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William D. Guthrie


Centurion, 1910–1935

Full Name William Dameron Guthrie

Born 3 February 1859 in San Francisco, California

Died 8 December 1935 in Oyster Bay, New York

Buried Locust Valley Cemetery, Locust Valley, New York

Proposed by Joseph H. Choate and Howland Davis

Elected 3 December 1910 at age fifty-one

Century Memorial

It was in his later years that William Dameron Guthrie became a familiar figure at the Century. At the lunch-table, his smiling face and quietly cordial manner came gradually to be part of the accustomed picture. Some of the younger Club-house visitors to whom Guthrie nodded as he passed were probably not aware that they were exchanging greetings with one of our most eminent down-town lawyers; for Guthrie’s achievement in the profession occurred mostly in another generation. A lawyer who, in his long practice before the United States Supreme Court, had been associated as counsel with such nowadays almost legendary legal luminaries as James C. Carter, Colonel Bob Ingersoll and ex-Senator George F. Edmunds, seemed himself, as a historical figure, to belong to other days. But Guthrie preserved in private life, undiminished to the last, the clarity of thought and language, the easy building-up of argument—perhaps one might add, the very great positiveness of opinion, always quietly expressed—that had distinguished his presentation of the celebrated cases in which, before the higher courts, he matched swords with eminent counsel on the other side.

Guthrie did not always win in court; very few lawyers do. Perhaps he did not possess the spontaneous wit, the daring controversial expedient, the keen judgment regarding the sure avenue of appeal to a particular judge or jury, which made Guthrie’s contemporary, Joseph H. Choate, the most picturesque figure of the period at the bar. Two of Guthrie’s most important cases, in at least one of which his personal convictions were extremely strong, went against him. Our best lawyers held, however, that the court’s decision of 1920 against his contention for the invalidating of the Prohibition Law was a verdict of political expediency. In the suit of 1904, involving the method of dissolving the Northern Securities railway merger, a case in which Morgan and Harriman and their respective counsel were lined up for the last time against one another, Guthrie’s advice to the Harriman party turned out to be mistaken. But these were only two out of a long list of leading cases in which Guthrie’s part was conspicuous. It was his judgment which led to the upsetting of the Income Tax Law in 1895. Though a firm believer in controlling and regulating child labor, it was his powerful opposition to the movement for incorporating such reform in an amendment to the United States constitution which helped greatly in preventing ratification and in checking the effort at Federal interference. To the Club, the pleasantest part of its personal association with this long-time member is that a citizen, thus active and eminent in the battles of his profession, should have found in the evening of life that the Century was a congenial second home.

Alexander Dana Noyes
1936 Century Association Yearbook