Williams, Frank J. 1940-

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WILLIAMS, Frank J. 1940-


Born August 24, 1940, in Providence, RI; son of Frank and Natalie (Corelli) Williams; married Virginia E. Miller, August 24, 1966. Education: Boston University, B.A., 1962, School of Law, J.D., 1970; Bryant College, M.A., 1986. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Study of Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War, cooking.


Home—300 Switch Rd., Hope Valley, RI 02832. Office—Rhode Island Supreme Court, 250 Benefit St., Providence, RI 02903. E-mail—[email protected].


Jurist, attorney, historian, author, and lecturer. Called to the Bar of the State of Rhode Island, 1970, U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, 1970, and Connecticut Supreme Court, 1976; Frank J. Williams, Ltd., Providence, RI, member of staff, 1978-95; Leonard Decof, Ltd., Providence, associate, 1976-78; Tillinghast, Collins, and Graham, Providence, associate, 1970-75; Superior Court of the State of Rhode Island, associate justice, 1995-2001; Supreme Court of the State of Rhode Island, chief justice, 2001—. Lincoln Forum, founder, 1995—; Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, congressional appointment, 2000—; member of various civic and historical organizations, advisory boards, and committees. Military service: U.S. Army, captain, 1962-67; served in Vietnam as a company commander, tank platoon leader, assistant battalion operations officer, and advisor to Vietnamese military; medals include the Bronze Star, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Star for Valor, U.S. Army commendation medal and combat infantryman's badge.


American Bar Association, Rhode Island Bar Association, Iron Brigade Association (lifetime member), American Antiquarian Society, Lincoln Forum (founding chairman), Ulysses S. Grant Association (president, 1990—), Lincoln Group of Boston, Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin, Indiana Historical Society, Kentucky Historical Society, Illinois State Historical Society, Lincoln Club of Delaware, Lincoln Club of Topeka, Lincoln Group of District of Columbia, Lincoln Group of Illinois, Lincoln Group of New York, Lincoln Memorial Association (Redlands, CA), Lincoln Society (Taipei, Taiwan), Civil War Round Table, Surratt Society, United States Supreme Court Historical Society, Abraham Lincoln Association, Pi Sigma Alpha.


Awards for professional and community service, including induction into Cranston, RI Hall of Fame, 1990; Citizen of the Year award, Rhode Island Trial Lawyers Association, 2001; Giannini award, Rhode Island Legal/Educational Partnership; named University Club Man of the Year, 2001; Silver Shingle award, Boston University School of Law, 2002; and Paul Harris fellow, Rotary Foundation, Rotary International, 2002; Commander's Service Award, Department of the Army, 2002; award of merit, Military Order of Foreign Wars of the Unites States, Rhode Island Commandery, 2002; appointed honorary brigadier general of the Rhode Island Militia, 2003; honorary degrees from Lincoln College, Southern New England School of Law, and Johnson and Wales University; honorary diploma from Lincoln Memorial University.


(Author of afterword) Lincoln on Democracy, edited by Mario M. Cuomo and Harold Holzer, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1990.

(Editor with William D. Pederson and Vincent J. Marsala) Abraham Lincoln: Sources and Style of Leadership ("Contributions in American History" series), Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1994.

(Author of introduction) David E. Long, The Jewel of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln's Re-Election and the End of Slavery, Stackpole, 1995.

(Editor with William D. Pederson) Abraham Lincoln Contemporary: An American Legacy, Savas Publishing (El Dorado Hills, CA), 1995.

(With Harold Holzer) Lincoln's Deathbed in Art and Memory: The "Rubber Room" Phenomenon, Thomas Publications, 1998.

(Editor with Mark J. Rozell and William D. Pederson) George Washington and the Origins of the American Presidency, Praeger (Westport, CT), 2000.

(Editor with William D. Pederson and Kevin L. Cope) George Washington in and as Culture, AMS Press, 2000.

(With William D. Pederson and Norman W. Provizer) Classic Cases in American Constitutional Law, West Group (St. Paul, MN), 2001.

(Editor with William D. Pederson) George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Savas Publishing (El Dorado Hills, CA), 2001.

Judging Lincoln, foreword by Harold Holzer, epilogue by John Y. Simon, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2002.

A Comparison in Leadership: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill: The Warrior, Communitarian, and Echo Men, Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin (Beaver Dam, WI), 2002.

(Editor with William D. Pederson) Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln: Competing Perspectives on Two Great Presidencies ("M. E. Sharpe Library of Franklin D. Roosevelt Studies" series), M. E. Sharpe (Armonk, NY), 2003.

(Editor with Stephen K. Shaw and William D. Pederson) Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Transformation of the Supreme Court, M. E. Sharpe (Armonk, NY), 2003.

Contributor to works by others, including Rediscovering Abraham Lincoln, edited by John Y. Simon and Harold Holzer, Fordham University Press (New York, NY), 2002. Editor for periodicals, including Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Lincoln Lore, Lincoln Herald, Hobbies, and International Abraham Lincoln Journal; contributor to periodicals, including American Heritage, Rhode Island Bar Journal, American History, North and South, Lincolnator, and Roger Williams University Law Review.


Long Abraham, A Little Longer: Lincoln in Cartoon and Caricature, 1860-Present, with William E. Gienapp and Harold Holzer; Abraham Lincoln: An Annotated Bibliography, for Greenwood Press; and The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views—Social, Legal, Pictorial, with Edna Greene Medford and Harold Holzer, for Louisiana State University Press.


Frank J. Williams became chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 2001, after a long and distinguished legal career. Before entering the law, Williams served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict. He is much decorated and continues to be acknowledged for both his military record and his service to civic and other organizations.

After Vietnam, Williams returned to Boston University to obtain his law degree. Although he has written about the law, his most notable work as a writer and editor focuses on the history surrounding the U.S. Civil War, and particularly his extensive documentation of the life of President Abraham Lincoln. In an interview with Harold Holzer for White House Studies, Williams explained that he became engrossed with Lincoln and his legacy "after camping out on the Gettysburg battlefield one night while still a teenager. The atmosphere overtook and inspired me, and it's been inspiring me ever since. I've read everything I could get my hands on for forty years, and hopefully made some contributions of my own along the way. Most important of all, not a day goes by in which I do not learn something new and important about Lincoln—something that changes my view of history and helps me deal with the present and the future."

Williams personally has one of the largest and finest Lincoln collections in the country, and in 2000 he was appointed by Congress to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which is charged with planning the events for the 2009 celebration. Among the Lincoln groups to which Williams belongs is the Lincoln Forum, which he founded in 1995. In seven years, the group grew to more than 600 members in nearly every state and Canada. Their yearly meetings are attended by Lincoln scholars and enthusiasts who review books, visit U.S. Civil War sites, and attend relevant ceremonies.

Williams is coeditor with William D. Pederson and Vincent J. Marsala, of Abraham Lincoln: Sources and Style of Leadership. The volume is a collection of essays presented at a 1992 conference at Louisiana State University (LSU), Shreveport, the first symposium on Lincoln ever held in the Deep South. LSU became a land-grant university under Lincoln and is in a state to which Lincoln devoted significant consideration of the future of the freed slaves and Reconstruction. Williams summarizes the common threads of the seven essays in both the introductory chapter, co-authored with Pederson, and in the conclusion.

Major L. Wilson reviewed the collection in Civil War History, writing that "Lincoln, in this view, brought to the task of leadership the disposition to be an energetic executive, a vision based at last on what he took to be the fundamental principles of the nation, and a pragmatic capacity to match principles to circumstances in the ever-shifting realities of the Civil War. Neither a moral idealist nor a political opportunist, he pursued a course of principled pragmatism, evincing what Williams calls an 'active-flexible' style."

In summing up, Williams compares Lincoln with the heads of Great Britain, France, German, Italy, Canada, Japan, and China, writing that "it is doubtful whether any other leader of his time could have matched him in politics, in shaping language, in smoothing personal difficulties by a classical magnanimous touch or a tactful gesture, in avoiding domestic and international complications, in courageously persisting in the fact of almost unendurable discouragements, and in maintaining war morale while refusing to harbor malice. Lincoln not only passes the test of leadership, he has become a symbol for democracy and union."

David B. Chesebrough wrote in Civil War History that after reading Abraham Lincoln Contemporary: An American Legacy, edited by Williams and Pederson, "one comes away with a renewed appreciation as to how greatly the sixteenth president has affected succeeding generations." The book's eleven essays, by a range of authors who represent fields including law, economics, education, and social work, document Lincoln's long-lasting influence on America's institutions. The first part of the book, written by Edward and Frederick Schapsmeier, follows Lincoln's influence on the presidencies of Rutherford B. Hayes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Gerald Ford, the last who, when under considerable pressure himself, said of Lincoln that "it is a comforting presence, greatly reminding his successors that no matter how worrisome, none of their problems can be worse than he faced, none of their critics more cruel, none of their decisions more difficult."

The second part of Abraham Lincoln Contemporary deals with the relationship between the president, Congress, and the cabinet. The third, titled "Constitutional Impact," revisits the question of whether Lincoln was correct in using extraconstitutional powers in a time of crisis and includes opposing viewpoints. Part four consists of three essays that deal with the spiritual impact of Lincoln's presidency and life.

In Judging Lincoln, Williams collects nine of his own essays. The subjects of the essays include Lincoln's attitudes toward and relationships with women, civil rights, and the Thirteenth Amendment. James Percoco wrote in Civil War News Online that "these craftily laid out essays are well-balanced and written with the keen eye and hand of an attorney. Not unlike Lincoln, Williams presents his case for Lincoln's place in American and world history with effective logic and reason. Underneath this is a subtle sense of passion for the life and work of the Civil War president."

Pederson, Williams's frequent collaborator, reviewed the volume in White House Studies, noting that Williams shares his knowledge with the "torchbearers of the liberal arts tradition." Pederson names as examples of scholars who have taken an inclusive rather exclusive approach include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Lincoln, and Hugo Black. Judging Lincoln, wrote Pederson, "strongly suggests that Frank J. Williams ranks in this succession of liberal arts torchbearers for whom the sheer joy of learning is itself the reward." Pederson concluded by saying that "no one has organized and attended more Lincoln conferences than Williams. No one outside the Academy has labored more diligently to meld town and gown forces to educate the public about Lincoln. Nor has anyone been more successful than Williams in translating the esoteric legacy of Lincoln's leadership into meaningful lessons."



Booklist, September 1, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Judging Lincoln, p. 53.

Civil War History, September, 1995, Major L. Wilson, review of Abraham Lincoln: Sources and Style of Leadership, pp. 249-250; September, 1996, David B. Chesebrough, review of Abraham Lincoln Contemporary: An American Legacy, pp. 251-252.

Library Journal, September 15, 2002, Theresa R. McDevitt, review of Judging Lincoln, p. 77.

White House Studies, winter, 2002, Harold Holzer, "The Lincoln Forum's First Six Years" (interview with Williams), p. 53; spring, 2003, William D. Pederson, review of Judging Lincoln, p. 253.


Civil War News,http://www.civilwarnews.com/ (January 12, 2004), James Percoco, review of Judging Lincoln.

Southern Illinois University Press Web site,http://www.siu.edu/ (January 12, 2004), "Ten Questions with Frank J. Williams."

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