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Thomas Day Thacher papers

Call Number: MS 757

Scope and Contents

The Thomas Day Thacher Papers reflect Mr. Thacher's career as a lawyer and judge, as well as his participation in New York City politics and his activities as a director and trustee of a number of private and civic organizations. Unfortunately, the papers contain only a few items of substance relating to Thacher's service as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1907-1908) and as a special assistant to Henry L. Stimson (1909-1910). Similarly, there are only a few items from the period in which Thacher served with the Red Cross in Russia and relatively little from the years 1925-1930, during which he was U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York.

In the main the papers are composed of materials relating to Thacher's service as U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York (1925-1930), as Solicitor General (1930-1933); his efforts on behalf of Fiorello La Guardia and the New York City charter revision campaign (1933-1943); and the period in which he served on the New York State Court of Appeals (1943-1949).

The papers are arranged in four series: CORRESPONDENCE, 1914-1950; SUBJECT FILES, 1919-1950; SPEECHES, 1925-1949; BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS AND MEMORABILIA, 1916-1950.

CORRESPONDENCE, contains approximately 10,000 letters, many of which are routine. The papers contain little correspondence before the late 1920's. There is no correspondence between Thacher and Henry L. Stimson between the years 1907 and 1910 when Thacher served as his assistant. The papers also contain little correspondence for the period in which Thacher served with the Red Cross in Russia. (For the few letters from this period see the W.A. Williams letter in Series I and the "Red Cross and WWI" file folder in Series IV.)

The papers contain no correspondence from Raymond Robins, the head of the American Red Cross mission in Russia, for the war years. They do, however, contain correspondence from Robins, his wife Margaret, and his sister Elizabeth written during the 1930's. Subjects discussed by the Robins include agricultural experiments in Florida, Raymond's role in Republican politics, Thacher's advocacy in the Supreme Court, and Raymond's mysterious eleven week disappearance.

Thacher's correspondence increased dramatically during the 1930's. Perhaps the most serious and thoughtful correspondence is that between Thacher and Felix Frankfurter during the years 1930-1934. In his letters, Frankfurter often ruminated on the state of the legal profession and discussed proposed changes in Supreme Court Procedures.

Frankfurter and Thacher had serious ideological disagreements over changes in the bankruptcy laws and the proposed reorganization of the railroads--disagreements which Frankfurter outlined in long letters. Other correspondents commented briefly on the proposed changes in bankruptcy laws, including Judge John Knox (1932), Morton Bogue (1932), Frank S. Bright (1932), and Lloyd Garrison (1932).

For comments on New York City politics, see especially the correspondence of Charles C. Burlingham, President of the Bar Association of New York City (1929-1931), and an inveterate political gossip. Burlingham wrote numerous letters to Thacher keeping him abreast of local Republican politics (1932, 1938-1941). Others who kept Thacher informed on various aspects of politics in the City during the 1930's and early 1940's include Fiorello La Guardia, William Chadbourne, James Sheffield, Keyes Winter, and Jerry Voorhees.

Thacher's papers contain relatively little correspondence of substance relating to his involvement in the 1936 New York City charter revision campaign. (For correspondence and other documents relating to specific details of the charter revision and New York City politics, see Series II, Section B.)

The papers contain little correspondence discussing State politics; what little exists relates to the Republican Party's search for judicial nominees. There is a substantial amount of correspondence between Thomas Dewey and Thacher; however, most of it is routine.

Several letters from Thacher's friends throughout the country contain comments on regional politics. Clarence Barnes, Attorney General of Massachusetts, described the condition of the G.O.P. in his state (1930-1934). J.D. Rogers, Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, described the political climate of that state (1934). Walter Newton of Minneapolis reported on the G.O.P. in Minnesota (1936), and R.L. Wilbur, President of Stanford University, gave his views on the New Deal from California (1933).

Thacher's correspondence after his appointment to the New York State Court of Appeals (1934) revolves around the administrative problems of a state judge. Few correspondents, though, discuss substantive legal issues.

Correspondents of note include:

  1. Charles C. Burlingham (150 letters from)
  2. Thomas E. Dewey (13 letters from)
  3. Felix Frankfurter (60 letters from)
  4. Lloyd Garrison (15 letters from)
  5. Herbert Hoover (7 letters from)
  6. Fiorella La Guardia (30 letters from)
  7. Elizabeth Robins (7 letters from)
  8. Raymond Robins (23 letters from)
  9. Henry L. Stimson (11 letters from)

NOTE: For further correspondence on specific topics see also Series II Subject Files. In cases where correspondents in Series I also appear in Series II, cross references have been made.

SUBJECT FILES, is divided into seven sections, (A-G):

Section A is composed of materials relating to Thacher's service as Solicitor General. Consisting mainly of notes, memoranda, and some correspondence involving Thacher's bankruptcy investigation, Section A also contains three clipping scrapbooks of articles discussing his activities as Solicitor General.

Section B contains materials relating to Thacher's involvement in New York City politics, including the Fusion Party and the charter revision of 1935-1936. Consisting primarily of memoranda, correspondence, and research data gathered in support of the new charter, Section B also contains three scrapbooks of clippings on the charter revision campaign and several folders of material relating to the Fusion leaders' split with La Guardia.

Section C is composed of materials from the period in which Thacher served on the New York State Court of Appeals--primarily requests for leave to appeal cases and memoranda and drafts of Thacher's decisions.

Section D contains committee memoranda, minutes of meetings, and routine correspondence from the various legal associations to which Thacher belonged. These include the New York City Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.

Section E contains minutes of meetings, memoranda, and routine correspondence relating to the institutions that Thacher was involved with as a trustee and director. These include Taft School, Yale University, the New York Public Library, the American Law Institute, and the Commonwealth Fund.

Section F is composed of memoranda and correspondence involving a variety of topics and personalities in which Thacher was interested or with which he had dealings. These include railroad reorganization (late 1940's), Felix Frankfurter (clippings and memorabilia), the Ellis Island Committee (1933-1934), Alex Gumberg (clippings and memorabilia), and the Bridges Bill (1940-1941).

SPEECHES, contains over ninety speeches that Thacher delivered between 1925 and 1949. Subjects include bankruptcy law revision, the Fusion Party, the New York City charter revision, and the Wilkes campaign.

BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS AND MEMORABILIA, is composed of materials which primarily relate to Thacher's private affairs: photographs, scrapbooks of biographical clippings, records of honorary degrees, and a few financial records. The series also contains Thacher's appointment books (1925-1943) and a few documents relating to his service with the Red Cross during World War I.

NOTE: Further materials on Thomas Day Thacher are located in the New York Public Library and at Columbia University.


  • 1779-1984
  • Majority of material found within 1914 - 1950


Conditions Governing Access

Accession 2000-M-103 is closed pending review by donor.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Thomas Day Thacher has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Eleanor Morris Thacher, 1975; addition: gift of Thomas Thacher, 1999.


Arranged in four series and one addition: I. Correspondence. II. Subject Files. III. Speeches. IV. Biographical Materials and Memorabilia.


52 Linear Feet (96 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, memoranda, legal documents, reports, minutes of meetings, speeches, printed matter, photographs and memorabilia of Thomas Day Thacher, judge and political figure in New York City. The papers include significant material relating to his activities as solicitor-general, to the New York City charter of 1936, and legal papers from his period on the New York Court of Appeals. There is also considerable documentation of his service on the boards of various professional and educational institutions. Correspondents include Dean Acheson, Thomas E. Dewey, Felix Frankfurter, Lloyd Garrison, Herbert Hoover, Fiorello La Guardia, Raymond Robbins, and Henry L. Stimson.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas Day Thacher, son of Thomas and Sarah McCullogh (Green) Thacher, was born in Tenafly, New Jersey, September 10, 1881. Thacher's father, a prominent member of the New York bar, was the son of Thomas Anthony Thacher, a Yale University Professor of Latin. After attending Taft School, Watertown, Connecticut, and Phillips Academy, Andover, Thacher graduated from Yale in 1904. Upon the completion of two years of study at Yale Law School, he was admitted to the New York bar in 1906 and began practicing law with his father's firm, Simpson, Thacher, and Bartlett.

During 1907 and 1908 Thacher served under Henry L. Stimson as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. From 1909 to 1910 he continued to work for Stimson as a special assistant in the prosecution of customs and fraud cases. Returning to Simpson, Thacher, and Bartlett, Thacher became a partner of the firm in 1914. During World War I (1917-1918), he served as an American Red Cross major in Russia.

By 1925 Thacher's legal expertise had become widely recognized, and in that year President Coolidge appointed him U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York. After five years of service on the federal bench, Judge Thacher was appointed Solicitor General by President Hoover in April 1930. While in office Thacher argued a number of important cases before the Supreme Court. These included U.S. v. McIntosh (238 U.S. 605) and U.S. v. Bland (238 U.S. 636), which clarified the obligations of naturalized citizens to bear arms; Cromwell v. Benson (285 U.S. 22), involving the constitutionality of the longshoremen's and harbor worker's compensation act; and U.S. v. Flores (289 U.S. 137), involving entrapment as a defense to a criminal prosecution under a federal statute.

Among Thacher's other important activities as Solicitor General was an investigation of bankruptcy law and practice which resulted in recommendations for amending federal bankruptcy laws and provisions for railroad and corporate reorganization. Congress subsequently enacted these recommendations. Thacher also drafted rules for the Supreme Court which were aimed at expediting proceedings in criminal cases. These rules were adopted with amendments.

After resigning as Solicitor General in May 1933, Thacher returned to Simpson, Thacher, and Bartlett in New York, where he became a leader of the Fusion movement which was instrumental in Fiorello La Guardia's mayoral victory of 1933. In 1935 Mayor La Guardia appointed Thacher chairman of the New York City Charter Revision Commission. Under Thacher's chairmanship the commission drafted a new charter which was adopted in November 1936. In January 1943, La Guardia appointed Thacher as the Corporation Counsel of New York City, and in May of the same year, Governor Thomas E. Dewey appointed him to the New York State Court of Appeals. Elected to a full term on the Court of Appeals in November of 1943, Thacher served on the bench until 1949 when he resumed his association with Simpson, Thacher, and Bartlett.

Among his other activities, Thacher was a Fellow of the Yale Corporation (1931-1949), a trustee of the Taft School and New York Public Library, a member of the Council of the American Law Institute, and a director of the Boyce Thompson Institute and the Commonwealth Fund.

Judge Thacher died on November 12, 1950, in New York City.

Guide to the Thomas Day Thacher Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Linda Blackwell, Peter Bollier, John Dojka, and Barbara Heck
April 1976
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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