James Montgomery Beck (July 9, 1861 – April 12, 1936) was an American lawyer, politician, and author from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Republican Party, who served as U.S. Solicitor General and U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania.

James M. Beck
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania
In office
November 8, 1927 – September 30, 1934
Preceded byJames M. Hazlett
Succeeded byWilliam H. Wilson
Constituency1st district (1927–1933)
2nd district (1933–1934)
17th United States Solicitor General
In office
June 1, 1921 – May 11, 1925[1]
PresidentWarren G. Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Preceded byWilliam L. Frierson
Succeeded byWilliam D. Mitchell
9th United States Assistant Attorney General
In office
PresidentWilliam McKinley
Preceded byJames Edmund Boyd
Succeeded byJames Clark McReynolds
Personal details
James Montgomery Beck

(1861-07-09)July 9, 1861
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedApril 12, 1936(1936-04-12) (aged 74)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placeRock Creek Cemetery
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Other political
Democratic (before 1900)
Alma materMoravian College

Early life and education


Beck was born July 9, 1861, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Margaretta C. (née Darling) and James Nathan Beck.[2] In 1880, he graduated from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He was employed as clerk for a railway company in 1880 and studied law at night, was admitted to the bar in 1884 and commenced practice in Philadelphia. He was admitted to the bar of New York City in 1903, and to the bar of England in 1922.



Beck served as assistant United States Attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania from 1888 to 1892 and as United States attorney in Philadelphia from 1896 to 1900. In 1898, he ran for District Attorney of Philadelphia, but lost to P. Frederick Rothermel. Switching from a Pro-Cleveland Democrat to a Republican in 1900, he was appointed by President William McKinley as Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. at the U.S. Department of Justice in the same year, where he served until his resignation in 1903. He then returned to the full-time practice of law, joining the firm of Shearman & Sterling in New York City. In 1917, he left that firm to become senior partner in Beck, Crawford & Harris, and retired from active practice in 1927 to run for Congress from Philadelphia.[3]

At the outbreak of World War I, he took a strong stand against the German Empire in extensive writings and addresses.[4] He was elected a bencher of Gray's Inn in 1914, the first foreigner in 600 years to receive that distinction. He also received decorations from France and Belgium and authored several books and articles on World War I and on the Constitution of the United States. Among his books are The Evidence in the Case (1914) and War and Humanity (1916).[4]

Beck was an elected member of the American Philosophical Society (1926).[5]

Solicitor General


He was appointed by President Warren G. Harding as Solicitor General of the United States in 1921 and served until his voluntary resignation in 1925, when he again resumed the practice of law. During his term as solicitor general, he had charge of more than 800 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He personally and successfully argued more than 100 of these cases, including Ozawa v. United States.

His conservative views are reflected in his 1924 book The Constitution of the United States, which was a best-seller and went through seven printings in ten months. A special edition of 10,000 copies, with a foreword written by President-elect Calvin Coolidge, was distributed to schools and libraries across the country.

U.S. Representative


After resigning as solicitor general, Beck became involved in the legal fight of William S. Vare, who was elected to the U.S. Senate but denied a seat because of irregularities in the election. In response, Beck wrote The Vanishing Rights of States in which he argued that the U.S. Constitution did not permit the U.S. Senate to exclude a member chosen through an election. The debate that followed the book's publishing, raising Beck's public profile and making him a prominent option to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by the resignation of James M. Hazlett.

Beck was elected to the Seventieth Congress, was reelected to the Seventy-first, Seventy-second, and Seventy-third Congresses and served from November 8, 1927, until his resignation on September 30, 1934.

He was active in the movement to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, which he said had no place in the constitution. He also fended off legal questions about his official residence and thus eligibility to represent Philadelphia.


Beck resigned his seat in the House of Representatives over strong objections to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. In a statement released at the time of his resignation, he stated that Congress had become "merely a rubber stamp for the Executive."

He joined the lawsuit against the New Deal-created Tennessee Valley Authority and argued the case in the Supreme Court in December 1935, declaring the organization unconstitutional and socialistic. In the final weeks before his death, he served as counsel in the case of an oil stock dealer accused of violating the Securities Act of 1933.

Personal life


Beck was married to Lilla Lawrence Mitchell (1861–1956), the daughter of James and Emeline Lawrence Mitchell of Philadelphia and later of Baltimore. They had two children together:[6]



Beck died April 12, 1936, in Washington, D.C., at age 74, and is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[12] Beck's widow, Lilla Lawrence Mitchell, died over 20 years later, on August 1, 1956.[6]


  1. ^ Jost, Kenneth (1993). The Supreme Court A to Z. CQ Press. p. 428. ISBN 9781608717446.
  2. ^ "The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Beck to Beckbissinger".
  3. ^ "Solicitor General: James M. Beck". www.justice.gov. Office of the Solicitor General. 23 October 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2024.
  4. ^ a b Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Beck, James Montgomery" . Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company.
  5. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2023-08-07.
  6. ^ a b Times, Special to The New York (2 August 1956). "MRS. JAMES M. BECK, 98; Widow of Onetime Solicitor General of U.S. Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  7. ^ "JAMES M. BECK DIES; A SOCIETY FIGURE, 80". The New York Times. 6 December 1972. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  8. ^ "Hon. Clarissa ('Clare') Tennant (Tennyson, later Beck)". www.npg.org.uk. National Portrait Gallery, London. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  9. ^ "Mrs. James Beck, Founded Newport Music Carnival". The New York Times. 18 April 1974. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  10. ^ TIMES, Special to THE NEW YORK (26 October 1924). "MISS BEATRICE BECK. BRIDE OF S. P. TUCK JR.; President and Mrs. Coolidge at the Wedding of Daughter of Solicitor General". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  11. ^ TIMES, Special to THE NEW YORK (30 April 1936). "MRS. BEATRICE TUCK IS BRIDE AT CAPITAL; Daughter of Late James M. Beck Is Married to Col. Snowden Andrew Fahnestock". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  12. ^ TIMES, Special to THE NEW YORK (13 April 1936). "JAMES M. BECK, 74, NEW DEAL FOE, DIES; One of Foremost Authorities on the Constitution Stricken Suddenly in Capital". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2022.

"The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the rise of the American Nation State" LISA McGIRR; New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2016 (pp. 174–175)

Awards and achievements
Preceded by Cover of Time Magazine
5 May 1923
Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by