Bancroft Davis

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Bancroft Davis
Bancroft Davis.gif
Bancroft Davis in his later years.
9th Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
Preceded by William Tod Otto
Succeeded by Charles Henry Butler
7th, 9th & 14th Assistant Secretary of State
In office
March 25, 1869 – November 13, 1871
January 24, 1873 – January 30, 1874
December 19, 1881 – July 7, 1882
Preceded by Frederick W. Seward
Charles Hale
Robert R. Hitt
Succeeded by Charles Hale
John Cadwalader
John Davis
13th Envoy from the United States to Germany
In office
August 28, 1874 – September 26, 1877
President Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by George Bancroft
Succeeded by Bayard Taylor
Personal details
Born John Chandler Bancroft Davis
(1822-12-22)December 22, 1822
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Died December 27, 1907(1907-12-27) (aged 85)
Washington, DC, USA
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Relations John Davis (father), Horace Davis (brother)
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Author, lawyer, politician

John Chandler Bancroft Davis (December 22, 1822 – December 27, 1907), commonly known as Bancroft Davis, was an American lawyer, judge, diplomat, and president of Newburgh and New York Railway Company.[1]

Early life[edit]

Davis was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of John Davis, a Whig governor of Massachusetts, and was the older brother of congressman Horace Davis.[2] He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1847.[3] He married Frederika Gore King. She was the daughter of James G. King, an American businessman and Whig Party politician and the granddaughter of Rufus King, who was one of the List of signatories of the United States Constitution.


In 1849, Davis became secretary of the American embassy in London and later its chargé d'affaires. He practiced law in New York City and was the correspondent for The Times in London. Because of ill health, he retired from his law work in 1862. He was a member of the New York State Assembly (Orange Co., 1st D.) in 1869, but vacated his seat on March 26 after his appointment as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State.

Under President Ulysses S. Grant, he was Assistant Secretary of State in 1869–1871 and again in 1873–1874.

Between times he was a secretary of the commission which concluded the Treaty of Washington in 1871, to create a tribunal to settle the Alabama claims. He subsequently represented the United States at the tribunal, the Geneva Court of Arbitration, which met at Geneva on December 15, 1871. The American case was prepared and presented by him.

In 1874, he was appointed as the U.S. Minister to Germany, serving in that position until 1877. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him to be an associate judge on the United States Court of Claims on December 14, 1877, replacing retiring Judge Edward G. Loring.

For another special assignment at the State Department, he resigned from the Court of Claims in 1881 at the request of President Chester A. Arthur, who reappointed him to the court in 1882. He resigned again in 1883 to become Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court, and was replaced on the Court of Claims by Lawrence Weldon.

Role in corporate personhood controversy[edit]

Acting as court reporter in the 1886 Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, Davis is a key figure in the corporate personhood debate. Journalists have since cited Davis's prior position as president of Newburgh and New York Railway as evidence of a conflict of interest in the corporate personhood interpretation of the ruling.


Bancroft Davis died in Washington, DC in 1907.


  • (1847) The Massachusetts Justice LCCN 05-17539
  • (1871) The Case of the United States Laid before the Tribunal of Arbitration at Geneva LCCN 10-16624
  • (1873) Treaties and Conventions Concluded between the United States of America and Other Powers, Since July 4, 1776 (Revised edition) LCCN 11-33794
  • (1893) Mr. Fish and the Alabama Claims: A Chapter in Diplomatic History LCCN 11-24903, LCCN 71-95065
  • (1897) Origin of the Book of Common Prayer of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America

See also[edit]


  • The United States Court of Claims : a history / pt. 1. The judges, 1855–1976 / by Marion T. Bennett / pt. 2. Origin, development, jurisdiction, 1855–1978 / W. Cowen, P. Nichols, M.T. Bennett. Washington, D.C. : Committee on the Bicentennial of Independence and the Constitution of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 1976 i.e. 1977–1978. 2 vols.
  1. ^ "Annual Report of the State Engineer and Surveyor of the State of New York, and of the Tabulations and Deductions from the Reports of the Railroad Corporations for the Year Ending September 30, 1867". The Argus Company, Albany, NY. 1868. p. 336. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  2. ^ "Davis, John Chandler Bancroft (1822–1907)". Political Graveyard. Retrieved September 17, 2008. 
  3. ^ "John Chandler Bancroft Davis". American Law Encyclopedia Vol 3. Retrieved September 17, 2008. 
Legal offices
Preceded by
William Tod Otto
Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Charles Henry Butler