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Journal of Supreme Court History

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During his time on the Supreme Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was the beneficiary of adulation from his legal secretaries (today we refer to them as law clerks) and young legal scholars, like Felix Frankfurter and Harold Laski. While the Justice basked in the warm glow of their hero worship, he was quick to point out to them that “no man is a hero to his valet.” The phrase was not original to Holmes, although the expression sounds like it sprang from his clever mind. The underlying meaning is simple—the servant tending daily to his employer sees flaws and human failings.

Assuming that Holmes was correct, how would he have answered the related question of whether a valet can be a hero to his employer? There were instances when Holmes was greatly moved by the heroism of soldiers under his command and impressed by the hard work of his law clerks. But in this essay we will examine the actions of a historically obscure man who took it upon himself to preserve Holmes’ memory. His name was Arthur A. Thomas, a one-time messenger to Holmes who publicly shared his affection for his late employer.



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