The Eager Lawyer Discovers the People
ALMOST immediately after his admission to the bar, Samuel Seabury realized that coaching students, digesting cases for publishers, and holding on to small jobs around the law school was merely a postponement of the terrifying realities of legal and political life. The courts of New York, at the time, were an instrument of machine politics. Justice was frequently meted out by the Tammany clubhouse, through its lawyers and judges. Although the poor might receive a bucket of coal and a basket of food from Tammany at Christmastime in return for their votes, they were often, through the alliance between politician and judge, deprived of a fair day in court. The municipal and magistrates' courts especially were adjuncts of Tammany rule in the years before the turn of the century. But Seabury had nothing to lose by backing unfashionable causes or pleading unpopular cases. Having no patronage, he could help those who were--in the phrase he once copied and knew well himself--"as poor as church mice."
One evening in the fall of 1894, he took the ferryboat across the East River to Brooklyn Heights, where a political rally was scheduled. In November there was to be a gubernatorial election, in which the independent Democrats were opposing not only the Republicans but the regular Tammany-supported state Democratic ticket. Speakers were needed in Kings County, and Seabury, who had never actively