A Letter From Benjamin Cardozo


While browsing through our collection of Louis D. Brandeis papers, I stumbled across a remarkable letter written by Brandeis’ fellow justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo. Since there does not appear to be any published collections of Cardozo’s letters, I decided to post it. While not historically or legally significant, I found the letter interesting for a couple reasons. Cardozo has always looked so stern in all of the photographs I have seen of him, so it was a pleasant surprise to see how witty and playful it was. But at the same time, it is a rather sad letter. Written in July 1935, just a few weeks after suffering a heart attack, he writes of his recovery and his frustration with the various doctors and nurses attending him. He would recover enough to return to court the next term, but this was the beginning of the end. He never regained his full strength and he would die from a stroke three years later the age of  68.

I am providing a transcript of the letter below, along with a couple footnotes. Below that are the scans of the 4 pages of the letter for those who want to read the original. Unlike Brandeis, Cardozo’s penmanship is very clear and easy to decipher, although there are a couple places where I had to do some guesswork.

Rye, N.Y.

July 24, 1935

Dear Justice Brandeis,

It is good to hear from you and to learn of your well-being. You have been often in my thoughts, but I have put off writing to you till I could send a final report as to my health which hasn’t been 100% as it should be.

The doctors found me in poor shape when I came here from Washington, and before I knew what they were up to, they had put me to bed with a day nurse and a night one and all sorts of unconstitutional restraints upon fundamental liberties. Their tyranny proved to be beneficial, for I have made steady progress toward recovery. The nurses – praise be to God – have now departed. I feel much as the French must have felt upon the fall of the Bastille. A good many arbitrary and unconstitutional restraints still vex me: up to date, I have not been allowed beyond the porch, and am put to bed like your grandchildren at supper time – very likely they sit up later. Even so, the stream of liberty is widening.

Your letter gives me welcome hints of books worth reading. I have before me now “The Legacy of Greece.[1]” My race consciousness was disturbed when I looked over the titles of the series and observed that I had not yet read “The Legacy of Israel.[2]” What you write of it will move me to repair that omission. I read Dr. Kaplan’s book [3] last summer, but Dr. Levinthal’s [4] is in my library at Washington; I neglected to bring it with me. When I consider my leisure, I am chagrined that I haven’t read more than I have. It is astonishing how doctors and nurses make inroads on one’s time, so that the day passes with nothing done. And then the “certs” we always have with us.

Thanks for your letter and cordial greetings to Mrs. Brandeis, your daughter and the other members of the Chatham household.

Faithfully yours,


[1] Edited by Richard Winn Livingstone, Clarendon Press, 1921.

[2] Edited by Edwin Robert Bevan, Clarendon Press, 1927.

[3] My colleague Kurt Metzmeier has speculated that is Judaism as a Civilization by Mordecai Menahem Kaplan.

[4] I’m assuming this is The Jewish Law of Agency by Israel Herbert Levinthal. We have Brandeis’ copy of this book in our library which, apparently was given to him by Levinthal himself.


See post for transcription of image.

First page of July 24, 1935 letter from Cardozo to Brandeis.

See post for transcription of image.

Second page of July 24, 1935 letter from Cardozo to Brandeis.

See post for transcription of letter.

Third page of July 24, 1935 letter from Cardozo to Brandeis.

See post for transcription of letter.

Fourth page of July 24, 1935 letter from Cardozo to Brandeis.

See post for transcription of letter.

Fifth and final page of July 24, 1935 letter from Cardozo to Brandeis.



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