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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Parker, Alton Brooks

< The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)

PARKER, Alton Brooks, jurist: b. Cortland, N. Y., 14 May 1852. He was educated at the Cortland Normal School, taught school for a time and then began the study of law. He was graduated from the Albany Law School, was admitted to the bar and entered upon the practice of his profession at Kingston. In 1877 he was elected surrogate of Ulster County and in 1883 was re-elected. In 1884 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and in 1885 President Cleveland offered him the office of First Assistant Postmaster-general, which, however, he declined. In 1885 he was chairman of the Democratic State Committee and in that same year was appointed a judge of the State Supreme Court to fill a vacancy, the next year being elected without opposition. In 1889 he was appointed to the Second Division of the Court of Appeals and when that court was dissolved was appointed a member of the General Term of the First Department, and in 1896 a member of the Appellate Division. In 1897 he was elected Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of his State. He wrote many of the important decisions of the Court of Appeals and served until his resignation in 1904. During the period of his service on the bench he abstained from taking any active part in practical politics and it was only because the leaders respected his personal wish that he did not become the candidate for governor of his State upon the Democratic ticket in 1902. The chosen candidate of that year ran so close to victory that the party leaders complained to him that his reluctance to run had lost the election of the party which had made him chief judge of the State. They then drew from him the promise that should the party throughout the nation in 1904 call upon him to serve as its candidate for President he would put aside his personal wishes. Having obtained this promise, the party leaders at once began to pave the way for his nomination on the Democratic ticket for the presidency in 1904. Judge Parker, although taking no part in the advancement of this campaign, adhered to his promise and took no action to prevent the nomination as he had done in 1902. The efforts of the party leaders were successful and Judge Parker was nominated for the presidency by the Democratic Convention at Saint Louis 9 July 1904. Immediately after the receipt of the news of his nomination and of the contest which had occurred in the Convention over the money question plank in the platform, Judge Parker sent his famous “Gold Telegram” stating his position upon the money question and offering the Convention the opportunity before adjournment to substitute another candidate if dissatisfied with his position upon that question. The Convention reaffirmed the nomination of Judge Parker. The principal issue of the campaign arose upon Judge Parker's assertion of a heavy levy by the Republican Party upon the moneyed interests for campaign funds. He was defeated at the polls by Theodore Roosevelt. Judge Parker resigned from the Court of Appeals as soon as he and his associates could finish the writing of opinions in the undecided cases and before formally accepting the nomination of the Democratic Convention. After his defeat, Judge Parker went to New York City and in November 1904 opened an office and since that time has continued to practise law in New York City. He is one of the most prominent of the attorneys practising there and has handled many important cases. He appeared for the city of New York in its fight for 80-cent gas and was finally victorious in that case in the United States Supreme Court. He had charge of the litigation out of which grew the government suit against the Drug Trust under which it was dissolved in 1907 and also of the subsequent litigation as a result of which a large number of the New York wholesale houses who had been in the Trust, were compelled to pay heavy damages to the Parks firm in Cincinnati, which had been the principal foe of the Trust. He was counsel for Mayor McClellan throughout his fight against William R. Hearst, arising over the mayoralty election, in which Hearst sought to obtain a recount of the ballots. He was attorney for Samuel Gompers, John Mitchell and Frank Morrison in their great battle with Judge Silas Wright of Washington, in which the judge sought to punish the three labor leaders for contempt for an alleged violation of the court's injunction. In this case also Judge Parker was victorious in the United States Supreme Court. But the case was before that court twice and on the last appeal there was a reargument. Such leisure as his law practice allows is largely devoted to public matters. He was president of the American Bar Association in 1906. He was one of the organizers of the New York County Lawyers' Association and was its second president in 1909 and was re-elected for the two subsequent years. He was president of the New York State Bar Association in 1913 and 1914. He has presided at a number of Democratic State conventions and was the temporary chairman of the Democratic National Convention in 1912. He belongs to numerous organizations like the American Peace Society, the League to Enforce Peace, the National Security League, American Academy of Jurisprudence. The object of each of these various organizations is to promote some public good and Judge Parker unselfishly devotes his valuable time and labor to these causes and to many others.