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Collection Overview

Beck, James M. (James Montgomery), 1861-1936
James M. Beck Papers
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
1787-1936 (mostly 1880-1936)
41 boxes
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpph): Box 1-41


The James Beck papers consist primarily of correspondence, articles, addresses and scrapbooks which document Beck's career as lawyer, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney, Assistant Attorney General, Solicitor General of the United States, a Republican member of Congress, author, and public speaker.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Consists primarily of correspondence, articles, addresses and scrapbooks which document Beck's long public service career. A significant portion of the correspondence concerns limited government and the constitutionality of certain measures. An important portion of this series is Beck's correspondence with Harry M. Daugherty, Attorney General under Warren G. Harding, concerning Daugherty's trial. Subject files contain correspondence on specific issues surrounding Beck's books, legal cases, speeches, and publications and include the New Deal and Republican party politics. Significant parts of this series include files on Prohibition and correspondence about World War I. Beck's addresses and legal arguments address major political issues of his time as well as local celebrations and commemorations. The bulk of material in the General files consists of letters of sympathy upon Beck's death. Twenty-four scrapbooks consisting primarily of newspaper clippings document Beck's public life.

Collection Creator Biography:

Beck, James M. (James Montgomery), 1861-1936

James Montgomery Beck was born in Philadelphia on July 9, 1861. Raised in a Moravian home, he graduated from the Moravian College and Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1880. Despite his father's wish that he become a minister, he pursued a legal career. After an apprenticeship in law he was admitted to the bar in 1884 and entered the law office of William F. Harrity, a prominent Pennsylvania Democrat, with whom he formed a law partnership in 1891. Admitted to the bar of New York City in 1903, and in 1922 to the bar of England, he rose to be one of America's leading corporate lawyers.

Like many others, Beck combined his legal career with a career in public service. He served as Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 1888-1892, and as United States Attorney 1896-1900. Although he started out as a "Cleveland Democrat," he joined the Republican Party in 1900 and was subsequently appointed Assistant Attorney General by President William McKinley. In this capacity, he became involved with litigation concerning the government's regulatory powers, which reflected the wish of the late McKinley and early Theodore Roosevelt administrations to assist the American business community. Beck resigned in 1903, when he joined the New York law firm of Shearman and Sterling. He continued his law practices in New York, Philadelphia and Washington until 1921. In that year President Warren G. Harding, whose election Beck had actively promoted, appointed him Solicitor General of the United States. He resigned in 1925, briefly returned to his law practice and then was elected as a Republican to Congress in 1927, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of James M. Hazlett. Reelected three consecutive times, he resigned in 1934, disillusioned with the "Rubber Stamp Congress" and his inability to fight the measures of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, which conflicted with his individualism and constitutionalism, and his principles of limited government and laissez-faire.

Beck shared his ideals and political beliefs in numerous speeches and publications. Having many personal contacts in England, he felt very strongly about the Allied cause and was one of the first Americans to make a case for the Entente, the alliance between Great Britain, France, and Russia prior to World War I. His most famous book, The Constitution of the United States (1924), sold over fifty thousand copies, including translations in German and French. As a Congressman he was the leading spokesman in the campaign against Prohibition, but he tried to fight the principles and legislation of the New Deal. He continued this fight after his resignation, and his book Neither Purse Nor Sword, about the destruction wrought by the New Deal upon the Constitution, appeared five months after his death. His biographer, Morton Keller, portrayed him as a passionate man, who felt deeply about anything he engaged in, but who, disillusioned with post-war society, venerated the past. One of the most eloquent orators of his time, James Beck helped shape the political views of the Republican Party. In a changing society, he died in political isolation in April 1936 and was later remembered as the often lonely defender of conservatism's great beliefs.

Beck was a devoted member, and later President, of the Philadelphia Shakespeare Society from 1913 until his death. He married Lilla Lawrence Mitchell in 1890, and had a son and a daughter, James Montgomery Beck, Jr. and Beatrice.

See: Morton Keller, In Defense Of Yesterday. James M. Beck and the Politics of Conservatism, 1861-1936, (New York, Coward-McCann, 1958).

Collection History


The collection was donated by James M. Beck, Jr. in 1951 (Accession No. AM 15061).


No appraisal information is available.


These papers were processed with the generous support of Ms. Virginia Beck.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Helene van Rossum in 1999 with the generous support of Ms. Virginia Beck. Finding aid written by Helene van Rossum in 1999.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

James M. Beck Papers; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpph): Box 1-41

Find More

Existence and Location of Copies

FOR DIGITIZED CONTENT: The papers, with the exception of Series 5: Scrapbooks, have been digitized and may be viewed or downloaded through this finding aid. To view materials, navigate to a specific folder title, rather than a series.

Subject Terms:
Bureaucracy -- United States -- 20th century.
Conservatism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
Lawyers -- United States -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
Legislators -- Pennsylvania -- 20th century -- Speeches, addresses, etc.
New Deal, 1933-1939.
Prohibition -- United States.
Genre Terms:
Republican Party U.S. : 1854-
Daugherty, H. M. (Harry Micajah), 1860-1941
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.