Topics in the News
The Dilemma of Second-Class Citizens: Race Riots and Civil Disorder
In August 1900 a white New York City policeman, Robert Thorpe, died after a fight with Arthur Harris, a black man. The next day mobs of whites set out to avenge his death by attacking blacks. Some black leaders in New York City charged that the police instigated these attacks. Harris was ultimately convicted of Thorpe's murder, and an investigation by the police cleared officers of charges of brutality. Whites and blacks perceived the situation differently, and it seemed impossible that the two would recognize this difference. In 1896 the Supreme Court had ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that states could treat blacks separately but equally, at least in principle. Southern states took steps to disenfranchise blacks, and in northern states restrictive housing covenants and other ordinances restricted where they could live. In 1904 the Maryland legislature passed a law disenfranchising black voters, and though the governor vetoed the act, it still sent a message that blacks were not entitled to full citizenship rights. Blacks were forbidden to move into many towns in Ohio and Indiana.
The fact that black Americans were held to a different standard of justice than white Americans was borne out in the aftermath of a 1906 riot near Fort Brown, Texas. That August some soldiers from the...
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Insanity and Guilt: The Trials of Harry Thaw
Thaw Murders White.
On 25 June 1906 Harry K. Thaw shot Stanford White three times with a pistol. White died almost immediately, and Thaw raised the pistol above his head and walked out of the rooftop restaurant at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Thaw rejoined his wife, Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, and two friends and volunteered to them that he had just killed White, whom he said had ruined his life.
Thaw's Mental Instability.
These facts were never in dispute. But for the next two years, during two sensational, highly publicized trials, virtually every other fact concerning Thaw, White, and Evelyn Nesbit Thaw would be bitterly disputed. Stanford White, at age fifty-four, was one of the country's leading architects; in fact, his architectural firm had designed Madison Square Garden. Harry K. Thaw, twenty years younger than White, was the son of a Pittsburgh coke and railroad magnate. With tremendous family resources, Thaw had never settled down. In fact, the record of his life revealed great mental instability, and insanity seemed to recur in his family. His mother recalled that as a baby he would cry uncontrollably; his first-grade teacher remembered that hardly a day went by without Thaw creating a scene; the headmaster of his boarding school remembered his bulging eyes, his nervous habits, and his propensity to howl. In 1897 he...
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The Insular Cases: The Constitution Follows The Flag
Acquisition of an Empire.
By 1900 the United States had acquired Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico and was maintaining a protectorate over Cuba. What would be the legal status of the people of these places? Were they subjects or citizens? What relationship would they have with the United States? What rights would they have? None of these questions had a clear answer, nor were all Americans comfortable with the idea of being an imperial power. In 1900 the Democratic Party, with William Jennings Bryan again its presidential nominee, tried to make imperialism an issue in the campaign. Imperialism, Democrats argued, was a ploy by wealthy capitalists to distract American workers from domestic problems and to exploit cheap overseas labor. These new territories would require a large military force— in fact, a U.S. army of sixty-five thousand would spend three years suppressing the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo's movement against American rule—and this would mean higher taxes. But the issue itself was too complicated to use in a political campaign. Some Americans did not like imperialism because it would change the nature of their republican government, others because they feared that the people of the colonies might try to join American society.
The Problem of Cuba.
The United States had entered the war with Spain for the...
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Labor on Trial: The Murder of Frank Steunenberg
Frank Steunenberg Murdered.
In 1899 Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg had called for federal troops to suppress a strike by miners in Couer d'Alene. After breaking the strike, Steunenberg and the legislature worked to break the union, passing a law that forbade miners to organize unions. Though Steunenberg retired from politics, he was still a hated figure to miners and to organized labor. On the evening of 30 December 1905, as Steunenberg opened the front gate to his home in Cald-well, Idaho, a bomb exploded, killing him.
Confession of Harry Orchard.
Police arrested Harry Orchard, who had been living in Caldwell under the name of T. S. Hogan. Orchard claimed to have been a bomber for the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), and he confessed to a grisly series of bombings aimed at police officers and strikebreakers. He claimed to have planted a bomb at the Cripple Creek, Colorado, mine during a strike there in 1903, and in 1904 he said he had shot a deputy sheriff and later killed fourteen strikebreakers by planting a bomb at the Independence, Colorado, train station. He had also been part of a plot to kill three state officials in Colorado. All of this violence, he said, was done under orders from the WFM. Specifically, he named Bill Haywood, the WFM's treasurer; Charles Moyer, its president ; and George Pettibone, a Denver merchant...
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Lochner v. New York (1905)
A changing economy, moving toward larger industries and complicated corporate structures, meant that workers lost significant control over their work. Though the court in the 1890s had allowed corporations to expand, the courts had not been friendly to workers who tried to form unions. Working people were expected to negotiate individually for their wages and working hours. Courts used injunctions to prevent workers from striking, and the courts were equally skeptical of state attempts to improve working conditions. In 1885 the Supreme Court had struck down a New York law that regulated working conditions for cigar makers. Working in their tiny tenement apartments, cigar makers rolled tobacco into cigars. Often the entire family, women and young children, spent long hours rolling cigars for which they were paid by the piece. This kind of work, often the only kind available to an unskilled immigrant, paid a tiny amount and posed significant health risks to the worker and his family. The law, sponsored by assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt, prohibited this kind of work. But the Supreme Court in 1885 ruled that New York could not regulate these working conditions, as to do so violated the cigar maker's and his employees' liberty to make a contract. In 1898 the court upheld a Utah law that limited the working hours of miners, because the court recognized the hazards of mining: more than...
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Lynching and Lawlessness
Nothing illustrates the failure of American justice better than the persistence of lynching and of race riots in the first decade of the twentieth century. More than twenty-five hundred people, most of them black men, had been lynched between 1886 and 1889; there were more than one hundred lynchings in 1900 and again in 1901. Between 1885 and 1905 there were more lynchings in the United States than there were legal executions. One proposed solution to this crisis was to make lynching a federal crime: at that time it was punishable only in state courts, where blacks were often excluded from juries and where few witnesses were willing to testify against leaders of mobs. Another solution, presented by defenders of "Southern justice," was to repeal the Constitution's Fifteenth Amendment. Some whites charged that the problem stemmed from blacks having the right to vote. Remove political equality, and whites would no longer feel threatened by blacks and perceive a need to kill them.
Patterns of Lynchings.
All lynchings were different but followed certain patterns. For instance, in Missouri one Sunday afternoon in 1901 a white woman was found murdered. Within hours of her discovery a mob of whites seized three black men, two of them elderly, and tortured them to death before hanging them. The mob then burned five black families out of...
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Prohibition and the Temperance Movement
Prohibition in Kansas.
At the end of the nineteenth century six states (Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Kansas, and Rhode Island) were officially "dry," which meant it was illegal to manufacture or sell alcohol in them. In 1888 the Supreme Court ruled that states could not prohibit the sale of alcohol that came into a state in its original package: this, said the Court, would interfere with Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. Though a state banned alcohol, hotels and clubs could sell alcohol by the bottle. A state that wanted to prevent alcohol abuse, then, could not completely control drinking. After the Court made this ruling, the liquor interest pushed to have all state laws limiting alcohol sales repealed. This move by the liquor interest, seemingly supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, came at a time when many Americans felt powerless to control the new economic forces that governed their society.
Alcohol as a Social Problem.
By 1909 there were more saloons in the United States than there were schools, libraries, or churches. There was one saloon for every three hundred Americans, and these saloons were concentrated in cities. Medical evidence that alcohol was seriously harmful underscored a perception of its ill effects. Adding to the social problem was a political one: most taverns were controlled by brewers or...
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Reviving the Sherman Act: The Northern Securities Case
Roosevelt and Corporations.Theodore Roosevelt was no enemy of big business. However, he believed it was important to demonstrate that the federal government could enforce the law. Roosevelt did not want to go to court every time a corporation violated the law: that would be bad for the government and bad for business. It would be more effective, he believed, to have boards like the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate corporations. In 1903 his administration created a bureau of corporations, which he hoped would be able to regulate big business. Roosevelt also believed the federal government should have the power to charter corporations, which would give these regulatory boards more control over illegal practices. All of this was not because Roosevelt
Northern Securities Case.
But before Congress would create a...
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Women, Louis Brandeis, and the Law: Muller v. Oregon (1908)
Oregon and the Ten-Hour Day.
In 1903 Oregon forbade women employed outside the home to work longer than ten hours a day. Massachusetts had been the first state to pass such a law (1874), and by 1903 twenty states had done so. States acted to protect women from overwork but also to give them sufficient time to do household chores, which most Americans still believed were the responsibility of women. In 1895 the Illinois Supreme Court had found an eight-hour workday for women unconstitutional on the grounds that it infringed on women's liberty to make contracts. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1905 decision in Lochner suggested that it might also find such laws protecting women unconstitutional.
Curt Muller Breaks the Law.
Curt Muller owned the Grand Laundry in Portland, Oregon. On 4 September 1905 his foreman, Joe Haselbock, required Mrs. E. Gotcher to work longer than ten hours. Muller was arrested, convicted, and fined ten dollars. He appealed his case, believing, in the wake of Lochner, that the state could not regulate working hours. His lawyers reasoned that while the law prevented people from making contracts, it did not apply to all people similarly situated (men in the same occupations were allowed to work longer than ten hours), and the kinds of work it restricted were neither illegal, immoral, nor dangerous to the public...
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Hughes, Charles Evans 1862-1948
LAWYER, REFORMER, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE
New York Lawyer.
Charles Evans Hughes was the son of a minister from Glens Falls, New York. After graduating from Brown University he received a law degree from Columbia in 1884, and for the next twenty-two years practiced law in New York City, except for two years (1891—1893) spent as a law professor at Cornell University. Even when he practiced law, though, Hughes also taught, either the law or the Bible. To prepare themselves for the bar exam many young New York City law school graduates attended the evening drill sessions Hughes conducted at Columbia; and at both Cornell and the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church he offered a Sunday class on the Old Testament prophets. (When Hughes's workload overwhelmed him he turned the class over to John D. Rockefeller Jr.) As president of the Baptist Social Union he scandalized some New York City Baptists by inviting Booker T. Washington to speak at a dinner and then seating Washington and his wife at the head table. Aside from small events like this one, Hughes worked successfully behind the scenes, establishing a reputation among lawyers, but not among the general public, for dedication and hard work. When his wife asked why she saw all of his associates, but not Hughes, written about in the newspapers, he responded, "My dear, you must know that I have a positive...
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Jerome, William Travers 1859-1934
DISTRICT ATTORNEY, CIVIC REFORMER
William Travers Jerome, New York's district attorney for much of the decade, was born in New York City. After attending a private preparatory school in Switzerland, he studied at Amherst College for three years before moving on to Columbia Law School, where he received his law degree in 1884. Three years after being admitted to the bar in New York, he was appointed an assistant district attorney. An appointment like this insured a steady income, but it depended on party loyalty: a political appointee had to be absolutely loyal to the party organization that appointed him. In this case, Jerome owed his position to the Democrats, and in return he was expected to be loyal to their organization, known as Tammany Hall. But in 1890 he joined the People's Municipal League, a reform organization, and returned to private practice.
Jerome maintained his interest in political affairs. In 1894 he served as an assistant counsel to a legislative committee looking into corruption in city government, and he himself served as counsel to the anti-Tammany Hall Committee of 70. William L. Strong, who ran for mayor in 1894 and defeated the Democratic candidate, rewarded Jerome for his campaign assistance by making him a judge on the court of special sessions, where he served...
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Kellor, Frances (Alice) 1873-1952
LAWYER AND SOCIOLOGIST
Alice Kellor was born in Columbus, Ohio. When her father abandoned the family, she moved with her mother to Coldwater , Michigan . Her mother worked as a laundress, and Alice helped her in this. Though she was a good student, she could not afford to stay in high school, so she dropped out to help support the family. The Eddy sisters, two spinsters in town, took an interest in Alice and sent her to adult education classes and finally to Cornell University, where, now calling herself Frances after one of the sisters, she received a law degree in 1897.
Studies of the City.
After Cornell, Kellor went to Chicago, combining her scholarly zeal with a keen interest in social problems. With a scholarship from the Chicago Women's Club she studied southern penal systems, especially the treatment of women prisoners and the racial discrepancies in punishment. Her first book, Experimental Sociology, Descriptive and Analytical: Delinquents (1902), used the empirical methods of sociology to address a complicated social problem and in this way was a model for later studies, relying on statistics more than on anecdotes or impressions. From Chicago Kellor went to New York City, where she conducted a study of southern black women who had been lured to the city by promises of good jobs at good...
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Lindsey, Ben B. 1869-1943
Ben B. Lindsey understood what it was like to be a troubled youth. His father, a Confederate veteran, had moved the family to Colorado when Ben was eleven and committed suicide five years later. Ben left school to support his family, working simultaneously as a janitor, a newspaper carrier, and an office boy to a lawyer. Overwork and despair drove Ben to attempt suicide at nineteen, though his failure inspired him to change direction. He began to read law, and though not a high school graduate, at age twenty-five he was admitted to the Colorado bar.
In 1899 Lindsey became a public guardian and administrator, a minor position in Colorado's rudimentary public welfare system. Two years later he was appointed a county judge. He later recalled a case from about this time of a young boy caught stealing coal. Under common law, children older than the age of seven could be tried as adults and after age fourteen would be sent to prison if found...
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Parker, Alton Brooks 1852-1926
JUDGE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Alto n Parker's nomination for president in 1904 shows how the political process worked. Party nominees were chosen by party leaders. Candidates generally would not seek office by asking voters for support. Instead, a candidate or his political allies would make connections with party bosses in different states to secure their support. In Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Oregon insurgents were trying to break the control of party bosses by having primary elections to nominate candidates for state office; but for president the choice would still be made in party caucuses, which were easily manipulated by the bosses. Among the Democrats there was great fear as the election of 1904 loomed. The party was divided into two wings: its last president, Grover Cleveland, represented the probusiness, conservative party. Its most recent presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan, who had twice lost the election to William McKinley, was a westerner, allied with the more radical populists of the prairies, the South, and the far West. As the party prepared for the 1904 election, the eastern leaders organized to wrest...
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Pound, Roscoe 1870-1964
Roseoe Pound, who would become one of the twentieth century's most influential legal thinkers, was something of a child prodigy. He was already reading when he was three, and his mother taught him German when he was six. His first real passion was botany, and when he turned fourteen he entered the University of Nebraska in his hometown of Lincoln. After graduating with a degree in botany he studied law with his father, a local lawyer, and then spent a year at Harvard Law School. Convinced the law was not for him, he was willing and able to both practice and teach law while he pursued a doctorate in botany. He returned to Lincoln where he wrote his dissertation, "Phytogeography of Nebraska" (1898), while practicing law, serving as an assistant professor in the College of Law and teaching Roman law in the Latin department. In 1903 he became dean of the College of Law. Two years later he abandoned academia temporarily, and botany permanently, to become a practicing lawyer.
Pound and Sociological Jurisprudence.
Trained in both science and the law, Pound approached the two disciplines as similar. Law schools and academic training for lawyers were replacing the traditional routes to the profession, and academic lawyers saw themselves as social scientists. At the 1906 meeting of the...
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Trotter, William Monroe 1872-1934
THE GUARDIAN OF BOSTON
William Monroe Trotter's James Monroe Trotter, was an imposing man. A musician and soldier, he had succeeded Frederick Douglass as recorder of deeds in the District of Columbia and so had been one of the highest-ranking black officials in nineteenth-century America. William Monroe Trotter, who usually went by his middle name, was born on a farm in Ohio but grew up in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. The only black in his high school class, he was elected class president. He entered Harvard in 1891. After college he worked negotiating real estate mortgages and seemed destined to become one of Boston's most successful businessmen.
Call to Action.
But in 1901 Trotter launched a news-paper devoted to the cause of civil rights for blacks. He was moved to start his paper by the rising tide of racial hatred in the country. He blamed Booker T. Washington for this worsening racial climate, and through his paper, The Guardian, Trotter blasted Washington and the Washington program. Trotter regarded Washington as a hypocrite who urged other Negroes not to push for social...
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People in the News
In 1906 Harvey Humphrey Baker, a special justice on the Brookline, Massachusetts, Police Court, was appointed Boston's first juvenile court judge. Eager to resolve the problems of youth through the juvenile court system, Baker also advocated clinics where social workers and others could try to resolve the more "baffling cases" of troubled youth.
In 1903 Simeon E. Baldwin, a Connecticut lawyer and a founder of the American Bar Association, attended an international congress on prisons in Budapest. The following year he was vice president of the Universal Congress of Lawyers and Jurists in Saint Louis, and in 1905 he was president of both the Association of American Law Schools and the American Historical Association.
In 1908 Kate Barnard, Oklahoma's commissioner of prisons, investigated prisons in Kansas, where some Oklahoma prisoners were being held. Shocking revelations of conditions in Kansas penitentiaries led to revelations from other states about their treatment of prisoners.
In May 1906, anarchist Alexander Berkman was released after fourteen years in prison for a botched attempt to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick.
In 1908 Godfrey Lowell Cabot became a member of the board of the Boston Watch and Ward Society, and led the society to prosecute purveyors of books it deemed...
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William Boyd Allison, 81, senator from Iowa instrumental in establishing the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887, 4 August 1908.
John Peter Altgeld, 55, former governor of Illinois who wrote Our Penal Machinery and its Victims (1884), pardoned the three surviving men convicted in the 1886 Haymarket bombing, and protested President Cleveland's use of federal troops against Pullman strikers (1894), 12 March 1902.
Susan B. Anthony, 86, leader of the woman suffrage movement who was arrested in 1872 for voting in Rochester, New York, convicted, and refused to pay a $100 fine; she argued that laws were meaningless if they contradicted what was right, 13 March 1906.
Robert Charles O'Hara Benjamin, 45, West Indian-born lawyer and teacher who practiced law throughout the United States and fought for legal and political rights for blacks; he was murdered for registering black voters, October 1900.
James Coolidge Carter, 77, one of New York's leading lawyers; he vigorously opposed an attempt to codify New York laws in 1880s because he believed that law emerged from society and custom, not from the legislature, 14 February 1905.
James Clagett, about 70, lawyer who practiced throughout the West; he was a delegate from Montana to Congress, served in Nevada's...
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Simeon Baldwin, The American Judiciary (New York: Century, 1905);
John W. Burgess, The Civil War and the Constitution (New York: Scribners, 1901);
Burgess, Reconstruction and the Constitution 1866-1876 (New York: Scribners, 1902);
Benjamin Cardozo, Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York (Albany, N.Y.: Banks, 1903);
Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (New York: Macmillan, 1909);
George B. Davis, The Elements of International Law (New York: Harper, 1900);
Davis, The Elements of Law: An Introduction to the Study of the Constitutional and Military Law of the United States (New York: Wiley, 1904);
Ernst Freund, Constitutional Aspects of the Ten Hour Law (Springfield: Illinois State Journal, 1909);
Freund, Empire and Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1903);
Freund, Labor Legislation in the 46th General Assembly of Illinois (Springfield: Illinois Department of Labor, 1909);
Freund, The Police Power (Chicago: Callaghan, 1904);
Leonard F. Fuld, Police Administration: A Critical Study of Police Organizations in the United States and Abroad...
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Important Events in Law and Justice, 1900–1909
- Twenty-five law schools form the Association of American Law Schools; law students must have high school diplomas, take a two-year course of instruction, and have access to a law library.
- On December 27, Prohibitionist Carry Nation begins raiding saloons in Kansas.
- On May 27, the Supreme Court decides the first of the "Insular Cases," which declare that some, but not all, provisions of the U.S. Constitution and laws apply in former Spanish colonies that are now American territories (Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam).
- On September 6, President McKinley is shot in Buffalo, New York, by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. McKinley dies on September 14. Theodore Roosevelt becomes president.
- On September 23, Leon Czolgosz goes on trial for murdering President McKinley. He is convicted.
- On October 29, Czolgosz is electrocuted.
- During the first two years of the twentieth century, 214 people are lynched in the United States.
- On March 10, the United States charges the Northern Securities Company with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.
- On September 15, Horace Gray, associate justice of the Supreme Court, dies.
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