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Louis Marshall Papers

Identifier: P-24

Scope and Content Note

The papers of Louis Marshall encompass the years 1905 – 1933, with special focus on the years 1907 – 1928, the period in which the United States Congress passed increasingly restrictive immigration legislation. Researchers will be able to follow the progression of the restrictive legislation and observe how Marshall and his associates, within and without of the American Jewish Committee, attempted to defeat or alter such legislation. Also of interest are the letter writing campaigns, especially during 1914-1915 (Box 1, Folder 12-15); (Box 2, Folder 1) pursued by Louis Marshall and his associates as they sought to influence the course of immigration legislation.

This collection contains correspondence, pamphlets, reports and copies of Congressional bills. Chief among the legislation was a literacy test for new immigrants which was introduced in Congress at different times and in different forms (Box 1, Folder 1; Box 1, Folders 3 –9; Box 1, Folders 11-15; Box 2, Folders 1-5; Box 3, Folder 3).

Documented in the collection is the period after the passage of the Immigration Bill of 1917.(Box 2, Folder 5) Marshall turned his attention to other immigration legislation, such as the Bill To Suspend Immigration in 1918 (Box 2, Folder 6), certain provisions of the Deportation Act of 1925 (Box 2, Folder 8), and various bills concerning the registration of aliens (Box 2, Folder 7; Box 2, Folders 9-10; Box 3, Folder 1) and the reuniting of families in which the wife and/or minor children of an immigrant were still abroad (Box 2, Folders 10-11; Box 3, Folders 1-3). Also important were Marshall’s efforts regarding immigrant quota systems(Box 2, Folders 6-7; Box 2, Folders 9-10; Box 3, Folders 1-2).

The papers contain information about Louis Marshall’s involvement with the general welfare of immigrants.(Box 1, Folder 2; Box 1, Folder 7; Box 1, Folder 10; Box 2, Folder 1; Box 3, Folder 3). The collection also contains materials which deminstrate Marshall’s commitment to religious diversity in the United States.(Box 1, Folder 2).

The collection also includes such reports as "Memorandum on the Treaty Rights of the Jews of Roumania" (Box 1, Folder 2) and "Memorial Presented by the Roumanian Jews to their Parliament" (Box 1, Folder and articles and news clippings on the situation of the Jewish community in Russia (Box 1, Folder 12).

The collection is organized chronologically in one series consisting primarily of correspondence. It also includes the Minutes of the Conference on Immigration (Box 1, Folder 2; Box 1, Folder 4), posters (Box 3, Folder 3), the Minutes and a Report of the American Jewish Committee (Box 1, Folder 1; Box 1 Folder 14), copies of Congressional bills and memoranda throughout the collection, and a transcript of an address Louis Marshall gave at New York University (Box 1, Folder 12). These provide background and context to the legislative debates in which Louis Marshall and his associates involved themselves.


  • Creation: undated, 1905-1933


Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Biographical Note

Louis Marshall (1856 - 1929)

Louis Marshall, corporate and constitutional lawyer and Jewish community leader, was born in Syracuse, NEw York in 1856. Both his mother, Zilli Strauss, and his father, Jacob Marshall, immigrated to the United States from Germany; Jacob was barely literate, and Zilli was self-taught. Through his parents' experiences, Marshall came to understand and identify with the hardships faced by immigrants, and by those who remained in autocratic countries.

Marshall graduated from Columbia Law School in 1877 and joined the law firm of William C. Ruger in Syracuse, New York. Between 1878 and 1894, Marshall argued over 150 cases before the Court of Appeals and rose to prominence in the Jewish community of Syracuse. He moved to New York City in 1894, when he joined the law firm of Guggenheimer and Untermyer.

In New York, Marshall was intensely involved in Jewish communal affairs. By 1903, Marshall was Secretary at Temple Emanu-El, the most important Reform congregation in the United States, and in 1916, he became its president. Marshall also served as chair of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He saw no contradiction between his roles at Temple Emanu-El and the Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s rabbinical school, because "to him there was one Judaism."

The American Jewish Committee was established in 1906 by a group of established German-Jewish leaders, including Marshall. Its purpose was to "watch closely over legislative and diplomatic matters of interest to American-Jews, and to convey to the President, State Department, and Congress, requests, information, and if need be, political threats." Marshall, who would eventually become "the AJC’s major strategist and most active lobbyist," became its president in 1912, serving through his death.

In the early years of the twentieth century, pogroms and government oppression caused almost 2,500,000 Jews from Eastern Europe to immigrate to the United States between 1881 – 1925. At the same time, American society was changing rapidly, becoming increasingly urbanized, industrialized, and ethnically and religiously diverse. Nativists responded to these changes by calling for the government to impose a restrictive immigration policy. Although the restrictionist movement was generally xenophobic and not specifically anti-Semitic, its ideology threatened to substantially reduce the number of Jewish arrivals to America. Between 1912 and 1917, Congress attempted to pass two bills which would have restricted immigrant numbers. Marshall objected to these bills, particularly on the ground of their literacy test provisions, which would prevent illiterate Jews, like his father, from entering the country.

In 1917, although President Woodrow Wilson had vetoed the restrictive immigration bill presented to him, Congress overrode the veto and the bill became law. After 1917, Marshall continued to fight against which he judged to be hostile to immigration, but the restrictionists prevailed. In 1924, Congress imposed a quota system that so drastically reduced immigration, America was effectively cut off as an avenue of escape for those who needed it most.

In 1911, Marshall led the movement for the abrogation of the 1832 commercial treaty between the United States and Russia. The contested point "involved Russia’s refusal to allow native-born or naturalized American Jews to travel freely in Russia, despite the fact that they possessed American passports." "Marshall…idealistically believed that abrogation would force Russia to end the Pale, to liberate Russian Jewry, and ultimately, to relieve the pressure for immigration." Although the suffering of the Russian Jews did not end, the abrogation of the treaty is among Marshall’s most important achievements.

In 1914-15, Marshall lent his skills to the Leo Frank case. Leo Frank, who had been educated in New York State, was the Jewish manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia. Amidst anti-Semitic hysteria, Frank had been accused and convicted, in 1914, of raping and murdering a 14-year old girl. Marshall offered legal counsel during Frank’s appeals, raised money, initiated an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court and discreetly solicited the help of influential Southerners.

In 1919, after World War One, Marshall attended the Paris Peace Conference, where he helped formulate minority rights clauses for the constitutions of the newly created states of Eastern Europe.

In his later years, Marshall attempted to stop the newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, which was owned by Henry Ford, from spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. He also championed conservationism, helping to found the New York State College of Forestry.

Although he did not always agree with political Zionism, Marshall worked for the establishment of a national Jewish home in Palestine when Britain issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917. In 1929, shortly before his death, Marshall was instrumental in organizing the Jewish Agency, which brought together Zionists and non-Zionists from around the world throughout the world "for the management of Jewish colonization efforts under the terms of the British mandate."


  1. Morton Rosenstock, Louis Marshall: Defender of Jewish Rights (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965): 24, 31-32, 12, 80-81, 53, 45.
  2. Judith S. Goldstein, The Politics of Ethnic Pressure: The American Jewish Committee Fight Against Immigration Restriction, 1906-1917 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990): 53-54, 13-14, 133, 135.
  3. Louis Marshall. Dictionary of American Biography Base Set; American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center, Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003.


Born on December 14 in Syracuse, New York
Graduates from Columbia Law School and joins prominent Syracuse, New York law firm headed by William C. Ruger
Partner in the New York City law firm of Guggenheimer, Untermeyer and Marshall
Marries Florence Lowenstein
Appointed chairman of a commission investigating slum conditions on New York City’s Lower East Side
Appointed chairman of the Commission of Immigration of New York State
Acts as mediator in cloak-makers’ strike in New York City
Successfully leads campaign to abrogate the U.S.-Russian Commercial Treaty of 1832
Assumes presidency of the American Jewish Committee
Smith-Burnett immigration bill vetoed by President William Howard Taft
Joins legal staff on Leo Frank case and initiates appeal of case to Federal Supreme Court
Immigration Bill vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson
Florence Lowenstein dies
Immigration Act of 1917 vetoed by President Wilson. Congress overrides veto. Literacy Test, albeit with Marshall’s exemption clause, becomes law
Delegate to the Paris Peace Conference; arbitrator in clothing-workers’ strike
Attempts to block Dearborn Independent’s publication of anti-Semitic propaganda.
Emergency Immigration Quota Act becomes law
Helps reverse Harvard University’s announced intention to impose a quota on Jews
Immigration Quota Law of 1924 becomes law.
Dies in Zurich, Switzerland on September the age of 72

Sources for Chronology

Isaac Landman, ed. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. (New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia Inc., 1942), s.v, "Louis Marshall" by Nathan Caro Belth.

Cecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder, editors-in-chief, The Encyclopedia Judaica. (Jerusalem: The MacMillian Company, 1972), s.v., "Louis Marshall" by Morton Rosenstock.


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Language of Materials




Louis Marshall, a leader in the American Jewish community, was born in Syracuse, New York. He moved to New York City and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1877. In 1894 he joined the law firm of Guggenheimer and Untermyer, later becoming a partner. Marshall practiced Reform Judaism. He served as president and strategist of the American Jewish Committee; Chairman of the Commission of Immigration in New York State; and led the opposition concerning the establishment of literacy tests for new immigrants. Marshall was a defender of Leo Frank, a negotiator in the Peace Conference of 1919, and attempted to block Henry Ford's publication, the Dearborn Independent, due to anti-Semitic rhetoric. Though Marshall was a somewhat controversial figure in the American Jewish community, he worked diligently on issues regarding Jewish immigration and rights.

The collection contains correspondence, memoranda, pamphlets, minutes, reports, and copies of Congressional bills.


The collection is in chronological order.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY



Digitization Note

This collection was digitized in 2010 with the exception of some oversized materials. The digitized material has been made fully available.

Related Material

  1. Max James Kohler Papers, P-7, the American Jewish Historical Society
  2. Louis Marshall Papers, American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio
  3. Louis Marshall Papers, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.


Guide to the Papers of Louis Marshall (1856-1929) undated, 1905-1933 P-24
Processed by Irene Korenfield
© 2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from LouisMarshall.xml

Revision Statements

  • October 2017: Container list and index updated to render correctly; downloadable index, digitization note, and dao links added by Leanora Lange.
  • March, June 2020: EHyman-post-ASpace migration cleanup
  • April 2021: TElder—Removed Chronology header not rendering correctly.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States