Bruce, William Cabell 1860-1946

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BRUCE, William Cabell 1860-1946


Born March 12, 1860, in Charlotte County, VA; died May 9, 1946; son of Charles (a tobacco planter, livestock breeder, and politician) and Sarah Alexander (Sedon) Bruce; married October 15, 1887; wife's name Louise E.; children: James, David K.E. Education: Attended Norwood College, 1875-78; attended University of Virginia, 1879-80; University of Maryland, LL.B.; Hampden-Sydney College, LL. D.; attended Loyola College, 1930. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Episcopalian.


Attorney and politician. Fisher, Bruce & Fisher (law partner, 1887-1903, 1908-10; Maryland State Senate, elected member, 1894-96, president, 1896; Baltimore Law Department, head of department, 1903-08; Baltimore Charter Commission, member, 1910; Public Service Commission of Maryland, general counsel, 1910-22, 1929-35; U.S. Senate, elected member, 1923-29.


Pulitzer Prize for biography, 1919, for Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed.


The Negro Problem, J. Murphy (Baltimore, MD), 1891.

Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1917.

Below the James: A Plantation Sketch, Neale Publishing Company (New York, NY), 1918.

John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773-1833, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1922.

Selections from the Speeches, Addresses, and Political Writings of Wm. Cabell Bruce, Sun Book and Job Printing Office (Baltimore, MD), 1927.

Additional Selections from the Speeches, Addresses, etc. of Wm. Cabell Bruce, King Brothers (Baltimore, MD), 1928.

Seven Great Baltimore Lawyers, [ (Baltimore, MD], 1931.

Recollections, King Brothers (Baltimore, MD), 1931.

Imaginary Conversations with Franklin, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1933.

Latest Additional Selections from the Speeches, Addresses and Writings of Wm. Cabell Bruce, Press of the Daily Record Company (Baltimore, MD), 1934.

The Inn of Existence, King Brothers (Baltimore, MD), 1941.


William Cabell Bruce, a member of what was once one of Virginia's most wealthy and noted families, was a lawyer, biographer, and senator. During his career, he alternated regularly between a thriving law practice and serving in public office. It was during one of his public appointments, to the office of chief counsel to the Maryland Public Service Commission, that Bruce published two of his most noted works: Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed and John Randolph of Roanoke. Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed was awarded the Pulitzer Price in 1919 for biography.

Bruce grew up in a wealthy family. His father was a successful tobacco planter and livestock breeder, and served in the Virginia state senate for some years. The Bruce family estate, located in Charlotte County, Virginia, was one of the South's largest tobacco plantations, operating with 500 slaves. However, after a series of financial problems, Bruce's father, Charles Bruce, lost all of his property except for the Charlotte County land, which he passed on to William and his two brothers. By all accounts, Bruce was well educated, both by private tutors and through formal education. He graduated with a law degree in 1882, and after passing the Maryland Bar that same year, began practicing in Baltimore. After five years he entered into a partnership with the law firm Fisher, Bruce & Fisher. William A. Fisher had been a former member of the supreme bench of Baltimore and Fisher's son, David Kirkpatrick Este Fisher, was also a member of the firm.

During his law career Bruce spent time away from this lucrative law practice to pursue public-service positions; as he wrote in his memoir, Recollections, "I had never intended always to give myself up so single-mindedly to the practice of law as to be unable to gratify my love of public life and letters." In 1893 Bruce was elected to the state senate, and in 1896 he became president of that same body. After serving his term, he returned to practice law at Fisher, Bruce & Fisher, but in 1903 resigned to accept an appointment as city solicitor. He left this office in 1908, returned once more to the law firm, and then was appointed by Governor Austin L. Crothers to the office of chief counsel to the Maryland Public Service Commission, where he served from 1910 to 1922.

It was during this time that Bruce became interested in historical writing and published Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed and John Randolph of Roanoke. Referencing Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed, a critic for the Boston Transcript applauded Bruce's "keen critical insight and deep understanding of human nature …fine sense of proportion, and a literary manner which renders the work eminently readable."

Bruce was elected from Maryland to the U.S. Senate in 1922 for one term. During his term in office he earned national acclaim for championing a crusade against the Ku Klux Klan, for advocating federal antilynching legislature, and for his fight against prohibition. Bruce lost his senate seat in 1928, and returned to Fisher, Bruce & Fisher. He formally retired from law in 1937 and his son David K. E. Bruce carried on his name in the political arena as a prominent statesman and diplomat, serving as ambassador to South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

In addition to Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed and John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773-1833 Bruce published other books, including biographies, autobiographies, fiction, drama, and nonfiction. He had several books privately printed, among these three individual collections of his public speeches, addresses, and writings.



Encyclopedia of American Biography, Volumes 4 and 5, American Historical Society (New York, NY), 1935.

Who Was Who in America, Volume 2: 1943-1950, A.N. Marquia Company (Chicago, IL), 1963.*

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Bruce, William Cabell 1860-1946

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