William Amory Underhill (1951-1952)
Early History/Schooling: William Amory Underhill was born on February 21, 1910 in Basinger, Florida to Wilfred and Martha Alderman Underhill. Underhill received a bachelor’s degree in law from Stetson University in 1936.
Tenure as AAG: President Harry Truman appointed Underhill to the post of Assistant Attorney General in 1951. As AAG, Underhill defended the United States against lawsuits from the Yakima Tribe of Indians and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. Boundary dispute cases made up a large portion of the Lands Division’s work during this period. During his tenure, the Army, Department of the Interior, and the Navy were the Division’s biggest clients. Underhill also oversaw responses to Congressional inquiries into the work of the Department and the Division in 1951. In June 1952, Underhill resigned, citing a desire to return to private practice. A number of other top Justice officials resigned around this time.
Career: Upon graduation from law school, Underhill began work as a private attorney in DeLand, Florida. From 1940-1942, he served as a prosecuting attorney for Volusia County, Florida. At the outbreak of World War II, Underhill joined the Navy where he eventually served as a Lieutenant Commander. In 1944, during his last weeks in the Navy, he worked as an aide to then-Senator Harry Truman, who was campaigning for the Vice Presidency. In 1945, President Truman named Underhill to lead the National Young Democrats. One year later, the president appointed him as a special attorney at the Department of Justice. Underhill’s time at DOJ from 1946-1951 is variously attributed in the Antitrust Division, Deputy Attorney General’s Office, and the Alien Property Section. In 1952, Underhill left the Justice Department and opened a law office in Washington D.C. to work as a lobbyist on behalf of various Florida agents and agencies. He was also a member of the founding board of Florida House, Florida’s visitor center in Washington, D.C. From 1967-1970, he was special counsel to the Florida Comptroller. In 1993, he represented Florida citrus growers in talks concerning the North American Free Trade Agreement. Underhill served as a trustee of Stetson University from 1977-1986; as a member of the College of Law Board of Overseers for more than 20 years, and as its chairman for 18 years. In 1988, Stetson granted Underhill one of its highest honors, the Doyle E. Carlton Award for outstanding service to the university and to higher education, and named him a trustee emeritus in 1994.
Personal: As a lifelong Democrat, Underhill attended Democratic National Conventions from the 1940s through 1996. Underhill also reportedly personally knew each U.S. President from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Underhill died in his DeLand, Florida home in 1999.
This material is based on the review of a variety of historical sources, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you have any corrections or additional information about this individual or about the history of the Division, please contact ENRD.