The Man Who Rode the Tiger: The Life and Times of Judge Samuel Seabury

By Herbert Mitgang | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
A Bishop Looks Over His Shoulder

BEFORE the close of the Victorian era of well-mannered privilege and the advent of the twentieth century of occasional human progress, a newly minted attorney named Samuel Seabury was confronted with a case involving the ancient doctrine of eminent domain--the right of the state to force a property owner to sell land needed for public use. The case was relatively unimportant in the City of New York; but because it brought the larger social conflicts of the moment into an extremely personal focus for the young lawyer, its lesson stayed with him for the rest of his life.

His law firm, Morgan & Seabury, was maintained as counsel by the Corporation of Trinity Church, the historic Protestant Episcopal parish at Broadway and Wall Street. The Tammany commissioner of public buildings, an ex-alderman and lumber dealer named William Walker, who owed his allegiance to the infamous "Boss" Richard Croker, had decided to condemn St. John's Burying Ground, on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, near the North River. The graveyard belonged to Trinity Church; in it rested the forefathers of many venerable New Yorkers. Now the "Irish Democrats" who lived in the neighborhood agreed that a small park would be more pleasant than a Protestant graveyard. It so happened that Commissioner Walker owned the house at No. 6 St. Luke's Place, diagonally across from the cemetery that devalued his property. With typical

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