituaries has become one of pastoral care for the families of the departed. (See My First Ten Years of Retirement,  dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2011).

[5] My Years at the University of Chicago Law School, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 27, 2011); Judge David Tatel Honored by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 29, 2019).

[6]  My Oxford University Years, dwkcommentaies.com (Aug. 30, 2011).

[7] Lawyering on Wall Street, dwkcommentaries.com (April 14, 2011). In addition, some of the cases from this period are discussed in posts identified in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries, Topical: LAWYERING.

[8]  Lawyering in Minneapolis, dwkcommentareis.com (April 18, 2011). In addition, some of the cases from this period are discussed in posts identified in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries, Topical: LAWYERING.

 

 

Republican Congressman Thomas Railsback’s Courageous Support of Impeaching President Nixon in 1974

As noted in a prior post about recent comments during the Trump Impeachment trial in the Senate by Representative Adam Schiff, Thomas F. Railsback in 1974 was a moderate Republican Congressman from Illinois and a member of the House Judiciary Committee who exhibited political courage in supporting the impeachment of Republican President Nixon.

Subsequent research has uncovered further details about Railsback and his involvement with Nixon, including the impeachment.

Railsback’s Early Congressional Record[1]

Before that important engagement in 1974, he had been a Republican Congressman from Illinois for seven years and credited Richard Nixon with helping him win his first election to Congress in 1966 by campaigning for him. Railsback also had predicted a Nixon landslide in the November 1972 presidential election while expressing great admiration for Nixon, especially the opening of the door to China, which Railsbeck said “had to be the most brilliant foreign policy move ever.”

When the Democratic Party’s headquarters in the Watergate apartment building were burglarized on June 7, 1972 and the House Judiciary Committee became involved in investigating that event, Railsback admitted he was “ashamed and astounded by that event and by other alleged corrupt actions within the [Nixon] Administration.”

Railsback, however, “did not feel that . . . President Nixon had any part in the alleged corruption. The President is busy running the country. . . I certainly don’t think he would be involved in anything as Mickey Mouse and just plain stupid as the Watergate thing is.”

Early Stages of the Nixon Impeachment [2]

In February 1974, at the very start of the House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of possible impeachment, Railsback said in a letter to the student newspaper at his alma mater, Grinnell College, [4] “The need for objectivity when considering such a difficult and potentially emotional issue, is apparent. Most of the members of the House, and especially of the Judiciary Committee, which will conduct the initial inquiry, have exhibited from my vantage point at least, both a rational and objective approach to this problem. However, there are those few . . . who would impeach immediately, and others who wouldn’t vote for impeachment if they personally caught the President in a bank vault at midnight. Neither of these positions is acceptable.”

The letter went on, “The decision to impeach or not to impeach must be founded on a fair, intensive investigation of the allegations and charges, and only on this basis. We on the Judiciary, I feel, are taking the first steps in this direction. Under the Committee’s supervision, a highly qualified staff is now proceeding with the investigation on a daily basis. In addition, the House  . . . has adopted, with bi-partisan support, a resolution granting subpoena authority to our committee for its investigation, and I fully supported this action. With the granting of such authority, the House has taken a significant step forward in achieving a responsible answer to the numerous allegations, questions, and doubts which encompass the Presidency. . . . The President in his State of the Union message, declared his intentions to cooperate with our Committee and we are encouraged by his remarks. . . . But regardless of the cooperation we receive, I am convinced that the Judiciary Committee is determined to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to conduct a thorough and bi-partisan impeachment inquiry.”

Nearly seven weeks later (circa March 22, 1974), Railsback submitted an article about the status of the inquiry to the Grinnell student newspaper. He reported that he had received from his constituents 900 pro-impeachment and 600 anti-impeachment communications (plus others outside his district). . . .  [However,] “no direct correlation exists between political parties and a particular position on this issue.” And his annual survey of his district’s sentiment is about equally divided on the issue. Therefore, he had concluded “the ‘politically safe’ decision does not exist. . . . When the hour comes to cast a vote on the issue of impeachment, I am convinced that the vote must and will be cast on the basis of evidence fairly gathered and fully evaluated and not on the basis of party affiliation or political fears.”

These communications to his alma mater’s student newspaper undoubtedly were in anticipation of his participation in the College’s hosting the Iowa Impeachment Forum on April 27, 1974. At that event, he said, “I don’t think a majority of the minority [Republicans] would accept edited transcripts [in response to a congressional subpoena]. The White House does have the right to determiJames St. Clairne what sort of initial response to make to the subpoena. I do support the informal suggestion that the four-man screening group [Representative Peter Rodino (Dem., NJ), Representative J. Edward Hutchinson (Rep., MI), Albert Jenner (Committee Minority Counsel) and John Doar [Committee’s Lead Special Counsel] go over to the White House and meet with [Jim] St. Clair [White House counsel] present, and listen to all the tapes we subpoenaed, on our equipment. . . But I would not be about to buy having them turn over on a unilateral basis transcripts which they themselves have edited.”

At this April Forum at Grinnell, Railsback remarked that his serving on the House Judiciary Committee during its deliberation on the impeachment question “has been the most difficult responsibility of my eleven years in public office” while noting “the barrage of press people focusing in on the committee members as well as the pressures which constituents were placing on their representatives.” That became more intense “after the firing of Special Prosecutor Cox, referred to as the ‘Saturday Night Massacre. Congressmen were flooded with a storm of mail from outraged constituents.”

Railsback also told  the Grinnell audience that the 1974 “Judiciary Committee’s investigation got off to a shaky start when Rodino proposed that, as chairman, he be given the sole right to subpoena all relevant data. The minority [the Republicans] resented this proposal because of the tradition of cooperation which had been a hallmark of the Judiciary Committee through the years.” It then “became apparent there would be no successful impeachment inquiry unless there was some kind of bi-partisan participation and cooperation. . . Since that time, the Judiciary Committee has conducted itself judiciously and with dignity, trying to prevent leaks.”

The Forum audience also heard Railsback note that he had been very favorably impressed with the work of Majority Counsel John Doar and Minority Counsel Albert Jenner. “They have conducted themselves extremely well, trying to work as a team, rather than on different pursuits.”  Railsback also agreed with Democratic Iowa Congressman Edward Mezvinsky, who also appeared at this College program, “that not only the President , but the Congress as an institution was on trial. Bear in mind that according to the latest polls, Congress appears to have a lower approval rating than does the President.”

Later Stages of the House’s Nixon Impeachment [3]

In the later stages of the Judiciary Committee’s inquiry, however, Railsback dinotback Nixon’s defense. In fact, the Congressman led what he called a “fragile bipartisan coalition” between his fellow Republicans and the Democratic majority on the House Judiciary Committee in supporting impeachment. That summer, this bipartisan group met in his office to develop an article of impeachment that they all could vote for.

One of the participants in that bipartisan group was Representative William S. Cohen (Rep., ME), then in his first term, who later became U.S. Senator from Maine and Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration. Cohen said the first time he had met to discuss this impeachment was at Railsback’s invitation in the latter’s office. “The seven of us met that morning, and as we went around, we said abuse of power, obstruction of justice, we can all agree on those things. And if we hang together, we can make sure this passes on a bipartisan basis. And it wasn’t really until that moment that I decided without any reservation I was going to vote for impeachment.”

“On July 27, 1974, the judiciary committee voted 27 to 11, with Railsback and five other of the panel’s 17 Republicans joining all 21 Democrats, to send to the full House an article of impeachment. The article accused the president of unlawful tactics that constituted a ‘course of conduct or plan’ to obstruct the investigation of the break-in at the offices of the Democratic opposition in the Watergate complex in Washington by a White House team of burglars.”

Railsback also helped draft a second article of impeachment, charging the president with abusing his authority while also defeating a Democrats’ proposal for further articles citing allegations concerning Mr. Nixon’s tax returns and his covert bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

During the House debate over the resolution for impeachment, Railsback introduced an amendment to the articles that was approved by a voice vote. “Originally the article charged that Mr. Nixon ‘made it his policy’ to obstruct the investigation of Watergate and to protect those responsible. The amendment “charged instead that the President engaged ‘in a course of conduct or plan designed’ to impede and obstruct the investigation. Railsback said he had difficulty believing that Mr. Nixon at any specific time formulated a policy of obstruction, but . . . [that] the record shows a ‘course of conduct’ amounting to obstruction.”

In colloquy before the vote on the amendment, another member asked, “‘What’s the difference between a policy and a plan?’ Railsback acknowledged he also had trouble judging the difference, but said that committee counsel believed that the word ‘policy’ had the connotation of an ‘orchestrated’ effort to obstruct.” Railsback added, “’I believe that certain events occurred to which Mr. Nixon didn’t respond or responded to in an improper way.’ Railsback also responded to another member’s question as to whether he meant “Mr. Nixon intentionally acted in such a way as to delay or impede the investigation? Railsback said he meant that Mr. Nixon acted knowingly for the purpose of delaying and impeding it.”

“His pivotal votes provoked vitriolic reactions from some constituents. . . . But [soon thereafter] he received a standing ovation from a local chamber of commerce, and he was re-elected to four more terms.” However, in 1982 he lost the Republican primary election to run for another term, a defeat he attributed to his vote for Nixon’s impeachment.

Subsequently Railsback said,“I don’t feel very good about it. I feel badly about what happened to Nixon. On the other hand, after listening to the [White House] tapes and seeing all the evidence, it was something we had to do because the evidence was there.”

Conclusion

His daughter, Kathryn Railsback, now provides the appropriate benediction for her father and his importance to the current struggles over the impeachment of President Trump.[5]

She writes, “He and others showed that it was possible to transcend partisan divisions as they sought to defend our democratic institutions.”

“As a young Republican representative from Illinois, Dad took his responsibilities as a legislator and a lawyer seriously. He believed in fairness and in upholding the rule of law. His father, Fred Railsback, had been city attorney for several small Illinois towns. Public service was viewed in our family as an honor and a privilege.”

“Dad believed we should strive to get along with others, including those with opposing political views. A committed Republican himself, he truly valued his lifelong friendships with both Republican and Democratic colleagues. His ability to work closely with lawmakers from across the political spectrum helped him forge agreements that addressed pressing national concerns and benefited the country.”

“During those momentous impeachment proceedings more than 40 years ago, Dad used his skills as a lawyer and lawmaker to review the facts and evidence carefully. He worked collaboratively with members of both parties for the good of the country and refused to be pressured by partisan leaders.”

“In a nutshell, he did his job as a legislator. Although he suffered some political repercussions, he remained proud of his actions in support of impeachment until the end of his life. Our family remains proud of the courageous steps he took in putting loyalty to country and the rule of law above partisan and personal concerns. In fulfilling his constitutional duty as a member of the legislative branch, he left us and our country with a lasting legacy of which we can be proud. He did what he believed was right to uphold our carefully crafted system of checks and balances.”

“I believe that senators now have, as my father did, a unique opportunity to play a pivotal role at a critical time in our country’s history. I greatly value our country’s freedoms and the ability to hold our government accountable when excesses and injustices occur. . . . Our country’s relatively young government, with three strong, independent branches, works well because of its foundational system of checks and balances. The healthy functioning of our government depends on the members of each branch taking their responsibilities seriously and fulfilling their duties without interference from the other branches of government or partisan or personal interests.”

“I know from my father’s experience that the decisions senators make in the coming days — and the ways in which they make them — may well determine how they are remembered throughout the rest of their lives [and after they are gone]. I beseech them to be thoughtful, serious and independent, to uphold the rule of law, and to be ever mindful of their critical role in protecting our country’s precious system of checks and balances. . . . I believe there remain lawmakers of good will, good intellect and good courage in both parties who will, as my Dad did, rise to the occasion in these difficult times for the good of the country.”

Thank you, Ms. Railsback!

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[1] Roberts, Tom Railsback, Who Reconciled G.O.P. to Oust Nixon, Dies at 87, N.Y. Times (Jan. 22, 2020); McCann, Thomas Railsback, Illinois Republican who helped write impeachment articles against Nixon, dies at 87, Wash. Post (Jan. 22, 2020);  Simon, Remembering a Congressman Who Bucked His Party On An Impeachment, npr (Jan. 25, 2020); Wylie, Railsback: Penal Reform, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 2 (Oct. 26, 1972); Hon. Thomas F. Railsback, Wikipedia Biography; Tom Railsback, Wikipedia.

[2] Railsback, Impeachment: the Call for Objectivity, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 2 (Feb. 8, 1974); Railsback, Impeachment: The Public Reacts, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 6 (Mar. 22, 1974); Shaub, Impeachment Forum to Air Diverse Views, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 3 (April 19, 1974); Weil, Panel Ponders Constitutional Complexities, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 2 (May 3, 1974); Weil, Mezvinsky, Railsback Assess Impeachment Procedures, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 3 (May 3, 1974).

[3] Lyons & Chapman, Judiciary Committee Approves Article to Impeach President Nixon, 27 to 11, Wash. Post (July 28, 1974); Ephron, Rising To the Occasion: A Case Study, New York Mag. (Aug. 19, 1974) Flander, To Impeach Or Not? Two Who Must Decide, Wash. Star News (July 21, 1974); The Vote to Impeach, Time (Aug. 5, 1974); Luo What House Republicans Can Learn from the Bipartisan Effort To Impeach Nixon, New Yorker (Nov. 7, 2019).

[4] Railsback received his B.A. degree from Grinnell College in 1954 and his law degree from Northwestern University in 1957, after which he served in the U.S. Army. Subsequently Grinnell awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his service in the Nixon impeachment proceedings and for “his contributions in the fields of civil rights, anti-crime legislation, and prison reform. He has also worked energetically and effectively on behalf of Grinnell College as a member of the college’s Advisory Council, as vice-president and president of the Alumni Association, and as a successful volunteer fund-raiser. Named an Outstanding Young Man of America in 1968, he was one of 200 young men and women cited in the July 22, 1973, issue of Time Magazine as most likely to provide leadership for the country in the decades ahead.” (Grinnell College, Commencement Program (May 18, 1976).)

[5] Kathryn Railsback, Senators confronting impeachment can learn from my father’s example in Watergate, Wash. Post (Jan. 28, 2020)  Ms. Railsback is an immigration attorney in Boise, Idaho and a Lecturer at the Idaho College of Law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Political Courage of a Republican Congressman During the Impeachment of President Nixon

On January 24, 2020, Representative Adam Schiff in his closing argument in the Trump impeachment trial remembered the political courage of a Republican Congressman, Thomas Railsback, during the 1974 impeachment of Republican President Richard Nixon. Here is what Schiff said.[1]

“One of the things that we in this fellowship of officeholders understand that most people don’t is that real political courage doesn’t come from disagreeing with our opponents but from disagreeing with our friends and with our own party because it means having to stare down accusations of disloyalty and betrayal: He’s a Democrat in name only or she’s a Republican in name only.”

“Just this week America lost a hero, Thomas Railsback, who passed away on Monday, the day before this trial began. Some of you may have known or even served with Congressman Thomas Railsback. He was a Republican from Illinois and the second ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee when that committee was conducting its impeachment inquiry into President Nixon.”

“In July of 1974, as the inquiry was coming to a close, Congressman          Railsback began meeting with a bipartisan group of Members of the                House–three other Republicans and three Democrats. Here in the Senate                they might have called them the Gang of 7.”

“They gathered and they talked and they labored over language and ultimately helped develop the bipartisan support for the articles that led a group of Republican Senators, including Barry Goldwater and Howard Baker, to tell President Nixon that he must resign.”

“Some say that the Nixon impeachment might not have moved forward were it not for those four courageous Republicans led by Congressman Railsback, and it pained the Congressman because he credited Nixon with giving him his seat and with getting him elected. He did it, he said, because `’seeing all the evidence, it was something we had to do because the evidence was there.’ One of his aides, Ray LaHood, eulogized him saying: He felt an obligation to the Constitution to do what is right.”

Conclusion

These words and discovering that Railsback was a fellow alumnus of Grinnell College in Iowa have sparked research confirming these comments by Representative Schiff that will be the subject of a subsequent post.

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[1] 166 Cong. Record at S564-65 (Daily Edition, Jan. 24, 2020); DeBonis, Adam Schiff delivered a detailed, hour-long summary of the Democrats’ impeachment case. Some Republicans dismissed it because of one line, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2020).

 

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.

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

Posts about Edward B. Burling to dwkcommentaries.com (Appendix A)

Katherine Graham’s Connections with Harry Hopkins and Edward B. Burling (Feb. 13, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/13/katharine-grahams-connections-with-harry-hopkins-and-edward-b-burling/

Edward B. Burling’s Early Years in Iowa, 1870-1890 (Feb. 17, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/17/edward-b-burlings-early-years-in-iowa-1870-1890/

Edward B. Burling’s Years at Harvard University, 1890-1894 (Feb. 18, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/18/edward-b-burlings-years-at-harvard-university-1890-1894/

Edward B. Burling: The Chicago Attorney, 1895-1917 (Feb. 19, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/19/edward-b-burling-the-chicago-attorney-1895-1917/

Edward B. Burling: The Federal Government Attorney, 1917-1918 (Feb.20, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/20/edward-b-burling-the-federal-government-attorney-1917-1918/

Edward B. Burling: The Prominent Washington, D.C. Attorney, 1919-1966 (Feb.21, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/21/edward-b-burling-the-prominent-washington-d-c-attorney-1919-1966/

Edward B. Burling’s Life-Long Friendship with Learned Hand (Feb. 22, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/22/edward-b-burlings-life-long-friendship-with-learned-hand/

Edward B. Burling: The Character of the Man (Feb. 25, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/25/edward-b-burling-the-character-of-the-man/

The Joy of Researching and Writing About Edward B. Burling and Joseph Welch (Feb. 26, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/26/the-joy-of-researching-and-writing-about-edward-b-burling-and-joseph-welch/

Posts About Joseph Welch to dwkcommentaries.com (Appendix B)

Joseph Welch Before the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 14, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/06/14/joseph-welch-before-the-army-mccarthy-hearings/

The U.S. Army’s Hiring of Attorney Joseph Welch for the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 8, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/06/08/the-u-s-armys-hiring-of-attorney-joseph-welch-for-the-army-mccarthy-hearings/

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Nemesis: Attorney Joseph Welch (June 4, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/06/04/u-s-senator-joseph-mccarthys-nemesis-attorney-joseph-welch/

Attorney Joseph Welch’s Performance at the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 6, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/06/06/attorney-joseph-welchs-performance-at-the-army-mccarthy-hearings/

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Involvement in the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 12, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/06/10/president-dwight-d-eisenhowers-involvement-in-the-army-mccarthy-hearings/

President Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign Against Senator Joe McCarthy (July 27, 2017), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2017/07/26/president-eisenhowers-secret-campaign-against-senator-joe-mccarthy/

Joseph Welch After the Army-McCarthy Hearings (June 12, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/06/12/joseph-welch-after-the-army-mccarthy-hearings/

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy Encounters Langston Hughes at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater (May 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/05/13/u-s-senator-joseph-mccarthy-encounters-langston-hughes-at-minneapolis-guthrie-theater/

Legal Ethics Issues in the “Anatomy of a Murder” Movie (June 27, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/06/27/legal-ethics-issues-in-the-anatomy-of-a-murder-movie/

The Joy of Researching and Writing About Edward B. Burling and Joseph Welch (Feb. 26, 2018), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2018/02/26/the-joy-of-researching-and-writing-about-edward-b-burling-and-joseph-welch/

 

 

 

 

Edward B. Burling: The Character of the Man

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. The last highlighted his long friendship with Learned Hand, a notable federal judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Now we examine Burling’s overall character. [1]

Burling’s Generosity

Ned accumulated substantial wealth through the practice of law and investments, and his generosity was shown by his gift of $700,000 to his alma mater, Grinnell College, towards the Burling Library‘s total cost in 1959 of $1.3 million ($6.0 million of $11.1 million in February 2018 dollars) But he insisted the Library not be named after him; instead, as the original plaque at its entrance stated, it was named “in memory of Lucy B. Burling 1841-1936,” the benefactor’s mother.

He also made other direct, usually anonymous, gifts to the College  plus financing some students’ expenses. In short, he was a major contributor to the College. Other gifts to the College by his second wife and widow, Bertha Blake Burling, were the Burling mansion in the Embassy Row area of Washington, D.C. and their Maine summer cottage.

Burling also endowed the College’s Linn Smith Prize for Excellence in Mathematics. Smith was a native Iowan and a 1920 honors math graduate of Grinnell who drowned while taking care of Burling’s two young sons at New Hampshire’s Cornish Colony and whom Burling unsuccessfully tried to rescue. Burling was very upset about the drowning and said that Smith was “sweet tempered, devoted and unselfish. If he had been meaner or more faithless, or selfish he would have survived. . . . He had this notion which poor boys that go to Grinnell are apt to get, that is they glory in sacrificing themselves, go without food, go without pleasure, generally go without and your record is sure. I say the only consequence of that philosophy is that you get nothing.”

His generosity was not limited to the College. He anonymously helped other young people attend other colleges and cope with other necessities. After his death, his widow endowed the Edward B. Burling Chair in International Law and Diplomacy at The Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Ned along with Paul Nitze (a U.S. diplomat) and Christian Herter (another U.S. Secretary of State) had helped to establish this School in the 1940’s, and Burling had served on its Advisory Council until his death. In similar vein, some of his friends established a scholarship in his name at the Harvard Law School.

Burling’s Other Qualities

After his death some of his friends added their tributes. Dean Acheson, his law partner and former Secretary of State, said that Burling often gave the impression of “being tough, and worldly, and cynical and brutal,” but he really was generous, warm and compassionate. Burling was known, said  Acheson, for a “rare originality and power of mind, a teasing sardonic wit and willful friendships and dislikes.”

Thomas Gardiner Corcoran described his friend as “Poet born, his poetic imagination penetrated everything he touched–the breakthrough of the Bull Moose movement–the law firm he transmuted from a ‘dusty answer’ to the excitement of a 51st state–the self-regenerating waves of compassionate intelligence he se moving as a part of all he met–and he met everybody.” In addition, Corcoran noted, “Uncle Ned lived beyond himself in the hundreds of younger men he gave courage to outdo themselves in confidence of his never-failing support win or lose.”

In similar vein, another friend, John Lord O’Brian, said, “His deep personal interest in the affairs of [C&B} . . . and the selection of partners and associates became his chief interest. This, however, did not prevent his accumulating a group of remarkable friends chiefly in the field of public affairs. His quizzical humor and occasional affectations of worldliness concealed a curiously sensitive and compassionate nature, and gave a unique flavor to his personality. Always reticent about his personal affairs, he was singularly generous in his gifts and discriminating in his help to innumerable individuals.”

The Burling genealogist described Ned as “[a]ambitious and brilliant . . .; personable, charming, and gregarious (many friends and acquaintances of high standing); robust; outspoken and humorous . . .; largely generous.” On the other hand, according to the genealogist, he was “careless of personal relationships, and evidently not too well suited to monogamy.” Indeed, he once shocked a young relative by asking what she thought about his having had many extramarital affairs.

One of his closest friends concluded that Ned was exceptional in “his extraordinary capacity for drawing into the circle of his friendship men gifted with unusual intellectual perceptiveness” or “men of extraordinary ability.” The previous list of frequent guests at Burling’s Cabin is but a brief glimpse at this circle of friendship. Ned was also skillful in “drawing out the views of other people while he himself listened” and “the interplay of his whimsical humor that produced the charm and the flavor.”

Conclusion

Humble or modest he was not. At age 96, he said, “I was a piece of good luck for father, mother, brother and two sisters. To some extent, some more and some less, they were benefited by my being in the world.”

The concluding post in this series will share this blogger’s joy in researching and writing about Burling (and another Grinnell College eminent alumnus, Joseph Welch).

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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 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.