Alton Brooks Parker




Justice of the Second Division of the Court of Appeals, 1889-1892 / Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1898-1904


by Robert M. Mandelbaum

Only one Court of Appeals Judge has ever run for President of the United States. He lost in a landslide.

Alton B. Parker was born May 14, 1852, on a modest farm just outside Cortland, New York. His father, John Brooks Parker, had also been born on the farm, which had been first purchased by his grandfather, the son of a Revolutionary War soldier. The grandfather, an educated man, had turned to farming when his health began to fail, and though he had prospered moderately as a farmer, his own son was less successful, barely earning enough to support his family. John Parker’s true passion was books, and he passed on to his son a lifelong love of learning and knowledge.

Alton Parker’s mother, Harriet F. Stratton, was a devout and intelligent woman who, like her husband, valued the life of the mind. Even before Parker could read, his mother had taught him Bible verses as he sat in his highchair while she sewed. Later, she required the boy to learn seven Bible verses each week to repeat in Sunday school. Parker’s formal education began at the local district school, which he often attended barefoot. As the only redhead in the county school near Cortland, he was forced to wage many a fistfight before he was able to persuade the other boys to stop calling him “Red Top.”

At the age of 12, Parker transferred to the Cortland Academy. The following year, his father, while serving as a juror in a celebrated breach-of-promise case, took the boy with him to a local court to watch the day’s proceedings. Young Parker decided then and there that he was going to become a lawyer. When he was 16, however, his father suffered some financial reverses, and so he decided to seek a teaching job to earn money for law school. He quickly accepted a position in the village of Virgil, 10 miles away, for $1.50 a day, plus board. But when he returned home to tell of his success, his father informed him with some regret that he had secured a promise of better employment in their own district at $2.00 a day. Parker offered to return to Virgil to ask to be released from his commitment, but his father replied, “No, my boy. Be careful in future not to make bargains until you have looked the field over thoughtfully. But when you make them, stand by, come what will.” It was a lesson he would never forget.

Life as a Teacher

At 16, Alton Parker was younger than some of his students. He quickly learned that his predecessors had been given a rough time by the older boys and men. The last teacher, aged 45, had been discharged out the window, and Parker was determined not to meet a similar fate. On the second day of Parker’s tenure, one of the young men lit a match while sitting near the stove, igniting a small fire. Parker grabbed him by the collar, and the young man struck at him. After Parker knocked the bully to the floor, the young man meekly took his seat and caused no more trouble. On another occasion, Parker had declined to participate in a wrestling match, for fear that he might injure one of the boys. When they suggested that he dared not wrestle with them, he offered instead to wrestle with the men. A young man of 22 was selected, but the new teacher threw him with such force that he was unable to return to school for some time. After that, Parker’s authority was never again questioned.

Parker taught in Virgil for a year, and then returned to Cortland Academy. Upon his graduation, he matriculated at the State Normal School, today the State University at Cortland, where he trained as a teacher. Parker taught for a time in Binghamton, where he was so successful that in 1871 he was asked by the trustees of the Accord School in Ulster County to become the school’s principal. While at Accord, he met his future bride, Mary Louise Schoonmaker, whose father owned the large farm adjoining the school. After seven months, Parker accepted a clerkship at the law offices of Schoonmaker & Hardenburgh in Kingston. (Augustus Schoonmaker, Jr., the firm’s senior partner, was County Judge of Ulster County and a distant relative of Parker’s future father-in-law.) Parker then enrolled at the Albany Law School, from which he was graduated in 1873, the same year as his marriage.1 Upon graduation, he was hired by Judge Schoonmaker to be managing clerk at the firm. Shortly thereafter, Parker went into partnership with a law school classmate, creating the firm of Parker & Kenyon, which lasted until 1878. He argued his first case before the Court of Appeals in 1874.2

Entry Into Politics

Judge Schoonmaker, with whom Parker remained close, was responsible for Parker’s initial entry into politics. Soon after Parker entered his law office, Schoonmaker, then serving his second term as County Judge, was beaten for reelection after a difficult campaign. Disheartened by the loss, Schoonmaker determined to retire from politics, but Parker felt strongly that his mentor had been unjustly defeated in the election, and prevailed upon him to run for State Senator in 1875. Parker managed the campaign, delivering a decisive victory for Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker’s political prestige was so well restored that two years later he was elected New York State Attorney General.3

Parker’s success in Ulster County politics led to his election as County Surrogate in 1877. At the age of 25, Parker became the youngest Surrogate ever to sit in Ulster County, and the only Democrat on the County ticket to win election that year. Elected by a small plurality in 1877, he was reelected six years later by a majority of 1,400 votes out of 15,000. Once again he was the only victorious Democrat; the Republican nominees for all other County offices were elected by overwhelming majorities.

Parker rose quickly in Democratic Party ranks. As a delegate to the State Convention in 1882, Surrogate Parker was an early supporter of Grover Cleveland’s candidacy for Governor. When Governor Cleveland ran for President in 1884, Parker was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Giving speeches around the State, Parker was able to deliver the New York Democracy to Cleveland over the opposition of Tammany Hall. When Cleveland won election over Republican James G. Blaine, a lifelong friendship began between Parker and the new President.

Parker’s political skills had also been noticed by David B. Hill, who wanted Parker to manage his 1885 New York gubernatorial campaign. At Hill’s instigation, Parker was made chair of the State Democratic Committee. At 33, he was, once again, the youngest person ever to hold the post. Largely as a result of Parker’s masterful work, the entire Democratic state ticket was elected. The New York Sun proclaimed, “Congratulations are especially due to Hon. Alton B. Parker. He has borne the burden of the fight, and proved himself a leader of very high quality.” All the while, Parker served as Surrogate and continued to maintain an active general practice.

In 1885, President Cleveland offered Parker the post of First Assistant Postmaster General. But Parker traveled to Washington and declined the offer, feeling that he could not afford to give up his more lucrative law practice. Shortly afterward, Governor (later, United States Senator) Hill offered Parker the Lieutenant Governorship, which he also declined, prompting the Ellenville Journal, a local Republican paper, to pronounce him the “greatest American decliner.”

Early Judicial Career

When Supreme Court Justice Theodore R. Westbrook died of a heart attack near the end of the 1885 campaign, Governor Hill appointed the 33-year-old Parker to fill Westbrook’s unexpired term, making Parker the youngest judge of the Supreme Court. In 1886, when Parker was unanimously nominated by the party for a full 14-year term, the Republicans chose not to run any candidate in opposition. At least as of 1904, “This was a compliment never before or since paid to a candidate for that position in the Third Judicial District.”4

In 1889, in order to resolve the perpetual problem of calendar congestion, the State Constitution was amended to create a Second Division of the Court of Appeals, permitting the Governor to appoint seven Justices of the Supreme Court to serve on the high court. Appointed at age 37, Judge Parker served in the Second Division until its dissolution three years later. During that time, he refused to consider Democratic Party suggestions that he run for Governor or for United States Senator.

During this period, Parker also served as a trustee of the Ulster County Savings Institution in Kingston. In 1891, when there was a run on the bank, Parker averted the crisis by pledging his word to the depositors that they would get their money. The depositors accepted his pledge, and the bank was saved. Parker thereafter served as president of the bank, without pay, until the institution was on its feet. Judge Parker’s successful efforts to rescue the bank were among the accomplishments of which he was always most proud.

When the Second Division was disbanded in 1892, Justice Parker was appointed by Governor Roswell P. Flower to the General Term of the First Department, where he served until the creation of the Appellate Division in 1896. Parker then resumed his duties as a trial judge until the following year, when Governor Frank S. Black designated him to temporarily replace Justice George C. Barrett of the Appellate Division, First Department, who had become ill.

Election as Chief Judge

Urged to run for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Parker initially demurred, feeling that he was too much younger than the other judges to fittingly preside over them. Pressured to accept by no less a personage than Court of Appeals Judge Irving G. Vann, however, Parker finally relented, although he believed that his chances for election were small since the Democratic Party had lost the State in the recent presidential election by more than 212,000 votes. Fearing too that Parker would be defeated, Governor Hill himself advised his protégé not to run. Nevertheless, Parker did run and, after a hotly contested fight against United States Circuit Judge William W. Wallace, the Republican nominee, Parker was elected Chief Judge in November 1897. Hill was among the first to telegram his congratulations: “My dear Judge . . . Next to yourself I was about the happiest man in the state yesterday.”

Sworn in on January 1, 1898, Chief Judge Parker immediately immersed himself in the work of the Court. He continued his lifelong habit of conducting original research on each case to come before him, declining to rely simply on the citations provided by the lawyers. When the Court was in session, Parker resided in a suite of rooms at the Ten Eyck Hotel in Albany, where his practice was to rise early for an hour’s ride on horseback through the suburbs, and then begin the work of his long and busy day.

Faced with the prospect of winters in Albany, Parker decided with his wife to give up their Kingston home and move instead to the country. It was then that he bought his beloved Rosemount, a 140-acre estate on the banks of the Hudson River in Esopus, New York, where he would live for the rest of his life. Each day at Rosemount, Chief Judge Parker would rise at 6:30, walk down the grassy slope of his farm to the river, and dive from his dock for a swim. Then, regardless of the season, he would ride his horse for an hour, through his vineyards, fields, and orchards, often working out the details of his cases and opinions as he rode. After breakfast, he would formally begin his day’s work, which generally did not terminate until midnight. Judge Parker always put on evening dress for dinner.

On Sunday mornings, the Parkers would take their little boat to Kingston to worship at the Episcopal Mission of the Holy Cross, where their son-in-law was the rector. Sunday afternoons Judge Parker would play with his two grandchildren, on whom he doted. Parker loved to receive visitors at Rosemount, as he delighted in showing people around his estate, taking great pride in his crops and prize bulls. The farm was self-sustaining, and Parker’s apples achieved modest fame. He sent grapes to friends and neighbors.

An animal lover, Judge Parker was particularly partial to his pigs. He maintained that the intelligence of pigs was superior to that of other domestic animals, and derived pleasure from training them to answer to the sound of their names, to come to him whenever he was at the farm, and to play certain games that he had taught them. Parker believed that pigs had “an instinctive preference for cleanliness,” and had modern conveniences built for them.


As Chief Judge, Parker quickly gained a reputation as a humanitarian and a progressive. He tended to side with unions, upholding their right to strike in Natl. Protective Assn. of Steam Fitters and Helpers v. Cumming.5 He was a strong believer that the Legislature had the right to pass laws for the betterment of society, and so was loath to strike social legislation as unconstitutional. Thus, in People v. Lochner,6 Chief Judge Parker, writing for the Court, upheld a maximum-hours law as validly within the Legislature’s police power to “promote and protect the health of the people.”7 On appeal to the United States Supreme Court, Parker’s progressive decision was reversed in an opinion that is to this day considered a blot on the history of the nation’s highest court.8

Parker wrote approximately 190 published opinions during his tenure as Chief Judge. Perhaps his most famous, or infamous, was Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co.9 Abigail Roberson, the plaintiff, was a young woman whose photograph had been used by a flour company, without her permission, to advertise its product. She sued, contending that her common-law right of privacy had been violated. Over a vigorous dissent, Judge Parker, in a case of first impression, dismissed her claim, holding that no such right existed under New York law. If legal redress were to be afforded for invasions of privacy, he concluded, a new cause of action would have to be recognized by the Legislature.

Although based primarily on a lack of existing precedent and a reluctance to open the floodgates of litigation, Parker’s Roberson opinion also reflected the paternalistic chauvinism of its time. Referring to the plaintiff’s claim, Parker wrote that “[o]thers would have appreciated the compliment to their beauty implied in the selection of the picture for such purposes.” The decision provoked a torrent of criticism. The press denounced the result, calling for swift legislative action. In response to the Roberson case, the Legislature quickly enacted a statute, today codified in the Civil Rights Law, allowing for a private right of action when a plaintiff’s name or likeness has been used for purposes of advertising or trade without written consent.

In other contexts, though, Parker’s views of women were somewhat more egalitarian. During the administration of Governor Theodore Roosevelt, the Court of Appeals, in People v. Place,10 upheld the murder conviction of Martha Place. Until that time, no woman had ever been executed in New York, and the Hearst newspapers demanded commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment, asserting that “womanhood should be spared the disgrace of the execution of one of their number.” Faced with threats that the paper, if its demand were not met, would every day during Roosevelt’s term print a description of him as “woman killer,” the Governor sought the counsel of Chief Judge Parker. Parker advised that an inquiry should be had into the defendant’s sanity, but that if she was pronounced sane, it would be the Governor’s duty to have the sentence executed. After examination by a committee of alienists, Mrs. Place was found sane and put to death. Perhaps more significantly, in 1917 Parker was among 40 leading lawyers to sign a statement urging the Columbia Law School to “open its doors to women on equal terms with men.”

In 1902, Parker was again asked to run for Governor, but wishing to remain on the bench he again declined. The eventual Democratic candidate, Bird S. Coler, was defeated in the general election by Republican Benjamin B. Odell, Jr. Two years later, one commentator noted that “[i]t is now practically admitted by the best political students in both parties, in view of the closeness of the vote, that if Judge Parker had been the Democratic nominee against Governor Odell, he would have been elected.”11

Nomination for the Presidency

In 1904, Chief Judge Parker’s name was floated as a possible Democratic candidate for President of the United States. The Republican nominee was incumbent Theodore Roosevelt, who was highly popular. At first Parker resisted the efforts to draft him. His term of office was not set to expire until 1911, and nomination would necessitate resignation from the judicial office he loved. As he remarked:

While recognizing that situations occasionally arise which makes it the duty of a judge to lay aside his office and serve in other capacities if the people desire it, I have always held firmly to the notion that he should not seek political honors, however exalted they may be; and holding such views, I should not be true to my ideals if I acted otherwise.

Eventually, however, Parker bowed to public and party pressure, finally heeding the call of the Brooklyn Eagle: “While Judge Parker would prefer to continue in his present judicial position, it is also a fact that his preference should forego that desire for the sake of his party and his country.”

Nevertheless, Parker felt strongly that it was inappropriate for a sitting judge to publicly express his own personal political views, and so declined to campaign for the nomination. Steadfast in his refusal to give an opinion except in a published judicial decision, Parker explained:

I am a judge of the Court of Appeals. I shall neither embarrass the court by my opinions nor use the dignity of the court to give weight to them. I shall do nothing and say nothing to advance my candidacy. If I should receive the nomination, I shall then resign from the Bench and state my views as a citizen.

Parker’s most loyal supporters pressured him to retreat from this position. If he were going to permit himself to be drafted as a candidate, they told him, he was obligated to discuss public affairs with the nation at large. Only by stating his political views, they insisted, could he secure needed backing and avail himself of the opportunity to weaken Roosevelt’s hold on the electorate.

But Parker stood firm, and his principled stance nearly cost him the nomination. The press accused him of cowardice, of weakness, of holding no opinions. Newspapers that had been advocating for him grew quiet; the movement to draft him began to collapse. Judge Parker, however, simply ignored the fuss, busying himself with his court work while continuing to refuse to make speeches or grant newspaper interviews. When a reporter friend wrote to him of the gravity of the situation, Parker replied:

You may be right in thinking that an expression of my views is necessary to secure the nomination. If so, let the nomination go. I took the position that I have maintained, first, because I deemed it my duty to the court; second, because I do not think the nomination for such an office should be sought. I still believe that I am right, and therefore expect to remain steadfast.

That was his last word on the subject, and even in the face of relentless criticism of his stand, Parker’s integrity and courage never wavered.

Among the most controversial issues of the day was “the money question.” By the early 1890s, discussion of federal monetary policy had revolved around the coinage of silver, which had been demonetized by the Coinage Act of 1873. Debtors, who, in order to combat deflation, wanted more money put into circulation regardless of its base, joined with silver miners in demanding a return to bimetallism. Conservative business interests continued to advocate for the gold standard, fearing that unlimited silver coinage would destroy the value of the dollar. By 1894, President Cleveland’s policies in support of the gold standard had split the Democratic party, causing southern and western farmers to rally in 1896 around William Jennings Bryan’s Populist call for the free coinage of silver. In his famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, Bryan proclaimed to the approving roars of the crowd, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns! You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!” On Election Day, many gold-standard Democrats cast their vote for Republican William McKinley.

Although by 1904 Bryan had twice run for, and lost, the Presidency, he remained his party’s standard bearer and a fierce supporter of silver. Judge Parker, by contrast, was a conservative, sound-money Democrat. Privately, Parker doubted his prospects for election. As early as 1902, he stated to Senator Hill, “Senator, there is no more chance for a sound money Democrat to be elected to the Presidency two years hence than there is to go to Heaven without dying, unless that sound money Democrat shall be advocated as the Democratic nominee by William Jennings Bryan before the Convention is held.” Bryan, of course, would advocate no such thing. Bryan hated Parker for being a gold Democrat, and denounced him as a tool of Wall Street. Although Bryan had decided not to seek the 1904 nomination himself, he wanted the weakest man nominated, one who could not wrest control of the party from him. Parker’s strongest opponent for the nomination was liberal newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. But the prospect of Hearst’s candidacy so frightened Conservative Democrats that they redoubled their efforts to get Parker nominated on the first ballot.

The Democratic National Convention

When the 1904 Convention convened in St. Louis on July 6, war broke out immediately between the Parkerites and the Bryanites. In the end, both sides agreed simply to omit from the party platform any reference to the money question, with Bryan calculating that Parker would never run on a platform that failed to call for the gold standard. When the first roll was called, all but the Bryan and Hearst camps stood squarely behind Parker, who therefore received 658 votes, nine short of the necessary two-thirds. Before the result could be announced, 20 more votes were transferred to Parker, thus earning him nomination on the first ballot.

At Rosemount, Judge Parker received word of both his nomination and the omission of the money question from the party platform. Feeling that regardless of the platform, he must make his position absolutely clear to the delegates, Parker, in an unheard-of act of daring, sent a telegram to the Convention, still assembled:

I regard the gold standard as firmly and irrevocably established and shall act accordingly if the action of the convention today shall be ratified by the people. As the platform is silent on the subject, my view should be made known to the convention, and if it is proved to be unsatisfactory to the majority, I request you to decline the nomination for me at once, so that another may be nominated before adjournment.

Bryan had significantly underestimated Alton Parker.

The Convention went wild. Finally, after lengthy debate, and over the furious objections of Bryan, the Convention agreed on an answer to Judge Parker:

The platform adopted by this Convention is silent upon the question of the monetary standard, because it is not regarded by us as a possible issue in this campaign, and only campaign issues are mentioned in the platform. Therefore, there is nothing in the views expressed by you in the telegram just received which would preclude a man entertaining them from accepting the nomination on said platform.

Parker’s bold act in sending his telegram caused Theodore Roosevelt to remark that Parker had “become a formidable candidate and opponent. I think that this act gave him all of Cleveland’s strength without any of Cleveland’s weakness, and made him, on the whole, the most formidable man the Democrats could have nominated.”12

In the weeks following his nomination, Parker’s controversial decision in Roberson came back briefly to haunt him. Tired of the constant attentions of the paparazzi, and irritated by the invasion of his family’s privacy, Parker issued a press release declaring, “I reserve the right to put my hand in my pockets, and to assume comfortable attitudes without having to be everlastingly afraid that I shall be snapped by some fellow with a camera.” He thereafter refused to be photographed. Within days, the New York Times published on its front page an open letter to Judge Parker from Abigail Roberson. “I take this opportunity,” she indignantly wrote, “to remind you that you have no such right as that which you assert. I have very high authority for my statement, being nothing less than a decision of the Court of Appeals of this State wherein you wrote the prevailing opinion.”

On August 5, 1904, the Court of Appeals held a rare and unannounced August session so that a large portion of its docket could be completed. Out-of-town judges made stealth trips to Albany on the morning of the session so as not to arouse suspicion. Parker himself bought a train ticket only to Kingston, so that reporters would not know his final destination. When he arrived at the Kingston station, he got off the train and began to have his boots shined while yet remaining on the platform. As the train started to pull away toward Albany, Parker sprinted for the train and swung himself aboard. That afternoon, the Court released 62 opinions, and Chief Judge Parker submitted his resignation to the Secretary of State.

The Campaign

On August 10, Parker was formally notified of his nomination in an address by Missouri Congressman Champ Clark, and launched his campaign with an acceptance speech delivered from the front porch of his home. Boatloads of people came to the landing dock on the Parker estate and walked the short distance to Rosemount Hall to listen. Indeed, Parker conducted the great bulk of his campaign from home, feeling that his position as a judge would make it undignified for him to travel around the country and join in the muckraking of the day.

Although a conservative, Parker was considered a friend to labor and a foe of the trusts. Thirty years before the New Deal, Parker recognized the need for government to take an active role in protecting health, safety, and welfare in a modern, industrialized America. A staunch defender of the Constitution, Parker believed strongly in the separation of powers. He held moderate views on the tariff.

For the most part, Parker assiduously avoided negative attacks on his opponent. Late in the campaign, however, he made the explosive charge that Roosevelt, though responsible for enforcing the antitrust laws, had accepted large campaign gifts from big corporations. In a speech at Madison Square Garden, Parker attacked the political corruption arising from the acceptance of such gifts, and called for clean elections. Four days before the election, Roosevelt angrily denied the charge, denouncing Parker’s statements as “unqualifiedly and atrociously false.” Three years later, as a result of a Congressional investigation in which Roosevelt admitted under oath that he had not told the truth in his campaign, it was disclosed that the insurance companies had indeed contributed heavily to Roosevelt’s campaign, and that Roosevelt himself, only a week before the election, had summoned a railroad magnate to Washington to ask him to raise money to carry New York State.

In addition to campaign finance reform, another campaign issue that seems ripped from today’s headlines involved foreign affairs. An advocate for peace,13 Parker disputed that “because we have grown great we should intervene in every important question that arises in other parts of the world.” He also protested against building “any such military establishment as would be required to maintain the country in that attitude.”

The Election and Its Aftermath

When the election was held on November 8, Parker was defeated by the largest margin in American history up to that time. Parker earned 5,084,442 votes to Theodore Roosevelt’s 7,628,785. The electoral vote was 336 to 140. Nevertheless, Judge Parker probably did as well as any Democrat could have against Roosevelt in 1904. Parker had sought to appeal to eastern industrialists with his solidly conservative monetary policies. In the end, though, business continued to eye the party of Bryan with intense suspicion. As the New York Sun stated, come Election Day, business preferred “the impulsive candidate of the party of conservatism to the conservative candidate of the party which the business interests regard as permanently and dangerously impulsive.”

After his defeat, Parker returned to a successful private law practice in New York City. He remained a friend of labor, representing Samuel Gompers and, in the Danbury Hatters case, the American Federation of Labor, before both the United States Supreme Court and the United States House of Representatives. He served also as chief prosecution counsel in the impeachment trial of New York Governor William Sulzer.

In 1910, Parker became active again in politics, when he managed the successful campaign of John A. Dix for Governor of New York State. In 1912, Parker was appointed Temporary Chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, and was chosen to deliver the keynote address, over Bryan’s objection.

Parker was also active in bar groups. A founder and director of the American Bar Association, he twice served as its president. He was president of the New York State Bar Association, in whose formation he was also instrumental; the New York County Lawyers’ Association; the Ulster County Bar Association; and the National Civic Federation. In constant demand as a speaker, Judge Parker received many honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. From the time of its founding in 1905, Parker was for several years a special lecturer at Fordham University School of Law.14

Although he maintained an apartment at the Hotel Ambassador in New York City, Parker continued to spend as much time as he could at Rosemount. His first wife died in 1917, and in 1923 he married Amelia Day Campbell. On May 10, 1926, the Parkers started from their New York hotel to drive back to Esopus. As they rode through Central Park, Judge Parker, aged 74, suffered a fatal heart attack. Two days later, he was buried at Wiltwyck Cemetery in Kingston, New York.


Judge Parker’s only son, John, died of tetanus as a young child. The Judge’s daughter, Bertha Schoonmaker Parker, married the Reverend Charles Mercer Hall, with whom she had two children, Alton Parker Hall, a steel executive, and Mary McAlister Hall Oxholm. From these descend Judge Parker’s five great-grandchildren – all living as of this writing – Penelope Hall Porter of Tucson, Arizona; Alton Parker Hall, Jr., of Pinehurst, North Carolina; Mary Louise Oxholm Shepherd of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania; Anne Mercer (Nancy) Oxholm Reid of Aiken, South Carolina; and Theodor Oxholm, Jr., of Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.


This biography appears in The Judges of the New York Court of Appeals: A Biographical History, ed. Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). It has not been updated since publication.


Sources Consulted

Alexander, DeAlva Stanwood, Four Famous New Yorkers: The Political Careers of Cleveland, Platt, Hill and Roosevelt, 4 The Political History of the State of New York 1882-1905 (1923).

Bergan, Francis, The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1932 (1985).

Dearstyne, Bruce W., New York’s Forgotten Favorite Son: Alton B. Parker (1977-1978).

Grady, John R., The Lives and Public Services of Parker and Davis: Living Issues of the Campaign of 1904 (1904).

Hailes, Charles J., Alton Brooks Parker: Pen Portrait of the Distinguished Jurist Who Is Likely to Be Called to Lead His Party in the Presidential Contest of 1904, 66 Alb LJ 136 (1904).

In Memoriam, 243 NY 655 (May 24, 1926).

Kornstein, Daniel J., The Roberson Privacy Controversy, Hist Socy Cts St NY Newsl, 2006, at 3.

O’Brien, Morgan J., Alton Brooks Parker, 12 ABA J 453 (1926).

Parker, Amelia Campbell, Alton Brooks Parker (Proceedings of the Ulster County Historical Society, 1934-1935, at 28).

Porter, Penelope Hall, Living in the Shadows of Alton Brooks Parker (2004) (unpublished manuscript).

Southwick, Leslie, A Judge Runs for President: Alton Parker’s Road to Oblivion, 5 Green Bag 2d 37 (2001).

Staff of the Historian’s Office, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Unsuccessful Candidates for the Presidency 1796-1968 (1972).

Stone, Irving, They Also Ran: The Story of the Men Who Were Defeated for the Presidency (1943).

Sykes, M’Cready, Alton B. Parker, Chief-Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, 16 Green Bag 145 (1904).

Westerdahl, Norman N., Judge for President: Alton B. Parker and His Times (1976).


Published Writings Include:

The Foundations in Virginia (Address Delivered at the College of William and Mary, October 6, 1920).

The Citizen and the Constitution, 23 Yale LJ 631 (1914).

The Tribunes of the People (Annual Address before the New York State Bar Association, January 30, 1914).

The Safe and Right Direction for Progress, 11 Ohio L Rep 141 (1913).

Memorial Address in Commemoration of David Bennett Hill (Delivered at the New York State Capitol, June 19, 1911).

Uniform State Laws, 19 Yale LJ 401 (1910).

The Common Law Jurisdiction of the United States Courts, 17 Yale LJ 1 (1907).

President’s Annual Address Before the American Bar Association, 15 Am Law 469, 19 Green Bag 581 (1907).

The Congestion of Law, 18 Green Bag 537 (1906).

The Lawyer in Public Affairs, 13 Am Law 323, 17 Green Bag 338 (1905).

Jefferson’s Faith in the People (1904).

Due Process of Law, 11 Am Law 333 (1903).

The Rights of Donors, 23 Educ Rev 15 (1902).

The Educated Man in Politics (Union College Commencement, June 12, 1901).



  1. Also in 1873, Parker was appointed clerk of the Ulster County Board of Supervisors, a position to which he was reappointed by the Board in 1874 and again in 1875.
  2. See Matter of Hermance v. Bd. of Supervisors of Ulster County, 71 NY 481 (1877).
  3. In 1881, Schoonmaker was nominated as a candidate for Judge of the Court of Appeals, but was defeated in the election by Francis M. Finch. He was subsequently appointed Interstate Commerce Commissioner by President Grover Cleveland.
  4. Charles J. Hailes, Alton Brooks Parker: Pen Portrait of the Distinguished Jurist Who Is Likely to Be Called to Lead His Party in the Presidential Contest of 1904, 66 Alb LJ 136, 138 (1904).
  5. 170 NY 315 (1902).
  6. 177 NY 145 (1904).
  7. 177 NY at 162.
  8. See Lochner v. New York, 198 US 45 (1905).
  9. 171 NY 538 (1902).
  10. 157 NY 584 (1899).
  11. Hailes, supra note 4, 66 Alb LJ at 138.
  12. Parker’s act in sending his telegram to the Convention also had the effect of eventually minimizing the weight that had theretofore been given to party platform, in favor of the promises made in the candidate’s acceptance speech.
  13. In 1907, Parker served as Vice President of the National Arbitration and Peace Conference.
  14. His 1908 lecture was entitled, “The Origin of Law.”
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