Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2005

Abstract

We recall Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Houghwout Jackson (1892-1954) for many reasons, but certainly a leading one is the striking contrast between his humble origins and his exalted destinations. Jackson's life began literally in the deep woods, on a family farm in the gorgeous rural isolation of Spring Creek Township in northwestern Pennsylvania's Warren County. He spent his boyhood and obtained his basic public school education in Frewsburg, a small town in southwestern New York State. While still a teenager, Jackson spent one additional year as a high school student in nearby Jamestown, New York, but he never received a day of college education. He prepared to become a lawyer principally by working as an apprentice for two years in a Jamestown law office. From that background, Robert Jackson rose to make big marks on the biggest stages of his time, and in history. As a young lawyer, he became a great success in twenty years of private practice while also developing an identity, and some important connections, in Democratic Party politics in New York State. Jackson moved to Washington in 1934, joining the New Deal and becoming a true Roosevelt administration insider and a personal confidant and favorite of the President.' In ensuing years, Jackson became a leading government lawyer of national renown, a great and very successful Supreme Court advocate during his years as Assistant Attorney General and Solicitor General and, for eighteen months beginning in January 1940, Attorney General of the United States. In July 1941, Robert Jackson was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, where he served for thirteen years and created a permanent legacy of independent thinking, judicial principle and restraint, and simply gorgeous writing that was authentically his own product. By presidential appointment that took him away from the Supreme Court for the full 1945-1946 year, Justice Jackson also served, and he succeeded, in a legal position of unprecedented complexity and permanent historical importance: he was chief United States prosecutor of the major Nazi war criminals, and truly the principal architect of the legal proceedings that gave birth to modern international law, at Nuremberg, Germany. That summary of Robert H. Jackson's amazing life journey covers a lot of ground, but it skips Albany. In Jackson's biography, "Albany" means the Albany Law School, where he was a student during the academic year 1911-1912. Jackson's "Albany" also encompasses, more broadly, his personal and professional ties to New York State's capital city during most of the first half of the twentieth century, when Albany was a leading site of American political and economic power and legal development. In the study and appreciation of Robert H. Jackson's life and his enormous accomplishments, to skip Albany is to make a big mistake. As this article describes, Albany connected with who Jackson already was when he arrived in the capital city as an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old law apprentice, and Albany over the ensuing years contributed directly to the experiences and values that played major roles in all that he ultimately did and became. As young Robert Jackson observed closely and absorbed deeply, Albany's constituents, including its private law school, its governmental institutions and its people, especially its courts, judges and lawyers, employed rational capacities in practical efforts to address and improve individual and collective circumstances. They embodied the human reasoning process that Jackson came to see as the content of law itself, and that process became for him the hallmark of the justice-seeking, self-interest restraining work to which he dedicated his life in the legal profession. Jackson's personal foundation, in other words, rested on the law as he came to understand it and began to work with it on Albany's soil, at its law school and in the legal environment of its state.

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