Edward Douglass White

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Edward White
Edward White, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly left, 1905.jpg
9th Chief Justice of the United States
In office
December 19, 1910 – May 19, 1921
Appointed by William Taft
Preceded by Melville Fuller
Succeeded by William Taft
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
February 19, 1894 – December 18, 1910
Appointed by Grover Cleveland
Preceded by Samuel Blatchford
Succeeded by Willis Van Devanter
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
March 4, 1891 – March 12, 1894
Preceded by James Eustis
Succeeded by Newton Blanchard
Personal details
Born Edward Douglass White, Jr.
(1845-11-03)November 3, 1845
Thibodaux, Louisiana, U.S.
Died May 19, 1921(1921-05-19) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Virginia Montgomery Kent
Alma mater Mount St. Mary's College
Georgetown University
Tulane University
Religion Roman Catholicism

Edward Douglass White, Jr. (November 3, 1845 – May 19, 1921), American politician and jurist, was a United States senator, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the ninth Chief Justice of the United States, serving 1910-1921. He was best known for formulating the Rule of Reason standard of antitrust law.

He sided with the Supreme Court majority in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which upheld the legality of state segregation to provide "separate but equal" public facilities in the United States, despite protections of the Fourteenth Amendment to equal treatment under the law. In one of several challenges to southern states' grandfather clauses, used to disfranchise black voters at the turn of the century, he wrote for a unanimous court in Guinn v. United States (1915), which struck down many Southern states' grandfather clauses.

Early life and education

White was born in 1845 in his parents' plantation house, now known as the Edward Douglass White House, near the town of Thibodauxville (now Thibodaux) in Lafourche Parish in south Louisiana.[1] He was the son of Edward Douglass White, Sr., a former governor of Louisiana, and Catherine Ringgold. He was a grandson of Dr. James White, a U.S. representative, physician, and judge.

On his mother's side, he was the grandson of Tench Ringgold, appointed as a U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia under the James Monroe and Andrew Jackson administrations. He was also related on his maternal side to the Lee family of Virginia. The White family's large plantation in Louisiana was based on cultivating and processing for market sugar cane, depending on extensive slave labor.

White's paternal ancestors were of Irish Catholic descent, and he was reared in that religion. He was a devout Roman Catholic his entire life. He studied first at the Jesuit College in New Orleans, then at Mount St. Mary’s College near Emmitsburg, Maryland. Last, he attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he was a member of the Philodemic Society. After the American Civil War, he returned to academic work and studied law at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University).

American Civil War service

File:Edward Douglass White in Harpers.png
White as he appears in Harper's Magazine in 1910.

White's studies at Georgetown were interrupted by the American Civil War. It has been suggested that he returned to Bayou Lafourche, where he purportedly enlisted as an infantryman in the Confederate States Army under General Richard Taylor and eventually attained the rank of lieutenant. This is questionable, as his widowed mother had remarried and was living with the rest of the family in New Orleans at the time. When he returned to Louisiana, it was probably to his primary home in New Orleans.

An apocryphal account states that White was almost captured by General Godfrey Weitzel's Union army when they invaded Bayou Lafourche in October 1862, but that he evaded capture by hiding beneath hay in a barn. It is possible that White enlisted in the Lafourche militia, as its muster rolls are not complete. There is no documentation, however, that White served in any Confederate volunteer unit or militia unit engaged in campaigns in the Lafourche area.

Another account suggests that he was assigned as an aide to Confederate General W. N. R. Beall and accompanied him to Port Hudson. Port Hudson had a garrison of 18,000 Confederate soldiers, but a numerically superior Union force surrounded it. After a siege lasting from May 21 to July 8, 1863 (the longest siege in North American history), the Confederate forces unconditionally surrendered after learning of the fall of Vicksburg to the Union. White's presence at Port Hudson, when he was 18 years old, is supported by a secondhand account of a postwar dinner conversation he had with Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, a Union veteran of Port Hudson, and another recounted by Admiral George Dewey (then a Federal naval officer at Port Hudson), in both of which White referred to being part of the besieged forces. But, White's name does not appear on any list of prisoners captured at Port Hudson. According to another account of questionable reliability, White was supposedly sent to a Mississippi prisoner of war camp. (As practically all Confederate soldiers of enlisted rank of the Port Hudson garrison were paroled, and officers sent to prison in New Orleans and later to Johnson's Island, Ohio, this account is likely not true.) When White was paroled, he supposedly returned to the family plantation, to find it abandoned, the canefields barren, and the place nearly empty of most former slaves.

The only "hard" evidence of White's Confederate service consists of an account of his capture on March 12, 1865 in an action in Morganza in Pointe Coupee Parish, which is contained in the Official Records of the American Civil War, and his service records in the National Archives, documenting his subsequent imprisonment in New Orleans and parole in April 1865. These records confirm his service as a lieutenant in Captain W. B. Barrow's company of a Louisiana cavalry regiment, for all practical purposes a loosely organized band of irregulars or "scouts" (guerrillas). One organizing officer of this regiment, which was sometimes called "Barrow's Regiment" or the "9th Louisiana Cavalry Regiment," was Major Robert Pruyn. Pruyn (a postwar mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana) served as courier relaying messages from Port Hudson's commander, General Franklin Gardner, to General Joseph E. Johnston, crossing the Union siege lines by swimming the Mississippi. Pruyn escaped from Port Hudson prior to its surrender in the same manner. According to another account, after White was paroled in April 1865 and following the surrender of the western Confederate forces, he ended his military career by walking (his clothing in rags) to a comrade's family home in Livonia in Pointe Coupee Parish.

White's Civil War service was taken as a matter of common knowledge at the time of his initial nomination to the United States Supreme Court, and the Confederate Veteran periodical, published for the United Confederate Veterans, congratulated him upon his confirmation. White was one of three ex-Confederate soldiers to serve on the Supreme Court. The others were Associate Justices Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (II) of Mississippi and Horace Harmon Lurton of Tennessee. The Court's other ex-Confederate, Associate Justice Howell Edmunds Jackson, had held a civil position under the Confederate government.

Political career

Edward White as a U.S. Senator

While living on his family's abandoned plantation, White began his legal studies. He enrolled at the University of Louisiana in New Orleans to complete his study of the law, at what is now known as the Tulane University Law School. He subsequently was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in New Orleans in 1868. In the city he joined the Pickwick Club, a gentleman's club formed in 1857 that became influential for its prominent members; they were of the elite and supported efforts to reinstate white supremacy.[2] He later became a member of the Crescent City White League, a statewide group that developed numerous chapters beginning in 1874. This paramilitary organization worked to disrupt Republican politics, suppress black voting, and support white Democrats in regaining political dominance in the state.

White briefly served in the Louisiana State Senate in 1874, a year marked by interracial violence in political campaigns and elections. He was appointed as an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, serving from 1879 to 1880. He was politically affiliated with Governor Francis T. Nicholls, a former Confederate general who served 1877 to 1880, and later was elected again, serving 1888 to 1892.

White later became famous in Louisiana for helping to abolish the Louisiana Lottery, considered a hotbed of corruption.[citation needed] A case challenging the lottery reached the state's Supreme Court, which in 1894 ordered the state to discontinue the gaming.

The state's legislature appointed White to the United States Senate in 1891 to succeed James B. Eustis. He served until his resignation on March 12, 1894, when he was nominated by President Grover Cleveland (D) to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1896 White sided with the six justices whose majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson approved segregation. (One justice abstained, so only eight were voting.)

The White Court, 1910-1921

In 1910, he was elevated by President William Howard Taft to the position of Chief Justice of the United States upon the death of Melville Fuller. At the time, his was a controversial appointment: first, White was a Democrat while Taft was a Republican. The media of the day widely expected Taft to name Republican Justice Charles Evans Hughes to the post. Second, White was the first Associate Justice to be appointed as Chief Justice since John Rutledge in 1795. Some historians believe that President Taft appointed White, who was 65 years old at the time and overweight, in the hope that White would not serve all that long and that Taft himself might be appointed to succeed him. Following White's death in 1921, Taft was indeed appointed as his successor, making White the only Chief Justice to be followed in office by the president who appointed him.

White was generally seen as one of the more conservative members of the court. He originated the term, the “Rule of Reason." But, White also wrote the 1916 decision upholding the constitutionality of the Adamson Act, which mandated a maximum eight-hour work day for railroad employees.

As Chief Justice at a time when the Court's work was carried out with more than 8,000 cases brought each year before the court, and only a few clerks to work for all the members of the Court, the Chief Justice held weekly meetings with fellow jurists, assigned all the cases and wrote the majority opinions in 711 cases, as well as 155 dissenting opinions, all opposing income taxes. White wrote for a unanimous Court in Guinn v. United States (1915), which invalidated the Oklahoma and Maryland grandfather clauses (and, by extension, those in other Southern states) as "repugnant to the Fifteenth Amendment and therefore null and void."[3] But, Southern states quickly devised other methods to continue their disfranchisement of blacks (and in some cases, many poor whites) that withstood Court scrutiny.

In 1918, the Selective Draft Law Cases upheld the Selective Service Act of 1917, and more generally, upheld conscription in the United States, which President Taft said was "one of his great opinions."[3]

As Chief Justice, White swore in presidents Woodrow Wilson (twice) and Warren G. Harding.

Chief Justice White was one of thirteen Catholic justices – of 112 total through the 2010 appointment of Justice Elena Kagan – in the history of the Supreme Court.[4]

Marriage and family

White married Leita Montgomery Kent, the widow of Linden Kent, on November 6, 1894, in New York City.

Death and legacy

White died in office and his remains were buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The Georgetown graveyard overlooks Rock Creek; also interred there are Associate Justice Noah Swayne and "almost-Justice" Edwin M. Stanton. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase was also buried there, but his body was transferred after 14 years to Cincinnati, Ohio's Spring Grove Cemetery.[5][6]

See also


  1. George R. Adams and Ralph Christian (April 1976). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Edward Douglass White House / Edward Douglass White Louisiana State Commemorative Area" (pdf). National Park Service.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. New Orleans: "Pickwickians and Reconstruction", American Experience, 2006, PBS
  3. 3.0 3.1 Delehant, John W. (December 1967). "A Judicial Revisitation Finds Kneedler v. Lane Not So 'Amazing'". ABA Journal. 53: 1132.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Religious affiliation of Supreme Court justices Justice Sherman Minton converted to Catholicism after his retirement.
  5. Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook at the Wayback Machine (archived September 3, 2005) Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  6. Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (Feb 19, 2008), University of Alabama.
  7. "Statue to White Will be Unveiled to Ceremonies." The Times-Picayune (4 March 1926): p. 6.
  8. "Edward Douglass White Council #2473". Arlington Virginia: Knights of Columbus. Retrieved February 26, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cassidy, Lewis C. (1923) Life of Edward Douglass White: Soldier, Statesman, Jurist, 1845-1921. Ph.D. dissertation, Georgetown University.
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1-56802-126-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L., eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-1377-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505835-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0-87187-554-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mele, Joseph C. (Fall 1962) Edward Douglass White’s Influence on the Louisiana Anti-Lottery Movement. Southern Speech Journal 28: 36-43.
  • Miller, William Timothy. (1933)Edward Douglass White: A Study in Constitutional History. Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University.
  • Ramke, Diedrich. (1940) Edward Douglass White —- Statesman and Jurist. Ph.D. dissertation, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College.
  • Reeves, William Dale. (1999) Paths to distinction: Dr. James White, Governor E.D. White, and Chief Justice Edward Douglass White of Louisiana. Friends of the Edward Douglass White Historic Site. ISBN 1-887366-33-4
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 590. ISBN 0-8153-1176-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • U.S. Supreme Court. (1921) Proceedings of the Bar and Officers of the Supreme Court of the United States in Memory of Edward Douglass White, December 17, 1921. Washington: Government Printing Office.

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
James Eustis
United States Senator (Class 3) from Louisiana
Served alongside: Randall Gibson, Donelson Caffery
Succeeded by
Newton Blanchard
Legal offices
Preceded by
Samuel Blatchford
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Willis Van Devanter
Preceded by
Melville Fuller
Chief Justice of the United States
Succeeded by
William Taft