From his Louisville Law Office, in the years between World Wars I and II, William Marshall Bullitt (1873-1957) rose to be one of the nation’s most recognized attorneys. He and two of his New York friends dominated the argument docket of the United States Supreme Court, leaving a record number of appearances which survives today.
Felix Frankfurter, Wild Bill Donovan, Booth Tarkington, John Foster Dulles and many other prominent people of the Twentieth Century know and respected the Kentuckian. Five American presidents corresponded with him and one, William Howard Taft, was so impressed that he told his attorney general, “I love him.” In appreciation for Bullitt’s services in the Republican convention of 1908, Taft rewarded him with a n appointment allowing Bullitt to argue all of the federal government’s cases before the Supreme Court. The book’s title refers to his 1912 service as solicitor general of the United States. This was only one of sixty-two years of his law practice, but the legal arguments Bullitt made that year, and the people he met during that short term, allowed him to become one of America’s most noted lawyers.
Bullitt’s inherited talent as a scientist, including a remarkable acumen for mathematics, drew the country’s largest insurance companies to his office. They asked him to explain to courts their complex tax and accounting issues, many of which were developed by their actuaries. Bullitt applied part of the fortune he made on this specialty to acquiring a collection of the world’s rarest books on mathematics and astronomy, which he kept in a 10,000 volume library at his home at Oxmoor Farm in Jefferson County, Kentucky.
As an older lawyer, he threw himself into the controversy surrounding accused communist spy Alger Hiss, a onetime friend. After studying the Hiss testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, he prepared a printed analysis which was used by federal attorneys prosecuting Hiss. Bullitt himself participated in the trials.
In this thoroughly researched narrative, Mark Davis brings to life the talents of a gifted man, who during a long life knew most of the important Americans of the first half of the century. The author found Bullitt spinning a web, into which he collected the names of presidents, ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, scientists, and others who might someday advance his interests and those of his clients.