Tree, Lambert, 1832-1910

Alternative names
Birth 1832
Death 1910

Biographical notes:

Chicago jurist, diplomat, and Newberry Library trustee, 1892-1903.

From the description of Letter and certificate, [ca. 1894]-1903. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 40450428

Cook county lawyer, judge, politician, philanthropist, and US minister to Belgium and Russia.

Lambert Tree was born in Washington, DC November 29, 1832, the son of a post office clerk. He began his education in private schools in the capital, attended the University of Virginia, then continued on to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1855. That same year, he left the East for Chicago, where he became a wealthy and influential figure. Starting as the junior partner in Clarkson and Tree, Tree's business steadily prospered. In 1859, he married Annie J. Magie, daughter of H. H. Magie, a Chicago pioneer who had settled in the area in 1832. In 1862, Tree returned from a vacation in Europe to practice law without a partner. By 1864, he was president of the Chicago Law Institute and in 1870, he was elected to the Cook County Circuit bench. For Tree, the capstone of his achievements came in July of 1885, when President Grover Cleveland appointed him Minister to Belgium. He worked in Brussels for three years before being promoted to Minister to Russia in 1888, a position he occupied for only a month before the inauguration of Republican president Benjamin Harrison caused his resignation. Tree had one son, Arthur, who married a daughter of Marshall Field, who he later divorced for desertion. Tree was a strong and opinionated Democrat, who not only influenced the party but ran for office several times, running for Senator against General Logan in 1884 and losing by one vote. Though he was unsuccessful at getting a seat in Congress, he was chosen as a delegate at large from Illinois to the Democratic national convention in Chicago, which nominated Grover Cleveland with Tree's enthusiastic support. Tree's position as a "Gold Democrat" caused him to disagree with Bryan and his free silver platform, which lead to Tree's withdrawal from active participation in his party. As a judge, Tree was noted for his stand against corruption, making one of his first official acts an investigation of the city council, starting a trial that made the first conviction for corruption in Illinois. He was later encouraged to run for mayor during the World's Fair, but refused to consider it. Lambert Tree continued to make contributions to the city of Chicago. As a patron of the arts, he commissioned a statue of French explorer La Salle while in Brussels, which he gifted to the city and was unveiled at its new home in Lincoln Park in 1889. For this, the French made him an Officer of the Legion of Honor. The Trees also created the Tree Studios in 1894, paying for a low-rent, well-lit building which became a haven for many artists. Tree was the President of the Illinois state historical library board from 1892-1895, served as a trustee of the Newberry Library from 1892-1910, and was one of the incorporators of the American Red Cross. He owned the entire block bounded by North State, Ohio, Cass, and Indiana Streets and was well respected. Tree died of a heart attack on Oct. 9, 1910 while returning from overseas.

From the description of Lambert Tree papers, 1821-1933. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 657702849


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  • Ambassadors
  • Manuscripts, American
  • Parent and adult child--Correspondence
  • Art patronage
  • Diplomats--History--19th century--Sources
  • Lawyers
  • Map collections--History--Sources
  • Secession--Public opinion
  • Judges


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  • Virginia (as recorded)
  • Illinois--Chicago (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Chicago (Ill.) (as recorded)
  • Belgium (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)
  • Norfolk (Va.) (as recorded)
  • Illinois--Chicago (as recorded)