Bancroft Davis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bancroft Davis
J. C. Bancroft Davis.jpg
9th Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
Preceded byWilliam Tod Otto
Succeeded byCharles 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 byFrederick W. Seward
Charles Hale
Robert R. Hitt
Succeeded byCharles Hale
John Cadwalader
John Davis
13th Envoy from the United States to Germany
In office
August 28, 1874 – September 26, 1877
PresidentUlysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded byGeorge Bancroft
Succeeded byBayard Taylor
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the Orange County, 1st district
In office
January 1, 1869 – March 26, 1869
Preceded byWilliam C. H. Sherman
Succeeded byOdell S. Hathaway
Personal details
BornJohn Chandler Bancroft Davis
(1822-12-29)December 29, 1822[1]
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
DiedDecember 27, 1907(1907-12-27) (aged 84)
Washington, DC, USA
Political partyRepublican
Frederika Gore King
(m. 1857; his death 1907)
RelationsHorace Davis (brother)
ParentsJohn Davis
Alma materHarvard University
OccupationAuthor, lawyer, politician

John Chandler Bancroft Davis (December 29, 1822 – December 27, 1907), commonly known as Bancroft Davis, was an American lawyer, judge, diplomat, and president of Newburgh and New York Railway Company.[2]

Early life[edit]

Davis was born in Worcester, Massachusetts,[3] the son of John Davis, a Whig governor of Massachusetts, and was the older brother of congressman Horace Davis.[4] He entered Harvard with the class of 1840 but was suspended in his senior year and did not graduate with his class. He eventually received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1847.[5]


Bancroft Davis later in life.

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.[3]

Assistant Secretary of State[edit]

Under President Ulysses S. Grant, he was Assistant Secretary of State in 1869–1871 and again in 1873–1874.[6] 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.

Minister to Germany[edit]

In 1874, he was appointed as the U.S. Minister to Germany, serving in that position until 1877.[3] 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 of the Supreme Court of the United States, and was replaced on the Court of Claims by Lawrence Weldon.

Role in corporate personhood controversy[edit]

Acting as court reporter in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad – 118 U.S. 394 (1886), dealing with taxation of railroad properties, Davis plays a historical role in the corporate personhood debate.[7] The position of court reporter entailed that he write "a summary-of-the-case commentary." Why Bancroft Davis's role in the controversy is worth mentioning is that he noted in the headnote to the court's opinion that the Chief Justice Morrison Waite began oral argument by stating, "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."[8]

In a published account of Bancroft's collected Supreme Court reports and notes from 1885-1886,[9] he wrote of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case that, "The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."[10] Journalists and authors, such as Thom Hartman, 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 a Supreme Court ruling dealing with a railroad.[11] The controversy regarding Bancroft Davis's summary remains unsolved.[12]

Personal life[edit]

On November 19, 1857, he married Frederica Gore King (1829–1916). Frederica was the daughter of James G. King (1791–1853), an American businessman and Whig Party politician and the granddaughter of both Archibald Gracie and Rufus King, who was the Federalist candidate for both Vice President (1804 and 1808) and President of the United States (1816). They did not have any children.

Bancroft Davis died at his residence, No. 1621 H St. N.W.,[13] in Washington, DC in 1907, aged 85.[3]


Elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1851.[14]


  • (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]


  1. ^ Schlup, Leonard (2003). Schlup, Leonard C.; Ryan, James Gilbert, eds. Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age. M.E. Sharpe. p. 124. ISBN 9780765621061. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ a b c d "JOHN C. B. DAVIS DIES. | He Had Been Reporter for the Supreme Court Twenty-four Years". The New York Times. 28 December 1907. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  4. ^ "Davis, John Chandler Bancroft (1822–1907)". Political Graveyard. Retrieved September 17, 2008.
  5. ^ "John Chandler Bancroft Davis". American Law Encyclopedia Vol 3. Retrieved September 17, 2008.
  6. ^ "Assistant Secretary of State". The New York Times. 25 March 1869. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  7. ^ "The murky history of J. C. Bancroft Davis and corporate personhood". Thoughts and Observations. 22 January 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  8. ^ 118 U.S. 394 (1886) - Official court Syllabus in the United States Reports
  9. ^ Davis, J.C. Bancroft (1886). Vol. 118 of United States Reports: Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court at October Term 1885 and October Term 1886. New York City: Banks & Brothers Publishers.
  10. ^ Hartman, Thom (2002). Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights. New York, NY: Rodale. p. 107. ISBN 1-57954-627-7.
  11. ^ Hartmann, Thom (31 December 2001). "To Restore Democracy: First Abolish Corporate Personhood". Thom Hartmann - News & info from the #1 progressive radio show. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  12. ^ Winkler, Adam (2018-03-05). "'Corporations Are People' Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-08-14.
  13. ^ "Obituary 1 -- No Title". The New York Times. December 30, 1907. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  14. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  • 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.
New York Assembly
Preceded by
William C. H. Sherman
New York State Assembly
Orange County, 1st District

Succeeded by
Odell S. Hathaway
Legal offices
Preceded by
William Tod Otto
Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Charles Henry Butler