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social sciences

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Murphy, Frank (1890-1949)  
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Commissioned as a first lieutenant, Murphy was initially called upon to serve at courts-martial, both as a prosecutor and defense counsel. In 1918 he was sent to fight in France.

When the war ended, he enrolled in an education program for members of the American Expeditionary Force and did short courses at the Inns of Court in London and then, to his delight, in Dublin at Trinity College, where he was impressed by the "idealism and beautiful humaneness" of the legal scholars. A humane approach to jurisprudence was to be a hallmark of Murphy's career; indeed, once he was appointed to the nation's highest court, the saying among observers was that "The Supreme Court tempers justice with Murphy."

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While Murphy was still in Ireland, Democratic colleagues back home secured his appointment as first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. He took up the post only three days after his discharge from the Army in August 1919.

During his three years in the job Murphy prosecuted a variety of cases, including many involving violations of prohibition laws, but among the most important was one of the earliest, pressing a charge of conspiracy to defraud the government of more than $300,000 against a pair of businessmen who had bought Army salvage material.

Assigning the case to the relatively young Murphy was a mark of the esteem in which U.S. attorney John Kinnane held him, and Murphy proved worthy of it. A Detroit Times article stated, "Making his first big effort as assistant district attorney, [Murphy] pleased his friends and amazed his opponents with the way he handled the evidence at his disposal" in the successful prosecution of the case.

Murphy remained in the district attorney's office until March 1, 1922, when he announced the formation of the law firm of Murphy and Kemp, "a very remarkable partnership"--and one, commented Fine, "that continued, in one form or another, officially or unofficially, as long as Murphy lived."

The firm was an immediate success, attracting so many clients that Murphy described the partners as "swamped with work day and night."

Although their business was thriving, Murphy ran in the 1923 election for a seat on the bench of the Recorder's Court in Detroit and won. He began his term on January 1, 1924 and was re-elected in 1929.

Murphy regarded his time at the Recorder's Court as his "era of formation." He found there "infinitely more action and human interest, opportunity for progressive improvement, and deep social significance" than in a civil court and was pleased to be able "in a very personal way . . . [to] lighten the load, heal a wound, and take a broken life and start it on a fresh path up life's hill once more."

When Detroit mayor Charles Bowles was recalled in 1930, Murphy successfully ran for election. His greatest challenge as mayor was providing for the citizens of Detroit during the Great Depression. He sought to meet their basic needs with a number of programs, including an employment bureau for the more than 100,000 jobless people in the city, shelters for homeless men, and a "thrift garden" project that allowed the needy to grow food for their families, affording them much-needed dignity and self-esteem in difficult times.

Murphy realized that even with such measures, cities would need aid from the federal government to cope with the financial crisis. In 1932 he convened meetings first of Michigan mayors and then of mayors from around the country to push for relief. Another convention of the national group took place in early 1933, at which time the United States Conference of Mayors was formally organized and Murphy chosen as its first president.

Because of Murphy's vigorous support of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election, the new president named him Governor-General of the Philippines. Murphy, in turn, named Kemp to his staff as legal adviser.

Murphy's administration was progressive. He succeeded in giving the vote to women and instituting judicial reforms. He was a popular and well-respected governor because of his sincere concern and affection for the Filipino people.

When the question of independence arose, Murphy avoided becoming involved in the public debate, but he let Roosevelt know that he favored it but feared that an immediate change would lead to economic calamity because of the islands' dependence on free-trade agreements with the United States. He supported a transitional commonwealth status instead. Showing his respect for the Filipinos, he successfully urged Washington to accept their draft constitution without revision.

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