It’s probably an understatement to describe me as “resistant to change.” My last four cars have been Nissan Altimas. My last five phones have been Blackberries. I’ve spent the past 22 years arguing the relative merits of Mac versus PC with my husband, and I would still drink TaB if it were readily available. So I was understandably disconcerted to learn that after 123 years as “Baker & Daniels,” my law firm will soon be changing its name.
Just like the name of an historic street or building, the names of businesses that have thrived for 100+ years can provide both a link to the past and a lesson in history. As Indianapolis approaches its bicentennial, a dwindling number of businesses still bear the names of their 19th century founders. The department store chains started by Lyman Ayres in 1872 and William H. Block in 1896 were folded into the Macy’s retail empire during the first decade of the 21st century. The book publishing company started in 1850 by Samuel Merrill dropped the Merrill monicker after a series of acquisitions by larger publishers. Although Eli Lilly still lives on in his company’s name, the corner drugstores first opened by John Hook in 1900 on the near southside are now owned by drug giant CVS. Even Baker & Daniels has shed a couple of its founders’ names over the past 150 years.
Thomas A. Hendricks started the firm that is now Baker & Daniels in 1863. A former member of both the state and U.S. House of Representatives, he moved to Indianapolis from Shelbyville in 1860 after he lost his bid for the governor’s office to Republican Oliver P. Morton. Hendricks practiced solo until 1863, when he joined forces with fellow Democrat Oscar Hord and opened the Hendricks & Hord law firm.
Although he was only 34 years old when he started practicing with Thomas Hendricks, Oscar Hord was already a respected legal scholar. Along with his former law partner James Gavin, Hord researched and published a series of annotated Indiana statutes that were widely used by lawyers and judges during the Civil War and into the 1870s.
1863 was a busy year for both Hendricks and Hord. In addition to handling a full load of cases, Hendricks was elected to the U.S. Senate and Hord was completing a term as state Attorney General. In 1867, the still-fledgling firm became Hendricks, Hord & Hendricks when Thomas Hendricks’ cousin Abram joined. Abram was the son of Indiana’s 3rd governor, William Hendricks.
When Thomas Hendricks’ term in the U.S. Senate was winding to a close in 1868, he returned to state politics as the Democrat candidate for governor. Hendricks’ Republican opponent was Conrad Baker, a Civil War veteran who had served as Oliver P. Morton’s lieutenant governor. When Morton was sent to Europe in 1865 to recover from a paralytic stroke, Baker stepped in as acting governor for six months. Two years later, he became governor when Morton was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Although 1868 was a good year for Republicans in Indiana, Baker won the governor’s office by a razor-thin margin of 961 votes. Democrats charged flagrant voting irregularities, but Hendricks decided to put an end to the acrimony and did not challenge the election results.
Baker’s tenure as Indiana’s post-Civil War governor was marked with partisan strife, which rose to a head in 1869 when Democrat House members resigned en masse to avoid ratification of the 15th Amendment. Baker had no choice but to call a special session to complete work on the state budget, which triggered more Democrat resignations in the House and also in the Senate. Nonetheless, Republicans were determined to secure ratification of the amendment guaranteeing voting rights for freed slaves. Resigned Senate Democrats who were cleaning out their desks were counted as present for purposes of establishing a quorum, and in the House, the Speaker made the legally suspect ruling that a quorum was not required for a vote on the ratification of a constitutional amendment. Neither ruling was challenged by Democrats, as it was becoming obvious that the 15th Amendment would soon receive the required ratification from 2/3 of the states even without Indiana’s vote.
Despite their partisan differences, Hendricks continued to maintain a cordial relationship his chief political rival, who joined Hendricks, Hord & Hendricks after his term in the governor’s office ended. The fact that Baker was unable to run for a second term also proved to be stroke of luck for Hendricks, who captured the open gubernatorial seat in the 1872 election.
Baker moved into Hendricks’ former law office at the same time Hendricks moved into Baker’s former Statehouse office. With the switch completed, the firm changed its name to Baker, Hord & Hendricks.
Hendricks’ political star continued to rise during his tenure as governor, and in 1876, he was tapped as Samuel Tilden’s running mate. In the ensuing presidential election, Tilden and Hendricks won a majority of the popular vote, but lost in the electoral college by one vote. Following months of partisan wrangling and heated congressional hearings, Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated as president in early March.
Hendricks returned to the practice of law, but his political career was not over. In 1884, he was nominated as Democrat Grover Cleveland’s running mate. The Democrats prevailed in the November election, but Hendricks’ tenure as vice president was cut short when he died the following year.
Meanwhile back at the office, the firm’s founding partners were getting up in years and needed to bring on some new attorneys. Baker’s son, Albert, joined the firm in 1876. The following year, Edward Daniels came to the office to study the law. A graduate of Wabash College, Daniels had previously attended the Law School of Columbia University for one year. When Daniels was admitted to the bar in 1879, he became the first lawyer in the firm’s history to have a formal law school education.
Conrad Baker died in 1885. Abram Hendricks died in 1887, and Oscar Hord died in 1888. The following year, Albert Baker & Edward Daniels changed the firm’s name to their own — Baker & Daniels.
From time to time, I run across items linked to the firm’s founding fathers and can’t resist buying them – an old statute book compiled by Oscar Hord, an official document signed by Conrad Baker, and a ribbon worn at the unveiling of Thomas Hendricks’ statue on the southeast corner of the Statehouse. How I wish I would have known them.
On January 1, Baker & Daniels will merge with Faegre & Benson and become Faegre Baker Daniels. A firm with a long history similar to Baker & Daniels’, Faegre & Benson was founded in 1885, and over the years has grown into Minnesota’s largest law firm.
Change means compromise, and with the merger we will lose the ampersand that has separated Baker from Daniels on the firm’s letterhead for the past 123 years. I can live with that. Our new colleagues, however, will lose a little bit of their history when the name “Benson” is dropped.
Some years ago, I stumbled upon a cache of old envelopes on ebay that chronicle the changes in Baker & Daniels from the 1860s through the 1890s. Known as covers, old envelopes are collected for their colorful stamps and faded postmarks from long-vanished post offices. The series starts with an 1868 envelope addressed to Hendricks, Hord & Hendricks, and ends with an 1897 envelope addressed to Baker & Daniels. The envelopes hang in a frame next to my desk as a reminder to me that if we didn’t have change, we wouldn’t have history.