Skip to main content

Lambert Tree papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Tree

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, speeches, and miscellaneous material of Chicago judge and diplomat, Lambert Tree.

This collection consists mainly of letters to Judge Tree, with many drafts of outgoing replies, mostly to and from fellow politicians and diplomats (including Adlai Stevenson, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, John P. Altgeld, and Carter H. Harrison), and Chicago colleagues and friends. Content ranges from the political issues of the day, to political appointments, invitations, and letters of introduction. In addition, there are letters between family members, the bulk of which are from Lambert Tree and his two brothers, Joseph and Charles, to his father, Lambert Tree, Sr. during 1859-1860. These letters describe every day life and business in Chicago and Norfolk, Virginia, respectively, including details on fishing, weather, and views on marriage. Additional letters and mementos concern Lambert Tree, Sr.’s job at the post office in Washington D.C. The family papers include an album of newspaper clippings kept by Judge Tree’s wife, Annie Josephine Tree.

Along with the correspondence are passports, certificates, and papers connected with Lambert Tree’s political career, as well as clippings concerning the La Salle Statue he commissioned in Belgium and gave to Lincoln Park, and letters congratulating him on his appointment to Minister to Belgium. The collection also includes drafts of numerous speeches given by Tree and newspaper clippings detailing his political views and reporting his death. Research materials by Chicago journalist and biographer Harry Barnard include a typescript draft of his work, "Lambert Tree Esq. A Memorandum" and correspondence and clippings of Barnard's solicitation of information for his Tree research.


  • Creation: 1821-1948
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1821-1933



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Lambert Tree papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Lambert Tree papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Lambert Tree

Cook county lawyer, judge, politician, philanthropist, and US minister to Belgium and Russia.

Lambert Tree was born in Washington, DC November 29, 1832, the son of a post office clerk. He began his education in private schools in the capital, attended the University of Virginia, then continued on to read law and was admitted to the bar in 1855. That same year, he left the East for Chicago, where he became a wealthy and influential figure. Starting as the junior partner in Clarkson and Tree, Tree’s business steadily prospered. In 1859, he married Annie J. Magie, daughter of H. H. Magie, a Chicago pioneer who had settled in the area in 1832. In 1862, Tree returned from a vacation in Europe to practice law without a partner. By 1864, he was president of the Chicago Law Institute and in 1870, he was elected to the Cook County Circuit bench. For Tree, the capstone of his achievements came in July of 1885, when President Grover Cleveland appointed him Minister to Belgium. He worked in Brussels for three years before being promoted to Minister to Russia in 1888, a position he occupied for only a month before the inauguration of Republican president Benjamin Harrison caused his resignation. Tree had one son, Arthur, who married a daughter of Marshall Field, who he later divorced for desertion.

Tree was a strong and opinionated Democrat, who not only influenced the party but ran for office several times, running for Senator against General Logan in 1884 and losing by one vote. Though he was unsuccessful at getting a seat in Congress, he was chosen as a delegate at large from Illinois to the Democratic national convention in Chicago, which nominated Grover Cleveland with Tree’s enthusiastic support. Tree’s position as a “Gold Democrat” caused him to disagree with Bryan and his free silver platform, which lead to Tree’s withdrawal from active participation in his party. As a judge, Tree was noted for his stand against corruption, making one of his first official acts an investigation of the city council, starting a trial that made the first conviction for corruption in Illinois. He was later encouraged to run for mayor during the world’s fair, but refused to consider it.

Lambert Tree continued to make contributions to the city of Chicago. As a patron of the arts, he commissioned a statue of French explorer La Salle while in Brussels, which he gifted to the city and was unveiled at its new home in Lincoln Park in 1889. For this, the French made him an Officer of the Legion of Honor. The Trees also created the Tree Studios in 1894, paying for a low-rent, well-lit building which became a haven for many artists. Tree was the President of the Illinois state historical library board from 1892-1895, served as a trustee of the Newberry Library from 1892-1910, and was one of the incorporators of the American Red Cross. He owned the entire block bounded by North State, Ohio, Cass, and Indiana Streets and was well respected. Tree died of a heart attack on Oct. 9, 1910 while returning from overseas.


5.2 Linear Feet (9 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Correspondence, speeches, drafts, documents, photographs, scrapbooks, and newspaper clippings relating to Lambert Tree, Cook County lawyer, judge, politician, philanthropist, and U.S. diplomat in Belgium and Russia. The collection contains some Tree family material, commentary on the state of the Democratic Party under Grover Cleveland and William Jennings Bryan, and numerous items related to Tree's social, political, philanthropic, and diplomatic activities.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1873-1909
Boxes 1-6
Series 2: Miscellaneous, 1885-1910
Box 7, Box 9 [oversize]
Series 3: Family Materials, 1821-1933
Box 8
Series 4: Harry Barnard research materials, 1947-1948
Box 10

Collection Stack Location

1 34 5-6, 1 43 7

Other Finding Aids

Article: Newberry Library Bulletin, No. 8 (December 1947), p. 3-8.


Gift, Ronald Tree, 1947. Gift, Ruth Barnard, 1986.

Processed by

Jane Venanzi, 2009.

Inventory of the Lambert Tree papers, 1821-1948, bulk 1821-1933
Jane Venanzi
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023-03-14: Series 4: Harry Barnard research materials added to the collection. Description of oversize materials also added.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States