August 6, 2010
Partner Frederic Nathan’s book, Centurions in Public Service, has recently been published. The book resulted from a study that Mr. Nathan did for a presentation he gave on the role of New York Lawyers in federal public service at a Federal Bar Council meeting.
Mr. Nathan discovered that New York lawyers held a disproportionately high number of top federal posts from the late 19th century to the 1960s, and that a great number were members of the Century Association, a small social club founded in 1847 to cultivate the arts and letters in New York City. The latter finding was particularly surprising, since membership in the Century has always been limited to “authors, artists, and amateurs of letters and fine arts.” Most of the New York Centurion lawyer-statesmen joined as “amateurs.”
Centurions occupied the White House for 56 of the 80 years ending in 1961; there were 23 Centurion candidates in the 19 presidential elections during this period. Three of the 10 Centurions appointed to the Supreme Court from 1882 to 1972 – William Howard Taft, Charles Evans Hughes and Harlan F. Stone – served consecutively as chief justice for 25 years. Fifty were appointed to the Cabinet, 36 as heads of the four most important departments. They headed the Department of State for a majority of the 111 years ending in 1980.
In chapter two, Mr. Nathan describes the combined efforts of Centurion statesmen, scientists, and academics that were crucial to winning World War II. Under a Centurion president, Centurions served as civilian heads of the Army, Navy, and Army Air Corps and in many other key positions. The final chapters discuss how many Centurions and New York lawyers came to serve in important leadership posts, the reasons why this phenomenon stopped in 1981, and how their involvement might be renewed.
It is hoped that this book will stimulate interest in how the quality of public servants and public service can be improved.