The Bonus Book of the Week is “Counsel for the Defense, The Autobiography of Paul O’Dwyer” by Paul O’Dwyer, published in 1979.
Born in County Mayo, Ireland in 1907 to a family of farmers, O’Dwyer was the youngest of eleven children. Gruff and authoritative more than affectionate, his father organized a teachers’ union at the one-room schoolhouse, angering the local priest, whose power was diminished thereby.
When he was eighteen, O’Dwyer emigrated to the United States, following four of his older brothers. While studying pre-law at Fordham University, he remarked, “The contradiction in our giving munificent foreign aid while letting poor whites remain illiterate and hungry was difficult to understand. (The injustice to the Negro community was not even discussed and I did not then think about it.)” In 1926, he attended law school at the then-Brooklyn campus of St. John’s University and joined a political club comprised of Jewish democrats. At that time, Irish Catholics were liberal democrats. U.S. citizenship was required before he was permitted to practice law. He attained that honor two years after passing the bar exam.
O’Dwyer was made a law-firm partner at 26 years old, litigating cases of labor law. In the late 1930’s, his oldest brother was elected to the post of Brooklyn District Attorney. By 1945, the brother was mayor of New York City. O’Dwyer represented the National Lawyer’s Guild, an organization that defended victims of the Communist witch hunt of the McCarthy Era.
Read the book to learn of the author’s adventures in running for offices; why he identified with the Jews who were fighting for the independence of Israel– which led him to handle an arms-smuggling case; of O’Dwyer’s opposition to a literacy test required for voting in some states in the early 1960’s; and his eventual senatorial career, among other legal and political activities.