Battle in Brooklyn: The Cross-examination of Henry Ward Beecher at the Trial of the Century

The Daily Graphic, Feb. 1, 1875
The Daily Graphic, Feb. 1, 1875

This article was written by Michael A. Green. Michael was a partner at the law firm Shereff Friedman Hoffman & Goodman, and since 2009, he has been restoring the 1868 Fullerton Mansion in Newburgh, New York. In Issue 13 of Judicial Notice, the Historical Society’s journal which focuses on New York’s legal history, he explores the William Fullerton’s cross-examination of Henry Ward Beecher in greater detail. This issue will be arriving on your doorstep soon but only if you are a Society member. Don’t miss out on this terrific profile and more, join the Society now!

Image: William Fullerton, Esq. at the Tilton-Beecher trial. The Daily Graphic, February 1, 1875, vol. VI, no. 592

For nearly 140 years, writers and social historians have been fascinated by a single 1875 trial — Tilton v. Beecher. The underlying story of an ill-fated love triangle combined Shakespearean elements of high drama with tabloid level juicy scandal.

Reverend Henry Ward Beecher’s outspoken views had generated a list of enemies to rival nearly any major American historical figure, and in the background, were larger issues that presage today’s “culture wars.”

As a result, a lawsuit over an accusation of adultery attracted some of the leading lawyers of the post-Civil War period and the six-month trial provided a showcase for a stunning array of legal talent. Newspaper readers throughout the English-speaking world were treated to breathless daily coverage of their oratory and jousting.

The cross-examination of Rev. Beecher by ex-Judge William S. Fullerton was especially admired, and the now-forgotten Fullerton achieved momentary celebrity status. For a closer look at this moment in courtroom history, see “Battle in Brooklyn: The Cross Examination of Reverend Henry Ward Beecher at the Trial of the Century” in Issue 13 of Judicial Notice.

Issue 13 of Judicial Notice features profiles on some of New York’s past lions of the bench and bar — those who helped shape New York’s jurisprudence, but whose accomplishments may be forgotten even if their names are recognizable. In addition to Michael A. Green’s analysis of William Fullerton’s cross examination, in our latest edition, Hon. Robert S. Smith profiles Chancellor James Kent, Ann Sandford traces the career of Nathan Sanford, and Robert Pigott explores the roles William Maxwell Evarts played in United States history.

To read Michael Green’s entire article, as well as the others listed above, you must become a member.

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