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Herbert Brownell Jr.

Herbert Brownell Jr. was the 65th attorney general of the United States. He served from 1953 to 1957 in the administration of President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER. Brownell's tenure as attorney general was marked by his advocacy of CIVIL RIGHTS, particularly concerning the enforcement of the landmark case BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954) in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of desegregation of public schools. Brownell also proposed landmark civil rights legislation.

Brownell was born in Peru, Nebraska, on February 20, 1904. In 1924, he graduated from the University of Nebraska and then attended Yale Law School. After receiving his law degree in 1927, Brownell was admitted to the New York State bar and worked for the noted law firm of Root, Clark, Buckner, Howland & Ballentine for two years. In 1929, he joined the law firm of Lord, Day & Lord.

Brownell served as a member of the New York State Assembly from 1933 to 1937, becoming an advisor to THOMAS E. DEWEY, a New York district attorney who had successfully prosecuted organized-crime syndicates. Dewey had run for governor in 1938 but lost to incumbent Herbert Lehman. Dewey also made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1940. Brownell urged Dewey to run again for governor in 1942. With Brownell as his campaign manager and chief political strategist, Dewey was elected governor of New York.

With Brownell managing his campaign, Dewey ran again for president in 1944, only to lose to FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT. Having gained national prominence, Brownell served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1944 to 1946. He also functioned once more as the presidential campaign manager for Dewey, who had been re-elected governor in 1946. In 1948, HARRY TRUMAN narrowly defeated Dewey.

Herbert Brownell Jr., 1952, New York.

In 1952, Brownell encouraged WORLD WAR II hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president. Brownell helped the general to secure the Republican nomination and then worked closely with him in his successful run for the presidency. In 1953, a grateful Eisenhower appointed Brownell as U.S. attorney general.

Brownell was an influential advisor to the president and was involved in numerous controversial situations. Shortly after his appointment as attorney general, Brownell became involved in the case of JULIUS AND ETHEL ROSENBERG, who had been convicted of ESPIONAGE and sentenced to death. Supporters of the Rosenbergs, who had exhausted all their appeals, petitioned the president to commute their sentences to life imprisonment. In June 1953, U.S. Supreme Court Justice WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS granted the Rosenbergs a stay of execution in order to consider new evidence. Although the U.S. Supreme Court was recessed for the summer, Brownell convinced the justices to come back and hear the matter. The Court, in a special session on June 19, 1953, dissolved the stay, and the Rosenbergs were executed that same day.

Brownell raised the ire of many Southerners (as well as anti-integration forces throughout the country) when he used the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT to enforce the mandate of the Brown case in desegregating public schools in the South. The climax came when Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus ordered the state's NATIONAL GUARD to bar black students who were seeking admittance to a high school in Little Rock. Eisenhower, at Brownell's urging, federalized the troops and used them to escort the students to and from the school.

Brownell, who had been a civil rights supporter since his days in the New York State legislature, drafted legislation that would give the U.S. attorney general unprecedented power to institute suits in the name of the United States to enforce civil rights in many public accommodations including housing, parks, theaters, restaurants, and hotels. The legislation, called the Brownell Bill, also sought the power to enforce injunctions to stop violations of civil rights in the same areas. The bill went through numerous permutations and ended up being greatly weakened in its enforcement efforts. Nevertheless, it was passed as the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT of 1957—the first civil rights legislation passed in 82 years.

After leaving his post as attorney general in 1957, Brownell served as the United States' member to the Permanent Court of ARBITRATION at the Hague. He remained associated with of the Lord law firm from 1977 to 1989. From 1985 to 1989, he served as a member of the U.S. Bicentennial Commission for the U.S. Constitution. In 1993, he published Advising Ike: The Memoirs of Attorney General Herbert Brownell. Brownell died in New York City on May 1, 1996.


Attorneys General of the United States, 1789–1985. 1985. United States Department of Justice. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Brownell, Herbert, with John P. Burke. 1993. Advising Ike: The Memoirs of Attorney General Herbert Brownell. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

Caro, Robert. 2002. Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Knopf.

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