(b. 17 May 1912 in Plainfield, New Jersey; d. 29 May 2004 in Brooksville, Maine), legal scholar, former United States Solicitor General, and Watergate special prosecutor known for his trademark bow tie and crew-cut hair, who became a symbol of integrity during a difficult period in American history.
Cox was the oldest of seven children born to Archibald Cox, Sr., a prominent copyright and patent lawyer in New York City, and Frances (Perkins) Cox, a homemaker. The family lived in the affluent town of Plainfield, New Jersey, where Cox was born in May 1912. He inherited a deep reverence for law and public service from both sides of his family. His mother was a direct descendant of Roger Sherman, who signed the Declaration of Independence for Connecticut and later signed the Constitution. Cox’s father taught his children to appreciate the privileges and duties associated with the legal profession. From an early age Cox read about the great figures and major events in the history of jurisprudence. There was, he later said, “never a day when I wasn’t going to be a lawyer.”
Cox’s family spent its summers in Windsor, Vermont, occupying the sprawling homestead built by William M. Evarts, Cox’s great-grandfather. In his early years Cox hiked, memorized poetry, and developed a love for literature. He tramped the woods with his uncle, Maxwell Perkins, the famous editor who discovered the writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway. Cox’s character had a decided New England cast, which was reinforced by his early education.
Cox was educated at Saint Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, a prestigious college preparatory boarding school that his maternal grandfather had helped to found. After graduating from Saint Paul’s in 1930, Cox entered Harvard College, where his father had earned his undergraduate degree. During Cox’s sophomore year, however, his father died of lung cancer, which was an unexpected blow to the family. Yet Cox persevered in his studies, majoring in American history and economics. He entered Harvard Law School in the fall of 1934 and graduated with high honors in 1937. Cox found his niche in law school, earning the Sears Prize for achieving the highest grade in his class. He reveled in the details of legal study, impressing Professor (later Supreme Court Justice) Felix Frankfurter so deeply that Frankfurter recommended him for a clerkship with the famed jurist Learned Hand of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City. Hand had been a friend of Cox’s father and had spent summers in Cornish, New Hampshire, across the Connecticut River from Windsor. Cox’s clerkship with Hand was an honor that Cox viewed as unsurpassable.
Cox married Phyllis Ames on 12 June 1937, three days after his final law school examinations. Frankfurter wrote a note of congratulations stating, “My God, what a powerful legal combination!” The bride was the granddaughter of two distinguished jurists: James Barr Ames, a former dean of Harvard Law School, and Nathan Abbott, the founder of Stanford Law School. Husband and wife both loved books, the outdoors, and the quieter pleasures of life, which they shared for sixty-seven years. They had three children.
Cox found that moving to New York City to clerk for Hand was a wondrous experience. A jurist with a powerful intellect who was frequently mentioned as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court, Hand taught “not by precept, but by example,” noted Cox. He instilled in Cox the importance of writing carefully and clearly. He also taught Cox to respect the authority of legal precedents. These lessons would stick with Cox for a lifetime.
After Cox’s clerkship with Hand, he worked in private legal practice from 1938 to 1941 as an associate at the prestigious Boston firm of Ropes, Gray, Best, Coolidge & Rugg. This position was followed by a series of government jobs in Washington as assistant solicitor general, assistant to the secretary of state, and associate solicitor in the Department of Labor during World War II. When the war ended in 1945, Cox returned to Ropes, Gray expecting to remain with the firm until retirement. Within five weeks, however, he was offered a position as lecturer at the Harvard Law School, beginning in the fall of 1945. Within a year he had been promoted to full professor. At the age of thirty-four, Cox was one of the youngest academics in the history of the university to attain that rank. It was a position he would hold for over fifty years, teaching courses in torts and in constitutional, administrative, and labor law.
Cox soon established himself as a leading scholar of labor law in the United States. In 1952 President Harry S. Truman appointed him to head the Wage Stabilization Board. Cox resigned the position after only six months, believing that the president had undercut a key decision of the board in order to placate the powerful leader of the United Mine Workers of America, John L. Lewis. Cox felt that his conscience forbade him to remain on the board. He quietly returned to Harvard, believing that his excursions into public service had ended.
Over the next decade, however, Cox found himself providing advice about labor law to the junior senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Cox was a principal drafter of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959), a landmark piece of labor legislation that was the future president’s singular legislative accomplishment. In 1960 Kennedy named Cox to head the “Brain Trust” of academic experts and analysts that churned out speeches and position papers for the candidate on hundreds of topics during that year’s presidential campaign. After Kennedy moved into the White House, he nominated Cox for the office of United States Solicitor General, a major position in any presidential administration. The solicitor general represents the United States government in cases before the Supreme Court. The position is generally considered one of the highest honors for a practicing lawyer in the United States.
Working alongside Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, with whom he developed a warm relationship, Cox became one of the most eminent solicitors general since the office was instituted in 1870 under President Ulysses S. Grant. Cox argued many of the landmark civil rights cases of the 1960s, including Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority (1961), which ruled that a private business renting space inside a public building could not refuse service to a customer on racial grounds; Baker v. Carr (1962), which dealt with the reap-portionment of voting districts; and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), which established the principle of “one person, one vote” for the defining of legislative districts. After Kennedy’s death, Cox remained in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration long enough to win two additional significant cases: Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States and Katzenbach v. McClung (both 1964), both of which upheld key provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also assisted Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach in drafting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Cox left the office of solicitor general in 1966 to return to teaching at Harvard.
Soon after his return to the university, however, Cox found himself thrown into the turmoil of student uprisings during the Vietnam War. He first chaired a commission to study the campus disturbances at Columbia University in 1968, then served as the de facto president of Harvard as student riots swept his own campus in the spring of 1969.
The day before his sixty-first birthday, Cox received a call from his former student, Elliot Richardson, whom President Richard M. Nixon had selected as his new attorney general amidst the growing crisis of the Watergate scandal. Richardson asked Cox if he would serve as the special prosecutor of the Watergate affair, investigating allegations that Nixon himself had been involved in covering up the June 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Cox discussed Richardson’s request with Phyllis and concluded that the special prosecutor’s task was thankless, but “maybe there’s no one better to do it than a sixty-year-old tenured law professor who isn’t going anywhere (in public life) anyway.”
After the existence of a White House taping system was revealed, Cox subpoenaed nine key tape recordings that would prove or disprove the president’s involvement in the cover-up. When Nixon refused to turn over the tapes after being ordered to do so by District Judge John J. Sirica, whose order was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Cox did not back down. In a dramatic national press conference on the afternoon of 20 October 1973, Cox explained to the American public why no citizen of the United States, not even the president, is above the law. Cox was dismissed as special prosecutor within hours of the press conference, when President Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned, as did his deputy attorney general, William Ruckelshaus. Finally, Nixon’s solicitor general, Robert Bork, carried out the president’s order, firing Cox; the episode became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Cox’s dismissal triggered a firestorm of public protest that led to the appointment of a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski; a Supreme Court decision ordering the president to turn over dozens of incriminating tapes; and the eventual collapse of the Nixon presidency. Cox, having stuck to his principles, became an American hero.
In the years after Watergate, Cox argued more cases before the Supreme Court, including the famous Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case (1978), which upheld affirmative action programs in higher education. He served as chair of the citizens’ advocacy group Common Cause from 1980 to 1992. In 1985 Cox was honored with the Paul Douglas Ethics in Government Award. He continued writing and teaching at Harvard Law School and Boston University Law School until the age of eighty-five, when he retired with Phyllis to their small family farm in Brooksville, Maine. They continued to ride horses, read, chop wood, and tend to a sprawling vegetable garden until Cox died of natural causes at the age of ninety-two in May 2004. He is buried in Brooksville.
Much like his great-grandfather, William M. Evarts, Archibald Cox “did not seek office, but let it seek him.” He was the rare public servant who, when faced with difficult decisions, was guided not by the prospect of career advancement but rather by the dictates of his own conscience. When the searchlight of history shone upon him during the Watergate crisis, he rose to the challenge and left a lasting, shining mark on American history.
Cox’s papers are held in the Harvard Law School Library Special Collections, which includes much material on the Kennedy administration and the Watergate crisis. The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library at Columbia Point in Boston, Massachusetts, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon collection in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, contain useful material relating to Cox’s public service. Cox’s own book, The Court and the Constitution (1987), contains a brief autobiographical account of his appointment as the special prosecutor of the Watergate scandal. The only full-length biography of Cox as of the early 2000s is Ken Gormley, Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation (1997). The best study of Cox’s role as special prosecutor is James Doyle, Not Above the Law: The Battles of Watergate Prosecutors Cox and Jaworski: A Behind-the-Scenes Account (1977). Numerous memorial tributes to Cox were published in the Harvard Law Review 118, no. 1 (Nov. 2004): 1–24. Obituaries are in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times (both 30 May 2004); the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune (both 31 May 2004); and the Times (London) (1 June 2004).
Archibald Cox (born 1912), lawyer, educator, author, labor arbitrator, and public servant, was appointed special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate political scandal in 1973. Five months later he was fired in the "Saturday Night Massacre."
Archibald Cox began an active life that took him in and out of public service on May 17, 1912, in Plainfield, New Jersey. He was one of six children born to Archibald and Frances Bruen (Perkins) Cox. He married Phyllis Ames on June 12, 1937. They had two daughters and one son.
In 1930 Cox began his long association with Harvard University, entering as an undergraduate student majoring in American history and economics and earning an A.B. degree in 1934. He attended the Harvard Law School, where he was elected to a position on the Harvard Law Review and received the LL.B. degree with honors in 1937. Thereafter, Cox was to be awarded about one dozen honorary degrees from universities in America, attesting to his distinguished career.
Admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1937, he served as a law clerk for one year and became an associate with a law firm in Boston. He practiced law there for three years. In later years Cox would become a member of the American Bar Association.
As the nation prepared for its role in World War II, Cox served in the first of his many public posts beginning in 1941. He joined the staff of the National Defense Mediation Board. Shortly thereafter he took a position in the Office of the Solicitor General of the Department of Justice and later in the Department of Labor.
After the war he was appointed as a lecturer at the Harvard Law School. Within a year he was promoted to the rank of professor, becoming one of the youngest persons in the school's history to hold that rank. He stayed on to teach law, taking leaves of absence to reenter government service. From 1962 to 1965 he was a member of Harvard's board of overseers.
Cox's expertise and experience in labor relations was highlighted first with his appointment as co-chairperson of the Construction Industry Stabilization Commission in 1951 and then as chairperson of the Wage Stabilization Board in 1952. Several times throughout the decade that followed he was called upon to arbitrate nationwide labor disputes and college student rioting, to draft labor legislation, and to advise the U.S. Senate on labor matters. It was in the latter capacity that he worked with John F. Kennedy, then the junior senator from Massachusetts.
Having worked in Kennedy's successful 1960 Democratic presidential campaign, Cox was appointed as solicitor general of the United States. The solicitor general is the third ranking member of the Department of Justice and is responsible for supervising all the national government's legal suits before the U.S. Supreme Court. During his term of office (1961-1965), as well as in later years, Cox argued before the Supreme Court in several historic cases related to civil rights.
A major challenge faced Cox in 1973 when political scandal was confronting the White House. The "Watergate affair" developed following the break-in and electronic bugging in 1972 of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Officials working with President Richard M. Nixon and with the committee to re-elect him president had been implicated in the break-in and related political and campaign finance activities and in attempts to hinder legal prosecution. The nation was shocked and confused.
Under pressure from the public and Congress in May 1973, Nixon approved the creation of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force to investigate those responsible for any illegal political activities or cover-up. Only a person of impeccable credentials and respect could be appointed to head that task. Cox was selected. He accepted, after receiving assurances that he would have independence to investigate, even if the evidence led to the White House staff or presidential appointees. The oath of office was taken on May 25, 1973.
Cox's first tasks were to create the structure, staff, and procedures for the special force and to comb through the background events and documents. His work took an unexpected turn on July 16, 1973, when Alexander Butterfield, a former White House staff member, made a shocking disclosure before the special Senate committee which was holding its own hearings on the Watergate affair. Butterfield testified that Nixon had been secretly taping conversations in the presidential offices. Two days later Cox wrote to the president's lawyer requesting eight tapes of specific conversations relevant to the investigation. On July 23 he received the answer: No.
Immediately thereafter, Cox sought a subpoena from U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica to compel release of the tapes. Within two days the White House invoked the doctrine of executive privilege, arguing that the president was immune from judicial orders enforcing subpoenas. Cox countered the arguments with a carefully drawn brief based on rare precedents. On August 29 Sirica ordered Nixon to release the tapes to him to determine if they were covered by executive privilege. Nixon appealed the order, and on October 12 the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Sirica's action.
Nixon offered a compromise: Senator John Stennis (Democrat, Mississippi) would be asked to listen to the tapes and verify an edited written version that Nixon would submit to the grand jury and to the Senate committee. In addition, Cox was to make no further attempt to obtain tapes or other notes of presidential conversations. Cox rejected the proposal.
Attorney General Elliot Richardson was ordered by the White House to fire Cox. Having assured the Senate that Cox would be free to pursue the investigation, Richardson resigned rather than do so. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus was then given the task. He too refused to fire Cox and promptly quit his job in protest (and was simultaneously fired.) Finally, Solicitor General Robert Bork, next in line and appointed acting attorney general, was so ordered. He dismissed Cox. This quick series of events on October 20, 1973 ignited popular criticism and became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."
Cox left Washington, D.C., and returned to Harvard to teach, write, practice law, and continue his public and political activities. At Harvard he served as Williston Professor of Law until 1976, as Carl M. Loeb University Professor from 1976 to 1984, and as a professor emeritus starting in 1984. He was also a visiting professor at Boston University starting in 1985.
In 1980 Cox became chairperson of Common Cause, a nationwide citizens' advocacy group, and held that position until 1992. He was also chairman of the Health Effects Institute starting in 1985. In the 1990s he was a member of the Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition, a nonpartisan group whose members included former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, actor Christopher Reeve, and a number of political figures from both parties, all united in urging that television networks voluntarily give free airtime to Presidential candidates. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the American Bar Foundation in 1993, Cox received that organization's Research Award.
Cox's name was often in the news in the 1980s and 1990s, not so much because of his current activities as because of his earlier role as special prosecutor. The decades following Watergate saw increased activity for special prosecutors, most notably Lawrence Walsh in the Iran-Contra hearings during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation of President Clinton. Cox himself wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times on December 12, 1996, in which he criticized what he described as overuse of the independent counsel and special prosecutor activities. He also made recommendations for "Curbing Special Counsels," the title of the article.
An important contributor to the fields of labor law and American justice, Cox authored or coauthored several books: Cases on Labor Law (1948, 11th edition 1981), Law and the National Labor Policy (1960), Civil Rights, the Constitution and the Courts (1967), The Warren Court (1968), The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government (1976), Freedom of Expression (1981), and The Court and the Constitution (1987.)
Cox lacks a published biography in book form. Interesting reading on Cox's role in the Watergate affair, with insight into his personality and style, can be found in James Doyle, Not Above the Law (1977). Doyle was appointed special assistant for public affairs of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and worked with Cox. Cox's successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, has written The Right and The Power (1976). Judge John Sirica's side of the Cox activities is found in his book To Set the Record Straight (1979). An overall report of the period is found in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President's Men (1974). □
Archibald Cox, a former Harvard Law School professor, came to national attention in the 1950s as a federal labor official. From 1961 to 1965, he served as solicitor general. He is best known for his appointment in 1973 as the Department of Justice's special prosecutor in charge of investigating President richard m. nixon during the watergate scandal. Cox's tenacious pursuit of Nixon's secret tape recordings precipitated a constitutional crisis, led to Cox's firing, and ultimately set the stage for Nixon's resignation from office in 1974.
Born on May 17, 1912, in Plainfield, New Jersey, Cox was one of six children of Archibald Cox and Francis Bruen Cox. He studied American history and economics before entering Harvard Law School, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1937. After serving a law clerkship for the celebrated federal appellate judge learned hand, Cox entered private practice. In 1946, he became a full professor of law at Harvard. He held various federal positions in the area of labor law during the 1940s and 1950s, including that of head of the Korean War–era Wage Stabilization Board following an appointment in 1952 by President harry s. truman. Throughout those decades, he also arbitrated national labor disputes.
"Through the centuries, men of law have been persistently concerned with the resolution of disputes … in ways that enable society to achieve its goals with a minimum of force and a maximum of reason."
By the 1960s, Cox had established a reputation as a specialist in labor law. President john f. kennedy sought him out as a campaign adviser in the 1960 election. After winning office, the president rewarded Cox by appointing him U.S. solicitor general, the attorney who argues government cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Cox held the post until 1965, and then returned to teaching law. He remained a highly sought-after negotiator and mediator. He was chosen by the New York City school system to help settle a teacher strike in 1967, and by Columbia University to investigate riots on its campus in 1968. He served as a special investigator for the Massachusetts state legislature in 1972.
For Cox, the pivotal appointment came in May 1973, when attorney general designate elliot richardson appointed him to investigate President Nixon's role in the Watergate affair. The scandal had been simmering since the arrest, in June 1972, of five Republican political operatives for breaking into the Democratic party's national headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. Nixon denied any involvement. But after evidence suggested a connection to White House aides, he promised to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. When Cox took the appointment, Watergate was chiefly an embarrassment to Nixon; partly through Cox's efforts, it would become Nixon's undoing.
Since 1971, the president had been surreptitiously recording conversations in the White House, and Cox believed that the tapes contained key evidence. Cox put pressure on Nixon to release the recordings. Nixon refused, claiming that he had a constitutional right to keep presidential documents confidential. Cox warned that the refusal would precipitate a constitutional crisis. The Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities was also conducting an investigation and was then holding public hearings. The two investigations resulted in a lawsuit that sought to force Nixon to release the tapes, and U.S. district court judge
John J. Sirica ultimately ordered the president to do so. The president stonewalled.
By October 1973, Nixon had had enough. He wanted Cox gone. But rather than compromise the integrity of the department of justice by firing the special prosecutor, Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resigned. Nixon ultimately found someone who was willing to do the job. He promoted Solicitor General robert h. bork to acting attorney general, and Bork fired Cox. Cox told the press, "Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and
not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide."
The public uproar following Cox's firing—including 3 million messages of protest sent to Congress—further destabilized the president, who was increasingly viewed as covering up his role in Watergate. Resolutions urging impeachment were quickly introduced in the House of Representatives. Nine months later, the U.S. Supreme Court, in united states v. nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 94 S. Ct. 3090, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1039 (1974), ordered Nixon to surrender materials that he had withheld from the Senate. On August 9, 1974, with impeachment almost certain, he resigned from office.
Cox returned to teaching at Harvard in 1976, pronouncing himself satisfied with the outcome of the Watergate affair. He remained at Harvard until 1984 and then served as a visiting professor of law at Boston University from 1984 to 1996. In his later years, he has advocated reform of campaign finance laws, delivering several speeches about the ethics of campaign financing in presidential elections. In 2000, he joined a lawsuit against the federal election commission, claiming that political partyfinanced advertisements in support of presidential candidates were illegal. The case was eventually dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Wertheimer v. Federal Election Comm'n, 268 F.3d 1070 (D.C. Cir. 2001).
Besides writings in the legal and popular press, Cox's prodigious output of scholarship includes Cases on Labor Law (1948, 8th edition 1976), Civil Rights, the Constitution, and the Courts (1967), The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government (1976), and The Court and the Constitution (1987). Cox is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of eight honorary law degrees from U.S. universities.
In 1997, Cox was the subject of a biography entitled Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation by Ken Gormley. The book focuses on Cox's long and distinguished career as a public servant. In 2001, Cox was honored with the Presidential Citizens Medal for exemplary public service.
COX, Archibald. American, b. 1912. Genres: Law. Career: Emeritus Professor, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, since 1984 (Lecturer, 1945-46, Professor of Law, 1946-58, Royal Professor of Law, 1958-65, Williston Professor of Law, 1965-67, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, 1976-84). Visiting Professor of Law, Boston University since 1984. Admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, 1937; with Law firm of Ropes, Gray, Best, Coolidge and Rugg, Boston, 1938-41; Attorney, Office of the Solicitor-General, U.S. Dept. of Justice, 1941-43; Associate Solicitor, U.S. Dept. of Labor, 1943-45; Solicitor-General of the U.S., 1961-65; Special Prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., 1973; Visiting Pitt Professor of American History, Cambridge University, England, 1974-75. Chairman, Wage Stabilization Board, 1952, and Advisory Panel to Senate Committee on Education and Labor, 1958-59; Member, Board of Overseers, Harvard University, 1962-65. Publications: (with Derek Bok) Cases in Labor Law, 1948, (with Derek Bok and Robert German) 11th ed. 1981; Law and the National Labor Policy, 1960; (with Mark DeWolfe Howe and J. R. Wiggins) Civil Rights, the Constitution, and the Courts, 1967; The Warren Court: Constitutional Decision as an Instrument of Reform, 1968; The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government, 1976; Freedom of Expression, 1981; The Court and the Constitution, 1987. Address: Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Born May 17, 1912, in Plainsfield, New Jersey, died May 29, 2004, in Brooksville, Maine. Cox served as solicitor general during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the 1960s, but was perhaps best known for being fired by President Richard Nixon during Cox's investigations as special prosecutor of the Watergate scandal. Cox graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1937, and worked in the Departments of Justice and Labor during World War II. He later taught at Harvard Law School, where he was asked by John F. Kennedty to assist on Kennedy's presidential campaign. Following Kennedy's victory, Cox was named solicitor general, where he served from 1961 until 1965. In 1973, Cox was appointed special prosecutor in charge of investigating the growing Watergate scandal. His pursuit of Nixon's secret White House tapes resulted in Nixon firing him and precipitating a constitutional crisis. Following his role in the Watergate affair, Cox returned to teaching and writing.