Foundation of the American Bar Association

The ABA was founded on August 21,1878, in Saratoga Springs, New York, by 100 lawyers from 21 states.

The legal profession as we know it today barely existed at that time. Lawyers were generally sole practitioners who trained under a system of apprenticeship. There was no national code of ethics; there was no national organization to serve as a forum for discussion of the increasingly intricate issues involved in legal practice.

The first ABA constitution, which is still substantially the charter of the association, defined the purpose of the ABA as being for "the advancement of the science of jurisprudence, the promotion of the administration of justice and a uniformity of legislation throughout the country...."

Today, the stated mission of the American Bar Association is "To serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession."

Although others had pushed for the creation of a national professional society for lawyers, Simeon E. Baldwin, a leading Connecticut attorney, played the key role in starting the ABA.

Following Baldwin's invitation, on August 21, 1878, a group of 100 lawyers from 21 states and the District of Columbia met in Saratoga Springs, New York, to organize their profession's first national association. Most of the men who formed the ABA were elite corporate lawyers. Author Jethro K. Lieberman described early ABA membership: 'You could become an invitee to membership if you were white, Protestant and native born, preferably with a British surname, and attended the elite law schools such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia; only then did you have a chance of prospering. Catholics, Jews, women and blacks were automatically excluded from membership. This exclusion was necessary to the elite bar's sense of identity. Any fraternity is defined not only by whom it accepts but also by whom it excludes. The Association also pinned the stigma of immorality on the lower class of lawyers as shysters who talked, dressed and acted differently.'