Bancroft Davis

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John Chandler Bancroft Davis

Birthplace: Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John Davis, Governor, U.S. Senator and Eliza Davis (Bancroft)
Husband of Frederika Gore Davis
Brother of Bruyn Hasbrouck Davis; Horace Davis, US Congress and Andrew McFarland Davis

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Bancroft Davis

John Chandler Bancroft Davis (December 22, 1822 – December 27, 1907), commonly known as Bancroft Davis, was an American lawyer, judge, diplomat, and president of Newburgh and New York Railway Company.

Early life

Davis was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of John Davis, a Whig governor of Massachusetts, and was the older brother of congressman Horace Davis. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1847. He married Frederika Gore King. She was the daughter of James G. King, an American businessman and Whig Party politician and the granddaughter of Rufus King, who was one of the List of signatories of the United States Constitution.


In 1849, Davis became secretary of the American embassy in London and later its chargé d'affaires. He practiced law in New York City and was the correspondent for The Times in London. Because of ill health, he retired from his law work in 1862, but in 1868 he was elected to the New York State Assembly.

Under President Ulysses S. Grant, he was Assistant Secretary of State in 1869–1871 and again in 1873–1874.

Between times he was a secretary of the commission which concluded the Treaty of Washington in 1871, to create a tribunal to settle the Alabama claims. He subsequently represented the United States at the tribunal, the Geneva Court of Arbitration, which met at Geneva on December 15, 1871. The American case was prepared and presented by him.

In 1874, he was appointed as the U.S. Minister to Germany, serving in that position until 1877. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him to be an associate judge on the United States Court of Claims on December 14, 1877, replacing retiring Judge Edward G. Loring.

For another special assignment at the State Department, he resigned from the Court of Claims in 1881 at the request of President Chester A. Arthur, who reappointed him to the court in 1882. He resigned again in 1883 to become Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court, and was replaced on the Court of Claims by Lawrence Weldon.

Role in corporate personhood controversy

Acting as court reporter in the 1886 Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, Davis is a key figure in the corporate personhood debate. Journalists have since cited Davis's prior position as president of Newburgh and New York Railway as evidence of a conflict of interest in the corporate personhood interpretation of the ruling.


Bancroft Davis died in Washington, DC in 1907.


(1847) The Massachusetts Justice LCCN 05-017539

(1871) The Case of the United States Laid before the Tribunal of Arbitration at Geneva LCCN 10-016624

(1873) Treaties and Conventions Concluded between the United States of America and Other Powers, Since July 4, 1776 (Revised edition) LCCN 11-033794

(1893) Mr. Fish and the Alabama Claims: A Chapter in Diplomatic History LCCN 11-024903, LCCN 71-095065

(1897) Origin of the Book of Common Prayer of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America

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Bancroft Davis's Timeline

December 22, 1822
Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
December 27, 1907
Age 85
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States