Historically yours — James Broadhead: first president of American Bar Association

Charles Dunlap
Boonville Daily News

James Overton Broadhead was born on May 29, 1819, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the eldest son of Archilles and Mary Winston (Carr) Broadhead. James went to school in Albemarle County before attending one year at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. 

Broadhead moved to Missouri in 1837 and read law in the office of Edward Bates. In 1842, with license in hand, he moved to Bowling Green, where he went into private practice. 

Somewhere along the way, he met and married Mary Snowden Dorsey. Their union was blessed with four children, three surviving to adulthood. 

Broadhead’s political career began in 1845 when he became a member of the Missouri Constitutional Convention. In 1846, he served as a House Representative for Missouri and, in 1850, became a member of the Missouri Senate. 

Following his term in the state senate, Broadhead returned to St. Louis and resumed his law practice as a partner of Broadhead, Slayback, and Daeussler. 

Broadhead opposed the Southern cause and was a member of the 1861 convention that voted against secession. President Lincoln commissioned Broadhead as lieutenant colonel of Volunteers under General Schofield, and later, in 1863, appointed him provost marshal general of Missouri.

Broadhead was a a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1868 and 1872. President Grant appointed him a prosecutor in the “whiskey frauds” cases in 1876. Also in 1876, Broadhead ran for the Presidency on the democratic ticket, but lost the nomination to New York Gov. Samual J. Tilden.

In Saratoga Springs, NY, in 1878, James Broadhead was chosen president of the newly created American Bar Association. According to a 1953 article in the “Christian Science Monitor,” Broadhead was also “the first lawyer to receive as large a fee as $75,000 in a single case.”

After serving another term in the Missouri House, President Cleveland appointed him as special commissioner to France in 1885 and as minister to Switzerland from 1893 to 1897. 

Upon his return to the states, Broadhead returned to private practice in St. Louis until his death on Aug. 7, 1898. He was laid to rest in Bellefontaine Cemetery. His wife and three children survived him. Mary joined her husband in death in 1914. 

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com.