NCBA and NC State Bar
The present organization was started in 1899, after a previous attempt had proved a failure. Many distinguished men have presided over its destinies as president.
By R. C. Lawrence
The barristers were the last of the major professions to perfect an organization, as it was not until as late as 1885 that an effort was made in this behalf. In February of that year a meeting was held at Raleigh attended by 56 practitioners (most of whom were members of the local bar) and an Association was then organized, whose membership was later increased to around 125. But the feeble light of the infant association soon flickered and failed entirely, and the organization passed into the condition so aptly described by President Cleveland as that of "innocuous dessetude."
Today but two members of the original association still survive: the veteran Ernest Haywood of the Raleigh Bar, who recently flew around the world notwithstanding his years; and Judge Robert W. Winston, who, after a distinguished career at the bar and on the bench, re-entered the University and became a freshman again at 60, since which he has become an eminent figure in the field of letters, being the author of several books which have brought to him national recognition in that field.
Meeting Called in 1899
In 1873 Captain William Biggs, editor of the Tarboro Southerner, took the initial steps to organize a State Press Association, and his son, J. Crawford Biggs, rendered a similar service in the organization of the State Bar Association. In 1899 Judge Biggs, then a professor of law at the University, circulated the call for a meeting to consider the organization of such an association, which was organized on Feb. 10, 1899, with a charter membership of 157.
The eminent Charlotte lawyer, Platt D. Walker, who later became a justice of the Supreme Court, was chosen as its first president; Judge Biggs being elected as Secretary-Treasurer; and to his energetic guidance in its early years much of the success of the association must be attributed. He was followed as Secretary-Treasurer by Thomas W. Davis, Alexander B. Andrews, Henry M. London and Allston Stubbs, the president incumbent. The first annual meeting of the new association, held at Morehead City in July 1899, found it with an enrollment of 251.
Limitations of space preclude the mention of all the distinguished lawyers who have filled the presidential chair, but some of its incumbents will call to mind many men whose names have become famous in the legal annals of our state.
The second president was the eminent private practitioner Charles F. Warren, son of the great jurist of Reconstruction, E.J. Warren, and father of Congressman and Comptroller General Lindsay Warren. Then came the courtly Charles Manly Stedman, lieutenant governor and major in the Confederate service, whose people kept him in Congress so long that he became the last officer of either the Federal or Confederate army to serve in the halls of Congress. Charles M. Busbee of Raleigh not only headed the State Bar, but he became the national head of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Then came Charles Price of Salisbury, counsel for the Southern Railway; followed by the eminent eastern lawyer, William Dorsey Pruden, father of the present-day legal leader of the same name. In his day he usually appeared on one side of every case argues in the Supreme Court from the first district. Hamilton C. Jones was colonel in the Confederate service, an outstanding member of the Mecklenburg Bar, and both he and his son of the same name have occupied the presidential chair.
Thomas S. Kenan was a member of the distinguished Duplin family of that name and a colonel in the Confederate service, in which he was badly wounded. For many years he served as clerk of the Supreme Court, and the license of hundred of lawyers now practicing at the Carolina bar, bear his signature as Supreme Court clerk. Then came Colonel Clement Manly of Winston, state counsel for the Southern Railway, general counsel for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, noted for the courtesy of his manner. He was a son of United States Senator Matthias E. Manly. Then followed George Rountree of Wilmington, ardent admirer of the decisions of the English courts. His library contained more English Reports than any private law library in the state. He later served upon the bench of the Superior Court.
John W. Hinsdale of Raleigh, was one of the youngest colonels in the Confederate army, having that rank in one of the three "Junior Reserve Regiments," composed of boys in their teens, against the organization of which President Davis protested because it was "grinding up the seed corn." He was followed by Charles W. Tillett of Charlotte, one of the most brilliant practitioners our state had produced, whose legal career is rather unique in that he never sought nor held public office, but confined himself entirely to the practice of his profession, in which he attained distinction on the field in the South. In later years hi some of the same name was similarly honored.
Francis D. Winston of Bertie then came to the chair, he having been the first student to matriculate at the University when it was re-opened after the Civil War. He served his state as United State district attorney, lieutenant governor, Superior Court judge and acted as toastmaster at the University banquets for more than 50 years! Then came Mr. Justice James S. Manning who saw service upon the bench of the Supreme Court; and Thomas Rollins of Asheville, son-in-law of United State Senator Jeter C. Pritchard.
The organizer of the Association was now elevated to presidency and James Crawford Biggs became the incumbent. He has passed a distinguished career at the Carolina bar, having served not only as professor of law at the University, as legislator and as judge of the Superior Court, but also as solicitor general of the United States, the highest rank ever held by a Carolina lawyer. He served the Department of Justice in other capacities, which brought to him national recognition.
A Distinguished List
He was succeeded by the Populist congressman and United States district attorney, Colonel Harry Skinner of Pitt, one of the fathers of Populism, and conceiver of the so-called "sub-treasury plan." Greensboro was then called upon in the person of Congressman Aubrey L. Brooks, whose great fight to prevent the dismemberment of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad is well remembered by older lawyers. From his potent pen will soon come an authoritative life of Chief Justice Walter Clark, longest of any jurist of Carolina in service on the bench.
He was succeeded by Angus Wilton McLean, who became the chairman of the War Finance Corporation during the First World War, later serving also as assistant secretary of the Treasury, and being elected as governor in 1925. Edward F. Aydlette of Elizabeth City, another purely private practitioner, was now chosen, being an outstanding figure not only as a lawyer but as a churchman. He was one of two men honored by his denomination in serving simultaneously as trustee of Wake Forest College, Meredith College and of the Orphanage at Thomasville, to which he donated not only his services as an attorney, but to which he presented the building which bears his name. William R. Bynum of Greensboro, United States district attorney, distinguished son of a famous jurist, then graced the presidential chair.
Thomas Walker Davis of Wilmington, who had been devoted to the interest of the association from its early years, and who had long served as its secretary-treasurer, was now elevated to the presidency, and he also served upon the executive committee of the American Bar Association. Two jurists followed: Justice L.R. Varser of Robeson, a former member of the Supreme Court; and Superior Court Judge Vernon Cowper of Kinston. William M. Hendren of the well known firm of Manly Hendren and Womble of the twin city, was now called to the chair, this firm being unique in that all of its three members filled the presidential chair, the last being its junior partner, Senator B.S. Womble.
John D. Bellamy of Wilmington, of a family which has furnished so many leaders of the Eastern Bar, now became president, and every Carolina lawyer should read his memoirs, recently published posthumously, which will be found full of absorbing interest to those interested in the history and legal literature of our state.
Alexander B. Andrews, of Raleigh, had been long interested in the affairs of the association, his having been one of the names signed to the call of the original meeting, and he having served with faithful diligence as secretary-treasurer, now became president. He also had taken high rank in the councils of the American Bar Association, and there is no lawyer in Carolina who retains a keener interest in the affairs of the association does this sone of the builder of the Southern Railway.
Counsel for Saboteurs
Kenneth C. Royall of Goldsboro then came to the front. He in now a colonel in our armed forces, and his caliber as a lawyer was shown in his recent selection by the Was Department to serve as counsel for the eight German saboteurs - an unpleasant duty which he performed with great ability. He took their cause to the Supreme Court of the United States and took every step for the protection of the lives of these German spies that he would have taken had he been defending American citizens and had believed them innocent. This case is unique in American legal history, as the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court called his court into a special session to consider application for writs of habeas corpus filed by Colonel Royall in behalf of his clients who were being tried by military court martial.
Charles G. Rose of Fayetteville, followed, he being the only lawyer to also serve as president of the State Bar, Incorporated, hereinafter referred to; and later he became moderator of the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church, having thus enjoyed the highest honors of his church and of the profession to which he belongs. The distinguished Battle family of Edgecombe, from which came President Kemp P. Battle of the University, Justice William H. Battle of the Supreme Court, the eminent lawyer George Gordon Battle of New York City, and other great lawyers, was now called upon for a representative in the person of Kemp D. Battle of Rocky Mount. It is a little singular that the city of Durham should have furnished only one president, which it did in the person of the veteran legislator and Lieutenant Governor J. Elmer Long.
J. Melville Broughton presided over the destinies of the Association before he became governor, sharing with Governor McLean the distinction of being one of two Carolina governors to fill the presidential chair. The east now furnished and outstanding legislator in F.E. Winslow, followed by an eminent member of the bar of Buncombe in Kingsland Van Winkle. Speaker of the house, Willis Smith of Raleigh succeeded him and he by Linville K. Martin. President Martin, having volunteered for service in our armed forces, resigned, and was followed by prominent Wilson lawyer, F.E. Wallace, the incumbent. Theron L. Caudle of Wadesboro was the only president to die during his tenure in office, he being the father of United States district attorney Lamar Caudle.
Membership in the association is purely voluntary, and its active list now numbers 550, there being in addition quite a number of honorary members. The State Medical Society had enjoyed the privilege of naming the Board of Medical Examiners since prior to the Civil War, and numerous associations of other professions or calling enjoyed a like privilege, but in the legal profession this power had been vested in the Supreme Court for many years. The Bar Association had long sought enactment of legislation giving it the power of electing the State Board of Legal Examiners, and disciplining members of its own profession. Finally in 1933 the legislature enacted a statute chartering the North Carolina State Bar, Incorporated, conferring upon it the power to name the State Board of Law Examiners. Former Supreme Court Justice L.R. Varser is now chairman of the examining board. The organization is also vested with authority to discipline members of the profession and disbar them if found guilty of practice involving moral turpitude, an appeal to the courts from its decisions being provided. Membership in this organization is compulsory, for you cannot practice law in our state unless you are a member thereof. There are more than 2,300 practicing lawyers in the state.
Distinguished lawyers have also graced the presidential chair of this body. I.M. Bailey of Raleigh became its first president, being succeeded by Julius C. Smith of Greensboro; Charles G. Rose of Fayetteville; Fred S. Hutchins of Winston; George G. Green of Weldon; Major L.P. McLendon of Greensboro; Sen. William B. Rodman of Washington; and Judge Marshal T. Spears of Durham, the incumbent.
Legislative reference librarian Henry M. London was its original secretary, and on his death he was succeeded by the incumbent Edward L. Cannon.
Lawyers constitute an aristocracy in the public life of our state; for a large majority of our governors and United States senators have been of that profession; and if they do not have a legislative majority they do furnish a plurality and constitute the greatest force in shaping legislation within our commonwealth.