Richard H. Clarke was born in Washington, D.C., July 3, 1827 and attended Georgetown University, receiving an AB in 1846, an MA in 1849, and finally an OLD in 1872. Clarke was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C. in 1848 and began his practice. He was involved in a number of important cases there that proved to be legally important and precedent setting. Among them was the case that established the validity of at common law of building associations. Another established that a municipal government issuing bonds or certificates of indebtedness out of a particular fund was liable generally for the debt in case such a fund was not provided by the municipality. During the Civil War, Clarke was accused of being an agent for the Confederacy; and for a time he was imprisoned in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. Clarke moved to New York in 1865, where he was again involved in a number of important cases, including, ironically, the United States Government's prosecution of Jefferson Davis for treason. He was also involved in the Forest divorce case, the Jumel will case, and in investigations of the alleged claims of the heirs of Anneke Jans, which related to large sections of the Trinity Church property. He also helped to found the New York Bar Association.
A devout Roman Catholic, Clarke was heavily involved in organizations associated with the Church, including the Young Catholic Friends' Society,the Society of St. Vincent dePaul, and the Catholic Union. He served for several terms in the late 1880's as president of the New York Catholic Protectory, an institution for destitute children about which there are several letters and reports in this collection. Clarke wrote extensively about the Church and was a frequent contributor to Catholic periodicals. He was the author of 'Lives of American Bishops,' 'The Illustrated History of the Catholic Church in the United States,' and 'The Life of Pope Leo XIII.' He also wrote 'The History of the Bench and Bar of New York,' 'Old and New Lights on Columbus,' 'France's Aid to America in the War of Independence,' 'Hints on Prolonging Life,' and 'Guide to Washington.' For his literary efforts and his contributions to historical literature, Clarke was Awarded the Golden Cross Medal by Notre Dame University.