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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.