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Davis, Bancroft

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Significance: As Supreme Court reporter for nineteen years, Bancroft edited volumes 108-186 of the United States Reports.


In 1847 Davis graduated from Harvard, opened an office in New York City, and published The Massachusetts Justice. Two years later, he was appointed secretary of the U.S. legation in London, but he resigned in 1852 to practice law. Despite election to the New York State assembly in 1868, Davis was appointed to the State Department in 1869 to arbitrate the Anglo-Portugal dispute over the status of Bulama and to arbitrate the settlement of the Anglo-American dispute over the Alabama claims for alleged damages to U.S. shipping by Confederate cruisers built in Great Britain. Davis resigned his State Department post to become the American agent before the Alabama claims arbitration tribunal but was reappointed to the State Department in 1873 and designated as minister to Germany by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1874. He resigned his post at the beginning of the Rutherford B. Hayes administration, but Hayes named him to the U.S. Court of Claims in January, 1878. He returned to the State Department in 1881. Davis was reappointed to the U.S. Court of Claims in June, 1882, but resigned in November, 1883, to become reporter of the Supreme Court. He was always fascinated by the historical development of the law and probably found his true niche as Supreme Court reporter. He edited volumes 108 (fall term, 1882) through 186 (fall term, 1901) and classified and arranged the historical material in the office of the clerk of the Supreme Court, publishing much of it in the appendix to volume 131 of United States Reports. He wrote on a variety of mainly historical legal subjects. He resigned in 1902.