Harrison Tweed

Harrison Tweed

Harrison Tweed, (October 18, 1885June 16, 1969), lawyer and bar association officer, was born in New York City. He was the son of Charles Harrison Tweed, the general counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad, Chesapeake and Ohio and other affiliated railroad corporations, and his wife, (Helen) Minerva Evarts. His maternal grandfather was William M. Evarts, who served successively from 1868 to 1891 as United States Attorney General, United States Secretary of State, and United States Senator from New York, and was one of the leaders of the American Bar Association. Tweed graduated from St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts, and received a B.A. from Harvard College in 1907. At Harvard Law School, he served on the law review and was awarded an LL.B. in 1910.

His career at the bar began with a clerkship in the office of Byrne and Cutcheon in New York City. After service as a captain in World War I, he joined one of the predecessor firms to Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, where he remained as a partner the remainder of his life. Milbank, Tweed was the outside legal arm of Chase Manhattan Bank and the Rockefeller family. Tweed specialized in drafting wills and trust agreements, for the administering of major estates. He wrote briefs in litigation arising out of them and argued, and won, several notable appeals in the New York courts and the United States Supreme Court. Because he was born partially deaf, he never tried a case. In conferences with other lawyers he usually spoke last, and his views generally became the group's consensus. Imitating Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, he had no desk in his office, instead writing at a lectern.

Tweed's appointment as chairman of the legal aid committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York in 1932, led to a continuing involvement in bar organizations. He became an enthusiastic convert to the necessity of providing competent legal services to all people. Legal aid, he wrote, was "operation equal justice," "an obligation of the bar," and essential to secure the success of the adversary system. He served as president of the Legal Aid Society of New York from 1936 to 1945, later publishing a history of its first seventy-five years, and of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association from 1949 to 1955.

In 1945, Tweed was elected president of the New York City bar association. To rejuvenate the staid organization, he brought in younger lawyers, established a bulletin, reorganized committees that issued reports, and created the position of executive secretary. All of this was done in a spirit of openness, equality, informality, and fun (a recurring word with Tweed). In this way, Tweed transformed a stuffy club into a strong progressive force for public service. C. C. Burlingham, the doyen of the New York bar, said that Tweed was "the best president the Bar Association has ever had."

In 1947, Tweed became president of the American Law Institute (ALI). He was a guiding force in its major labors--the updating of the institute's published Restatements, as well as the preparation of the Uniform Commercial Code, model codes and statutes on penal law and taxation, and the first restatement on the foreign-relations law of the United States. He took a light, subtle approach, usually talking around the matter at hand so as to envelop the object of his attention; only occasionally did he take a direct part in the proceedings over which he smoothly presided.

Starting in 1947, Tweed was chairman of the ALI - American Bar Association (ABA) joint committee on continuing legal education. Refreshment of the law, Tweed believed, was a professional responsibility. He wrote articles, spoke to lawyers' groups, buttonholed bar leaders, and organized conferences. For many years, a colleague noted, he "was the committee." The number of administrators of state continuing-legal-education programs increased markedly during his tenure.

Educational matters and public service occupied much of Tweed's time. He was a trustee of Sarah Lawrence College from 1940 to 1965, chairman of the board for eight years, and interim president of the college in 1959-1960. He served as an overseer of Harvard University during 1950-1956, and from 1951 to 1967 he served as a trustee of the Cooper Union Center for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey in 1953 appointed him chairman of the state’s commission to study the reorganization of the judicial branch (courts); many of its recommendations, including the formation of a new judicial conference of the state's judges, were later adopted by the state. In 1963, at the request of US President John F. Kennedy, Tweed became co-chairman of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a position that he held for two years.

Tweed believed that lawyers' training to define complicated issues enabled them to play a special role outside the practice of law: "Even if he contributes nothing more than a sense of orderliness and an ability to organize thought and to pose the right questions, the lawyer will have pulled his weight in the boat." Of his year as president of Sarah Lawrence College, he wrote, "I think that I did manage to bring to the faculty an organization and an understanding of democratic procedures which no one but a lawyer could have done."

Tweed was married three times and divorced twice. By his first marriage on June 14, 1914 to Eleanor Roelker, he had two children. Following his divorce in 1928, he married Blanche Oelrichs Barrymore, the former wife of John Barrymore and, as Michael Strange, an actress and writer; they were divorced in 1942. He and Barbara Banning, with whom he married on 21 November 1942, had one child.

Tall, erect, and lean, Tweed was "the most democratic of aristocrats."He was the only lawyer to be awarded medals for distinguished service from the New York City, New York State, and American bar associations. The ABA tribute noted that his was "the Horatio Alger story in reverse." "I have a high opinion of lawyers," Tweed said in 1945. "With all their faults, they stack up well against those in every other occupation or profession. They are better to work with or play with or fight with or drink with than most other varieties of mankind." He died in New York City. -- Roger K. Newman

His daughter Katherine Winthrop Tweed married Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt, Jr. in 1940 and was divorce in 1950. She had one son, Tweed Roosevelt, born in 1940. His other daughter Eleanor Winthrop Tweed married Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich

Further reading

Tweed's history of the Legal Aid Society was published as The Legal Aid Society, New York City, 1876-1951) (1954). See his chapter, "One Lawyer's Life," in Albert Love and James Saxon Childers, eds., Listen to Leaders in Law (1963). A series of interviews dealing largely with his law practice are in the Columbia Oral History Collection, Tributes to Tweed appear in the 1969 Association of the Bar of the City of New York Yearbook and the 1970 American Law Institute Proceedings. George Martin, Causes and Conflicts (1970), deals with Tweed's activities in the New York City bar association. An obituary is in the New York Times, June 17, 1969.]


"Harrison Tweed, "Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 8: 1966-1970. American Council of Learned Societies, 1988. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2005. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC

External links

* [http://pages.slc.edu/~archives/presidents_papers/harrison_tweed_papers.htm Harrison Tweed Papers]
* [http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/sclaid/harrisontweedinfo.html Harrison Tweed Award]
* [http://www.slc.edu/ Sarah Lawrence College]
* [http://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/text/roosvlta.html Archibald B. Roosevelt, Jr. Papers]
*Harrison Tweed Award

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