People & Events
Judge Arthur MacArthur (1817-1896)
As great as his accomplishments were, Douglas MacArthur would have been quick to state that he represented merely the third generation of highly successful MacArthurs in America. Always proud of his Scottish heritage, MacArthur cherished the man who established the venerable clan here, his grandfather, Judge Arthur MacArthur.
The Judge called himself a "double-distilled" MacArthur: the maiden name of his mother, Sarah, had also been MacArthur. But tragically his father, who came from a family of Highlanders, died just days before his birth in 1817. When Arthur was seven, his mother remarried, and in 1828 the family joined one of her sisters in the Massachusetts mill town of Uxbridge. It did not take long for the first-generation immigrant to succeed. After briefly attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Arthur dropped out to help the family through a severe depression in 1837, working as a law clerk first in Boston, then in New York. By 1841, he had been admitted to the New York bar. The year before, he had married Aurelia Belcher, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist from Chicopee, Massachusetts. Accepting an offer of help from his powerful father-in-law, Arthur and his young bride moved to Springfield in 1842, where he established a practice that soon thrived.
Although he benefited from his wife's influential Yankee family, Arthur soon chafed at their Whiggish conservatism. A staunch Democrat, his own immigrant background made him suspicious of "the aristocracy of birth," and it wasn't long before he struck out on his own. After setting up a law office in New York, in 1849 he moved his family, which now included young Arthur Jr., to the rapidly growing city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the family flourished. Arthur established a successful practice and purchased a home in an exclusive section of town, and the MacArthurs were soon enjoying membership in the city's social elite.
According to historian Kenneth Ray Young, MacArthur "became a rising star in Milwaukee politics." Elected city attorney just two years after his arrival, he made friends with the most powerful men in the state. In 1855 MacArthur agreed to run as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor on a slate with incumbent Governor William A. Barstow. They won election, but on January 7, 1856 -- the very day they were inaugurated -- outraged Republicans launched an investigation into alleged voting irregularities. In March, the charges were substantiated, Barstow resigned and MacArthur served as governor for five days until the state court gave the election to their Republican opponent. Incredibly, though, the association did not hinder MacArthur's career, and in 1857 he was elected to the first of two six-year terms as a judge on the state's second judicial circuit. In 1870 he achieved his greatest success, when President Grant appointed him associate justice of the supreme court of the District of Columbia, a position he held until his retirement in 1887. He spent the remainder of his years writing several books, fielding numerous offers for speaking engagements, and entertaining Washington's elite.
It was during these lofty years in Washington, just when he was entering adolescence, that an impressionable Douglas MacArthur got to know his grandfather best. If in Douglas' mind his father represented the ideal soldier, his grandfather was the model for the gentleman-scholar. As D. Clayton James has written of the Judge, "The family heritage which he largely created and passed on by example to Douglas was one of nobility: A MacArthur is a man of superior mind and talents, a potential master of sundry fields; a MacArthur commands the respect of important personages at the highest levels of government and society; a MacArthur, by virtue of his family's high rank in the Scottish aristocracy of blood and the American aristocracy of success and wealth, is obligated to conduct himself with honor, gallantry, and magnanimity." These were clearly the signposts by which Douglas MacArthur would navigate his way into the history books.