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Charles Warren, a prominent lawyer and legal historian, is best known for his three-volume study, The Supreme Court in U.S. History, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923.
Warren was born on March 9, 1868, in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended Harvard College, receiving his A.B. in 1889. He then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1892. He was admitted to the bar that same year, and began to practice law in Boston.
Warren's foray into state politics began in 1893, when he became Governor William Eustis Russell's private secretary. The following year, in 1894, and again in 1895, Warren unsuccessfully ran for the state senate. During this period, he cofounded the Immigration Restriction League along with fellow Harvard graduates Robert DeCourcy Ward and Prescott Farnsworth Hall. The league, which was started in Boston but quickly spread to industrial centers around the United States, was seen as a response to the perceived threat to the American way of life by the growing numbers of immigrants from various European countries including Ireland, Italy, and Germany. The primary purpose of the league was to lobby for restriction of the number of immigrants permitted to enter the United States. The league remained active for approximately two decades before Hall died and the organization disbanded.
When Russell left the governorship in 1894, Warren became an associate in Russell's law practice until 1896. He then became a senior attorney in the Boston firm of Warren & Perry, where he practiced from 1897 to 1914. In 1905, Warren received a key appointment, when he became chair of the Massachusetts State Civil Service Commission. He served in that capacity until 1911. From there, he moved on to the national political scene.
Warren's work on the commission drew attention from President woodrow wilson, who, in 1914, appointed the progressive Democrat from Massachusetts assistant attorney general of the United States. Warren served from 1914 until 1918—the World War I years. During this time, he developed expertise in the areas of governmental neutrality and International Law. He also argued or wrote briefs on 39 cases that were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Following the war, Warren remained in Washington, D.C., where he served as a Special Master for the Supreme Court on several original jurisdiction cases involving state boundary lines and Water Rights. He also practiced law and lectured at numerous colleges and law schools throughout the country. He became a prolific writer, authoring essays, law journal articles, and nonlegal works, including short stories. In addition, Warren wrote several influential books on law and Legal History. One of them, The History of the American Bar, Colonial and Federal, to 1860, published in 1911, traced the development of courts and the legal profession in the American colonies in Part One. Part Two looked at the growth of the bar from the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court to the start of the Civil War.
Warren's reputation as a legal scholar was cemented in 1922, when he published a three-volume set called The Supreme Court in U.S. History, an analysis of each term of the Supreme Court and its most significant decisions between 1789 and 1918. Warren included contemporaneous writings with the cases so that readers could understand how the Court's decisions were viewed at the time they were issued. A monumental work that was still in print in the 2000s, Warren's opus was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1923.
Because of his expertise, Warren frequently was consulted by the U.S. government during the 1930s. For example, the State Department sought out his advice on neutrality issues. Warren also continued to publish. In 1935, he released Bankruptcy in U. S. History. Drawing on a series of lectures he had delivered at Northwestern University Law School, Warren's book was an historical and constitutional analysis of the topic of Bankruptcy from 1793 to 1935 at both the state and federal level.
During World War II, Warren again was at the fore of international politics. Warren retired from public service in the late 1940s. He died in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 1954.
Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Harvard University. Available online at <www.fas.harvard.edu/~cwc> (accessed July 29, 2003).
Warren, Charles. 1987. The Supreme Court in United States History. Rev. ed. Littleton, Colo.: F. B. Rothman.
——. 1935. Bankruptcy in United States History. Reprint, 1994. Buffalo, N.Y.: W. S. Hein.