Cockran, William Bourke, 1854-1923

Alternative names
Birth 1854-02-28
Death 1923-03-01

Biographical notes:

Lawyer and Congressman from New York.

From the description of Letter to the S.S. McClure Company, 1899 October 27. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 62524017

Democratic Congressman from New York and famous orator.

From the description of Papers, 1890-1923. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 155508334

William Bourke Cockran (1854-1923) was an Irish-born American lawyer, orator and politician who was elected to Congress from New York in 1886, 1890, 1892 and 1920. He was an anti-imperialist and advocate for Irish causes.

From the description of William Bourke Cockran papers, 1881-1924. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122571085

William Bourke Cockran was born in Sligo, Ireland on February 28, 1854, the son of Martin and Harriet (Knight) Cockran. He was educated in Ireland and in France. Although destined for the priesthood, he decided in 1871, at age seventeen, to emigrate to the United States where he found employment as a department store clerk, and later, as principal of a public school in Tuckahoe, New York. During this time he spent his evenings studying law. Admitted to the New York bar in 1876 he quickly became prominent in Democratic Party politics due in part to his extraordinary oratorical gifts which brought him to the attention of the Democratic National Committee. For his espousal of the Tammany cause he was rewarded with an appointment as counsel to the sheriff of New York County whom he subsequently defended in several legal cases. He was elected several times to the House of Representatives serving in various Congresses: the 50th (1887-1889), the 52nd and 53rd (1891-1895), the 58th (1904-1905), and the 59th and 60th (1905-1909). In 1909, following a break with his party, he declined to stand for reelection, and in 1912 he failed to recover his congressional seat as a candidate of the Progressive Party. After a period of relative political inactivity he delivered the speech nominating Governor Alfred E. Smith at the Democratic National Convention of 1920. Later in that year he was reelected to Congress. He died suddenly on March 1st of 1923.

Although a Democrat by philosophy and conviction, he opposed his party on matters of principle, supporting McKinley in the presidential election 1896, and Roosevelt in 1912. Throughout his career he was a staunch supporter of organized labor, the immigrant, and the weak and defenseless at home and abroad. A confirmed anti-imperialist, he opposed the policy of the British government in South Africa and in Ireland, and lobbied against the American conquest of the Philippines. His public speeches on current affairs brought him great notoriety. As an orator, he was considered by his contemporaries to be without peer. Requests for copies of his speeches were often met with the response that they were extemporaneous and unavailable, excepting for published accounts of them in the press. In his most famous legal case he defended militant labor leader Tom Mooney against a murder conviction by a California court winning for Mooney a presidential pardon.

Cockran was married three times. His last marriage was to the Anne Hyde, daughter of Henry C. Ide, Governor General of the Philippines.

From the guide to the William Bourke Cockran papers, 1881-1924, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)


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  • Law firms--New York (State)--New York (N.Y.)
  • Trials (murder)
  • Irish Americans
  • Law firms
  • Decedents' estates


  • Legislators--United States
  • Lawyers


  • United States (as recorded)
  • California--San Francisco (as recorded)
  • New York (State) (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)