Marshall, Louis

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MARSHALL, LOUIS (1856–1929), lawyer and communal leader. Born in Syracuse, New York, the son of German-Jewish immigrants, Marshall graduated from Syracuse High School and served a two-year apprenticeship in a local law office. In 1876 he left for New York City where he completed the two-year Columbia Law School course in one year. Returning to Syracuse, Marshall joined a prominent law firm and in 1894 became a partner in the leading New York firm of Guggenheimer, Untermyer, and Marshall.

Marshall specialized in constitutional and corporate law. Many of the numerous cases that he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court were of major constitutional significance. His legal eminence was recognized by appointment or election to three constitutional conventions in New York State (1890, 1894, and 1915). Although he never sought public office, he was at one time seriously considered for appointment to the Supreme Court. A leading supporter of the Republican Party, Marshall participated in local and national politics, led in the establishment of the New York State College of Forestry, and served on numerous non-sectarian committees and boards.

In New York City, Marshall joined the German-Jewish elite and quickly became the chief spokesman for this group in matters affecting the Jewish community at home and abroad. His national leadership became evident in 1911 during the successful campaign against the United States-Russian Commercial Treaty of 1832, which was being used by the Czarist regime to discriminate against American Jews. Marshall's eloquence, legal knowledge, and skillful management, joined with intense public pressure, resulted in congressional action leading to abrogation of the treaty. In 1912 Marshall became president of the American Jewish Committee and held this post until 1929. During World War i, he participated in a bitter internal power struggle within the Jewish community over the establishment of an American Jewish Congress in preparation for peace negotiations. Playing a key role as mediator, Marshall joined the Jewish delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where he supported the granting of national minority rights to the Jews of the new East European states.

Marshall vigorously attempted, without success, to block the American publication of the antisemitic Protocols of the *Elders of Zion, imported from Europe in the immediate postwar years. American Jewry was shocked when the Dearborn Independent, a publication owned by Henry Ford, embarked in 1920 on a crusade to popularize and elaborate the distortions and misrepresentations emanating from the Protocols. Unable to dissuade Ford directly, Marshall utilized quiet pressure and influential intermediaries in an attempt to abate this antisemitic campaign. Finally, in 1927, after lawsuits brought by individuals maligned by the Independent, Ford agreed to cease his attacks and to sign a formal apology to the Jews prepared by Marshall.

Marshall participated in the legal defense of Leo *Frank, who was convicted and subsequently lynched in Georgia for a murder he allegedly committed in 1913. He played a significant part in the campaign to delay the imposition of progressively harsher immigration-restriction legislation. His intervention in 1922 helped reverse Harvard University's announced intention to impose a quota system on Jewish students. He quietly opposed the powerful Ku Klux Klan and vigorously condemned the perpetrators of the Massena ritual murder libel in 1929.

Marshall was a dedicated Jew. He served as president of Temple Emanu-El in New York, the most important Reform Jewish congregation in the United States. At the same time, he served as chairman of the board of directors of the *Jewish Theological Seminary. During World War i, he was president of the American Jewish Relief Committee and helped organize and guide the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Although not a political Zionist, Marshall acknowledged the need for Palestine as a center of Jewish settlement, especially after the United States severely limited immigration in the early 1920s. He cooperated with Chaim *Weizmann in attempting to arrange a modus vivendi which would allow wealthy and influential non-Zionists to share in the support of Palestine without actually becoming Zionists. Weizmann's and Marshall's efforts, opposed by Stephen Wise and other American Zionists, finally came to fruition after many years of discussion. In August 1929, shortly before Marshall's fatal illness, a pact was ratified in Zurich for the establishment of a *Jewish Agency, which would include both Zionists and non-Zionists in the management of Jewish colonization in Palestine under the terms of the British mandate. Marshall's death was a blow to the full implementation of the venture, but his work helped create a tradition of American non-Zionist support that was of great value in the crucial decade after World War ii.

Believing in the indivisibility of civil rights, Marshall was a consistent champion of other minorities. Active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he fought major legal battles on behalf of blacks. In 1920, alarmed at hysterical anti-Bolshevism, Marshall defended five socialist assemblymen, who were refused their seats in the New York State Legislature.

Marshall's period of leadership coincided with the great era of mass Jewish immigration to the United States and the integration of the immigrants into an urbanized, industrialized society. Representing the native Jewish establishment, he nevertheless displayed a remarkable sensitivity to the needs and desires of the Jewish immigrants, encouraging, guiding, criticizing, but not patronizing. Aided by American democratic traditions and the political power of Jewish voters, Marshall generally used the traditional methods of intercession and quiet diplomacy to achieve his ends. While not uniformly successful, his dignity, sincerity, devotion, and strength combined to produce what a contemporary called "the foremost leader of American Judaism… the American Jew par excellence."

His son, george marshall (1904– ), conservationist, served as an economist with the National Recovery Administration from 1934 to 1937. Marshall devoted his efforts to the cause of conservation. He was managing editor of The Living Wilderness from 1957 to 1961 and was a director of the Sierra Club and the California Conservation Council.

Another son, james marshall (1896–1986), lawyer and educator, studied law at Columbia University and was associated with his father's firm, Guggenheimer, Untermyer, and Marshall from 1920 to 1930. After independent practice from 1930 to 1934, he became a member of the firm of Marshall, Bratter, Greene, Allison and Tucker. In addition to numerous other civic responsibilities, Marshall was a member of the New York City Board of Education from 1938 to 1952 and served as its president from 1938 to 1942. Active in Jewish communal life, he held important posts in the American Jewish Committee, Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Publication Society, and American Friends of the Hebrew University.

A third son, robert marshall (1901–1939), served as director of the forestry division of the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs from 1933 to 1937. He became chief of the division of recreation and soil conservation of the U.S. Forest Service and held the position until his death.


C. Reznikoff (ed.), Louis Marshall: Champion of Liberty, 2 vols. (1957); M. Rosenstock, Louis Marshall, Defender of Jewish Rights (1965); American Jewish Committee, in: ajyb, 10–31 (1908–29); Adler, in: ajyb, 32 (1931), 21–55; Dawidowicz, in: jsos, 25 (1963), 102–32.

[Morton Rosenstock]

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Marshall, Louis