News | June 28, 2019

American Bar Association History Published

Talbot Publishing is pleased to announce the publication of an important new title:

Best Men of the Bar The Early Years of the American Bar Association 1878-1928
Introduction by Kellen R. Funk
xxxvi, 333 pp. ISBN 978-1-61619-587-8 Hardcover $85

Courtesy of Talbot Publishing

Within a narrative history of the early American Bar Association, Matzko illustrates how the organization endeavored to create a traditional professional gatekeeping organization by gaining control of legal education, entrance examinations, and ethical codes. The early ABA supported reformist values of political and social change if such change could be overseen by courts. It was not until the second decade of the twentieth century that it began its transformation into a more conservative group.


“Matzko’s perceptive and judicious – and sometimes delightfully sardonic – history of the American Bar Association’s first 50 years rescues the ABA from its reputation as a cabal of reactionary corporate lawyers, and reveals it as a club of gentlemanly but moderately progressive law reformers. This book is a really important and informative contribution to the history of the legal profession and of professions generally.”
ROBERT W. GORDON Stanford Law School

“In this penetrating and gracefully-written account of the formative first-half century of the American Bar Association, Matzko actually makes institutional history absorbing – an excellent account of the personalities and ideas that formed the legal profession on a national level, the transition from a ‘Gentleman’s Club’ to a professional association and, in due course, an entity which established widely-shared minimum standards for the quality of legal education and admission to the State bars. Likely to be the definitive account for some time to come.”
WILLIAM E. BUTLER Dickinson Law, Pennsylvania State University

“Skillfully using prosopographic methods, Professor Matzko provides an exhaustively researched and perceptively written institutional history of the American Bar Association in the Gilded Age. His work challenges us to take a new look at this formative period’s impact on the legal profession, on constitutional theory, and on political phiosophy. We have long needed such a close examination of the validity of earlier and more general views concerning the practicing bar in this period. This is a ‘must read’ for all who seek understanding of this sparsely studied but critically important transitional era in American legal and constitutional history.”
HERBERT A. JOHNSON University of South Carolina School of Law

“John A. Matzko has produced an engrossing history of the American Bar Association, relating both the unfortunate episodes of the ABA stoutly resisting racial, gender, ethnic, and religious diversification of the American Bar and maintaining a conservative, elitist, corporate law makeup but, also, of the progressive stances the ABA took in such areas as legal ethics and legal education. Like the history of the American Bar itself, the history of the ABA provides a number of rich tales that every lawyer, law student, and would-be lawyer should read and savor.”
MICHAEL H. HOEFLICH University of Kansas School of Law

“Deeply researched and nicely written, Best Men of the Bar narrates the history of the first fifty years of the life of the American Bar Association. It is at once a tale of organizational accomplishment, a reflection of American society in the years from 1878 to 1928, and a chronicle of how a small group of elite lawyers advanced the stature of their profession.”
WARREN M. BILLINGS University of New Orleans

Table of Contents

Preface Introduction
    .    1  The Founding
    .    2  Struggles for Survival 1878-1891
    .    3  The “Noiseless, Unobtrusive Way” 1891-1911
    .    4  Conservative Reformers: ABA Ideologies, 1878-1914
    .    5  Between Gentlemen’s Club and Professional Association: 1911-1928
    .    6  Gatekeeping: Legal Education
    .    7  Gatekeeping: Bar Examinations and the Canon of Ethics
    .    8  “An Attitude of Opposition”: 1911-1919
    .    9  Anxious and Ineffectual: 1918-1928

A. Presidents of the American Bar Association, 1878-1928 B. Members of the Executive Committee 1878-1928 C. Dates and Places of the Annual Meetings, 1878-1928
D. Membership and Attendance at the Annual Meeting, 1878-1928
Bibliography Index

JOHN AUSTIN MATZKO received his PhD from the University of Virginia. He taught history for more than forty years at Bob Jones University. His Reconstructing Fort Union was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2001.