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John Chandler Bancroft Davis
John Chandler Bancroft Davis enjoyed a long and prolific career as a diplomat, jurist, and legal historian.
The son of John Davis, a Massachusetts governor and U.S. senator, Davis was born December 29, 1822, in Worcester, Massachusetts. He entered Harvard College in 1840, but was suspended (unjustly, by some accounts) during his senior year. He then studied law and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1844. Three years later, he received his law degree from Harvard.
Davis practiced law in New York City until August 1849, when he was appointed secretary of the U.S. legation in Great Britain. He was also acting chargé d' affaires of the embassy for a brief time. Davis left his diplomatic post in November 1852 to resume his law practice and to become U.S. correspondent for the London Times. Illness forced him to give up his law practice, and in 1862 he and his wife settled on a farm in rural New York State.
Six years later, after regaining his health, Davis was elected to the New York State Assembly. In 1869, he left the legislature to accept an
appointment as assistant secretary of state under President Ulysses S. Grant. As the assistant secretary, Davis arbitrated a dispute between Portugal and Great Britain over their African possessions. In 1871, a joint high commission was created to settle a dispute between the United States and Great Britain over damages sustained by Confederate vessels during the Civil War. Davis resigned his position with the State Department to become U.S. secretary to the commission. He prepared the case for the United States and wrote a 500-page book, The
Case of the United States, in which the government demanded compensation for losses sustained by Confederate cruisers and for injuries to commerce. The Tribunal of Arbitration at Geneva later awarded the United States over $15 million in gold for damages.
Davis was reappointed assistant secretary of state in January 1873 but resigned in July 1874 to succeed his uncle, George Bancroft, as minister to Germany.
After three years in Berlin, Davis gave up his diplomatic career to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Claims. He sat on the court for five years and then served for nearly twenty years as reporter of decisions for the U.S. Supreme Court. As reporter for the Court, he edited over 75 volumes of the United States Reports, the official publication of the Court's opinions. Davis also classified important historical data on the federal judiciary. At the time of his death in 1907, at age 85, he had authored significant works on diplomacy, religion, and history, including The Massachusetts Justice (1847), Mr. Fish and the Alabama Claims (1893), and Origin of the Book of Common Prayer of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (1897).