|Name||Homer Stille Cummings|
Stamford, Connecticut , United States
|| April 30, 1870
|| September 10, 1956
Jan 19, 2008 12:55pm
|Info||CUMMINGS, Homer Stille, Lawyer, Orator, Author |
One who knows Homer S. Cummings, of Stamford, intimately has said of him: "By sheer ability, perseverance and hard work, he has risen form a struggling young lawyer to be a leader of the bar of Connecticut. In the higher courts he has been counsel in many of the most important causes tried in the State and adjoining jurisdictions, involving large monetary interests and important questions of law. He has also appeared in the United States Supreme court and other Federal courts in many parts of the country."
On July 1, 1914, Mr. Cummings was appointed State's attorney for Fairfield county, an office which he still retains, and the duties of which he discharges with marked ability. The following quotation from a tribute paid by Mr. Cummings to one of his predecessors in the office of States attorney is peculiarly applicable to himself. "As a trial lawyer...he adhered to the highest traditions. He sought for the truth that justice might be served, and desired no unjustifiable conviction. The rights of the innocent were safe in his hands; only the guilty had reason to fear...He was eager that every fact and circumstance should be scrutinized, so that the great power of his office should not in the least degree be directed toward oppression."
Mr Cummings served three terms as mayor of Stamford, being elected upon the Democratic ticket, and could not have been chosen to that office without the support of large number of Republican voters. The messages he wrote to the Common Council attracted State-wide attention. The reorganization of the police and fire departments and the acquisition of Halloween Park are among the many constructive accomplishments of his administration. He had vision to see that future citizens of Stamford should have a public park with a frontage on Long Island Sound. With tenacity of purpose he led this movement and did not hesitate to dissolve a tie vote both in Common Council and in the Board of Appropriation; and when the succeeding administration sought to rescind the vote, he without remuneration, carried the case to the highest court in the State, which fully sustained his position (see Bohannan vs. The City of Stamford, 80 Conn.107). For a number of years (1903-11) Mr. Cummings was president of the board of Trade, and though his efforts many important enterprises were established in Stamford.
The name Cummings has been variously spelled, and tradition says that Scotland was the original home of the race, one branch of which was known as the "Red" Cummin, and another as the "Black" Cummin. The former is the branch to which the ancestors of Homer Stille Cummings belonged, and this fact seems to indicate their possible descent from John Cummin, regent of Scotland, and rival of Robert Bruce for the crown of that kingdom.
Hezekiah Cummings, grandfather of Homer Stille Cummings, was descended from ancestors who were of Bennington, Vermont. He, himself, lived at Akron, New York, which was, perhaps, his native place. He was a farmer and also the proprietor of a cement and lime kiln, being the first manufacturer of cement in Akron, the forerunner of an industry which grew to large dimensions in the county. In politics Mr. Cummings was a Whig. He married Betsey Bates, and it is a fact worthy of note that on old family silver belonging to Mrs. Cummings the name was spelled without the "g." Hezekiah Cummings was seventy years old at the time of his death.
Homer Stille Cummings, son of Uriah and Audie Schuyler (Stille) Cummings, was born April 30, 1870, at their home on Michigan avenue, in Chicago, Illinois, and received his preparatory education at the Heathcote School, Buffalo, New York, afterward entering Yale University and graduating from Sheffield Scientific School in 1891, with a degree of Bachelor of Philosophy. He was fitted for his profession in Yale Law School, receiving, in 1893, the degree of Bachelor of Laws. The same year he was admitted to the Connecticut bar, in August 1893, entered upon the active practice of his profession at Stamford, and in that city he has ever since maintained his principle office. On January 1, 1895, he became a member of the law firm of Fessenden, Carter & Cummings, the association remaining unbroken until 1900, when he began practice alone and for the succeeding nine years was without a partner. On September 1, 1909, he organized the firm of Cummings & Lockwood, his associate being Charles D. Lockwood, at that time judge of probate for the District of Stamford. During the years which have since elapsed, the practice of the firm has grown to large proportions, embracing widely differing lines of important litigation. Mr. Cummings is also a member of the New York bar, and he is enrolled in the American Bar Association.
!In polictics Mr. Cummings is a Democrat. He was elected mayor of Stamford and served from 1900 to 1901, 1901 to 1902 and 1904 to 1906, and during 1902 and 1903 served as president of the Mayors Association of Connecticut. In 1908 he was chosen corporation counsel of Stamford, retaining that office for four years. In 1896 Mr. Cummings was the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State of Connecticut, and in 1902 was nominated for Congressman-at-large, receiving, in each of these elections, the highest vote on the party ticket. In 1910 he was the unanimous choice of the Democratic members of the General Assembly of Connecticut for United States Senator, and in 1916 was again a candidate, failing of election by a comparatively narrow margin, but again receiving the highest vote on his party ticket. He was a alternate-at-large to the Democratic National Convention of 1920. Since 1900 he has been, by successive unanimous appointments, a member of the Democratic National Committee. His last reappointment was in 1920, for the period of service ending in 1924. In 1913 he was unanimously elected vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and on February 26, 1919, became its chairman, retaining that office until July 20, 1920. He was temporary chairman of the Democratic National Convention held at San Francisco, June 28, 1920, and delivered the "keynote" address, which attracted national attention and, because of the manner in which it dealt with international relations, was widely quoted in foreign newspapers and magazines. At the San Francisco Convention, Hon John F. Crosby, Assistant United States Attorney, acting for the Connecticut delegation, placed the name of Mr. Cummings before the convention as a canadate for president of the United States. In the subsequent balloting he had the undivided support of the Connecticut delegation, and with support from various other States and Territories, received a total of twenty-seven votes. In 1917-1918 Mr. Cummings was a member of the Connecticut State Council of Defense.
!He is widely known as a public speaker of unusual attainments, having delivered many lectures as well as political and literary addresses. His style as a political speaker was felicitously described by the "Cheyenne (Wyoming) State Leader," after an address delivered by Mr. Cummings, July 21, 1919, at Cheyenne.
Forceful without being uncouth in his manner; suave and subtle, yet stingingly sarcastic at times; a master of chaste English, and at the same time an unusually vibrant prophet of the new day. Mr. Cummings made a tremendous impression on his hearers.
Through it all one saw clearly that he spoke not as a mere wordster, but as one having the confidence of a cause which inspired and emboldened him. He was seductively logical, proceeding with precision and convincing power from one point to another, and carrying his audience with him.
But what thrilled his hearers was not so much the manner of the delivery of his message as the message itself.
In this last paragraph is found the secret of Mr. Cummings power -- vision to discern and strength to make others see what he sees as he sees it. As was most truly said of him, he is "a patriot rather than a partisan; more the prophet than politician."
Mr Cummings affilates with Hiram Lodge, No. I, Free and Accepted Masons; Independent Order of Odd Fellows; Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Fraternal Order of Eagles; Knights of Pythias, Royal Arcanum, and the Knights of Maccabees. He belongs to the National Democratic Club of New York City, the Metropolitan Club of New York City, the Congressional Club of Washington, D.C. the University Club of Bridgeport, the Woodway County Club, the Stamford Yaucht Club and the Suburban Club of Stamford. He is member of the First Congregational Church of Stamford.
!On June 28, 1897, Mr. Cummings married (first) Helen W. Smith, daughter of the late Commodore James D. Smith. there was one child of this marriage, Dickinson Schuyler Cummings. On December 15, 1909, Mr. Cummings married (second) Marguerite T. Owings, daughter of John and Caroline H. (Lacy) Owings.
From DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY, Supplement six, 1956-1960
CUMMINGS, HOMER STILLE' (April 30, 1870-September 10, 1956)
U.S. attorney general, was born in Chicago, Ill., son of Uriah C. Cummings manufacturer and authority on cement, and Audie Schuyler Stille'. Homer graduated from the Heathcote School in Buffalo, N.Y. He received the Ph.B degree from the Sheffield School of Yale University in 1891 and the L.L.B. from Yale Law School in 1893. He then practiced law in Stamford, Conn., and in 1909 joined with Charles D. Lockwood to form Cummings and Lockwood. He remained a partner in the firm until 1933.
Cummings entered politics almost immediately. In 1896 he supported William Jennings Bryan, and Connecticut Democrats nominated him for secretary of state. The decision for Bryan rested on his conviction that government, law, and the Democratic party were the instruments for the achievement of social justice in America. His progressive sensibility was reinforced by his gifts as an orator. He was an incisive, dramatic trial lawyer, and an astute, imperturtable, and loyal political manager.
In 1900, 1901, and 1904, Cummings was elected mayor of Stamford, where he instituted a progressive municipal program. He constructed and improved streets and sewers, reorganized the police and fire departments, and secured a shorefront park, later named for him. He was nominated for congressman-at-large in 1902 and for U.S. Senator in 1910 and 1916. Each time he lost narrowly. He served as state's attorney for Fairfield County from 1914 to 1924. During Cummings' last year as county prosecutor, a vagrant, Harold Israel, was indicted for the murder of a popular parish priest on a street corner in Bridgeport. The evidence, including a confession, appeared overwhelming, but Cummings, after scrupulous investigation, became convinced of Israel's innocence. In a gripping courtroom scene he asked for and secured dismissal of the charge. In 1931 the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (the Wickersham Commission) praised this act, and a film
"BOOMERANG" (1947) dramatized the affair,
!Cummings began his association with the national Democratic party in 1900, when he was named committeeman from Connecticut, a post he held until 1925. He was a delegate-at-large to the 1900 Democratic convention, the first of many conventions he was to attend. In the 1912 campaign he directed the Democratic speaker's bureau from Washington, D.C. He served as vice-chairman of the national committee from 1913 to 1919 and as chairman from 1919 to 1920. Cummings greatly admired Woodrow Wilson and delivered a passionate keynote address at the 1920 convention in praise of the stricken president.
Cummings vainly attempted to calm the bitterly divided Democratic convention of 1924. As chairman of Committee on Resolutions, he tried to formulate a compromise plank on the controversial issue of the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike most Northeasteners, however, he supported William G. McAdoo over Alfred E. Smith for the presidential nomination. For the rest of the decade his political activity was restrained.
Cummings married four times. His marriage to Helen W. Smith in 1897 ended in divorce in 1907. They had one son. His 1909 marriage to Marguerite T. Owings was dissolved in 1928. The marriage to Mary Cecilia Waterbury in 1929 was happy; she died ten years later. He published a memoir. "The Tired Sea" (1939), as a tribute to Cecilia. In 1942 he married Julia Alter, who died in 1955.
With the coming of the Great Depression, Cummings reentered politics. In 1932 he helped persuade twenty-four senators and numerous congressmen to announce their support for Franklin D. Roosevelt. At Chicago he planned strategy, operated as floor manager, and delivered a resounding seconding speech. Following the election, Roosevelt chose Cummings as governor-general of the Philippines. However, when Senator Walsh, who had been designated attorney general, died on Mar. 2, 1933, Roosevelt named Cummings to lead the Justice Department on Mar. 4. Cummings accepted the post on a temporary, emergency basis, and then, a few weeks later, permanently. He served almost six years as
attorney general; only William Wirt served longer (1817-1829).
Cummings transformed the Department of Justice. He established uniform rules of practice and procedure in federal courts. Appalled by the crime waves of the Prohibition era, he secured the passage of twelve laws that buttressed the "Lindbergh law" on kidnapping, made bank robbery a federal crime, cracked down on interstate transportation of stolen property, and extended federal regulations over firearms. He strengthened the Federal Bureau of Investigation, called a national crime conference, supported the establishment of Alcatraz as a model prison for hardened offenders, and reorganized the internal administration of the department. In 1937 Cummings published "We Can Prevent Crime, and, with Carl McFarlan, an assistant attorney general, "Federal Justice," a departmental history, "The Selected Papers of Homer Cummings" (1939), edited by Carl B. Swisher, supplemented the history.
Cummings's path as protector of New Deal programs was thorny. During his first week as attorney general, he advised Roosevelt that the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 permitted the president to close banks and regulate gold hoarding and export. Cummings personally argued the right of the government to ban gold payments before the Supreme court and won the "gold clause" cases. The department's defense of subsequent administration measures was notoriously unsuccessful, however. During 1935-1936, the Court, frequently by 5 to 4 votes, overthrew eight key statutes, including the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).
The obtuseness of the conservative Court majority rankled. Cummings was eager to expand the judiciary and was outraged by the proliferation of lawsuits and injunctions against the government. After the election of 1936, Roosevelt instructed him to draft legislation for court reform. Neither wished to alter the Constitution. Both were attracted by an idea proposed earlier by conservative Justice James McReynolds, to add a judge for every judge who refused to retire at age seventy at full pay. Such a measure might give the president the opportunity to appoint fifty new judges, including six to the Supreme Court. Roosevelt launched the proposal, prepared secretly by Cummings, on Feb. 5, 1937. The uproar that confronted the "court-packing plan" is well known. After 168 days the Senate killed the bill by returning it to committee.
Cummings retired on Jan 2, 1939. He entered private law practice in Washington and instituted a spring golf tournament that annually brought executives, lawyers, and politicians together. He also retained his interest in the Connecticut Democratic party, along with a residence in Greenich, and served on the Greenich Town Committee until 1951. He died in Washington, D.C.