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Saturday, May 06, 2023

Charles Evans Hughes

About five years ago, I thought about writing a book about Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes lived an incredible professional life and was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning biography in the early 1950s. He is overdue for a new treatment. I passed on the idea because I did not think that I could tackle such a huge project. But I am now warming up to the idea for a couple of reasons.

First, I don't think that the 1916 presidential election gets enough attention. It's a major turning point in world history, perhaps even more than in American history. What would World War I and its aftermath have looked like with President Hughes instead of President Wilson? People don't ask this question, which is surprising given the closeness of the 1916 election.  I know little about the 1916 campaign or about Hughes's views on foreign policy before and while he Secretary of State, but that is fruitful terrain for sure.

Second, his initial stint on the Supreme Court (before he ran for President) gets far less attention than his time as Chief Justice. He is the Grover Cleveland of the Supreme Court. As an Associate Justice, Hughes was a progressive who typically sided with Holmes in significant cases. Did his outlook change over time or remain consistent? How did his experience between 1916 and 1930 shape his attitudes?

Third, Hughes had a talent for writing confusing opinions. I mean that as a compliment. Lawyers and scholars should always be clear, Judges, diplomats, and politicians, though, sometimes need to cloud the issue. (Winston Churchill liked to say that "[T]he English never draw a line without blurring it.")

There's more of course. A look at the Hughes papers is probably in my future.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on May 6, 2023 at 03:39 PM | Permalink


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