In addition to this posthumous memoir, the published writings of Earl Warren consist of A Republic, If You Can Keep It (1972) and The Public Papers of Chief Justice Earl Warren (1974). In all three publications, objectivity is evidenced by the selection of issues of central political and social importance, in the case of The Public Papers, and by the dedication to major civil responsibilities for good citizenship, in the case of A Republic, If You Can Keep It.
Earl Warren was a respectful figure in American national life and it is not surprising to find that his own narrative of major events in his career is calm, rational, even sobering. What may be surprising to some, however, is that the somewhat methodical recounting of the wide variety of national interests and influences during the last four decades by a structured, legal mind can bring with it a steadying confidence in this nation’s people, values, and governmental processes. There could be no better counterbalance to the despair generally occasioned by the misadministration of Richard Nixon than this autobiographical account of the buoyant career of one of the most important and effective mid-twentieth century politicians and jurists, whose ethical career is all the more remarkable for having endured extremely unethical times. At each of the important stages of his professional life, Warren exemplified the benefits of moderate and virtuous paths of conduct and the salutory results of actions based on such ethics.
The purpose of these memoirs, as stated tersely at the end of the preliminary chapter, is educational, in that the Chief Justice intended them to be instructive for those who might wish to learn from a career such as his. This same purpose seems to have been the inspiration for all three of his published writings. Warren’s public life appears to have been a steady, sure, charmed rise in political popularity in ever-widening spheres of state and national prominence, during which, in these memoirs as in fact, one appreciates his very capable handling of increased responsibilities. To be sure, the Republican ticket in 1948 lost, but this defeat could in no way be considered personally his. Every biographer agrees that the hearty, robust physical appearance of the man, coupled with his innate courtesy, personal warmth, and instantaneously communicated integrity made Earl Warren deservedly popular and thoroughly respected. At each new undertaking, moreover, Warren brought steadfast determination, hard work, and practical aims to bear on each situation, with the result that every post he held became expanded in scope and function. Never content with the status quo, he took what was and improved it.
In order to learn from such a career, it is necessary to observe Warren’s courage in success, his self-reliance and confidence. What he said of his state at one national convention was true of him, that he represented “the great, hopeful, energetic West where there is little fear of failing and no fear of trying.” But, these are not pages from which one witnesses triumph over adversity. We are not told of any experiences which he thought of as serious setbacks or discouragements. Even though many thought Warren ambitious for the presidency, there is no suggestion here either of that specific ambition or of any disappointment at not being nominated. There is no remorse expressed over the 1948 elections; his reference to it merely states some probable contributory factors, such as taking the election for granted, not working hard enough, and not facing main issues.
The didactic intention of these memoirs has greatly conditioned their structure and the selection of events to be mentioned. The beginning chapters provide somewhat sporadic information as to the formative process of this important man’s character. There is sustained effort to select serious examples of the hardships of life in those days, such as the painful, lingering death of a neighbor child, the horror of a cock fight, a savage rabbit kill, the severities of strikes, a shootout on the streets of his hometown, and the personal tragedy of his father’s murder, bludgeoned to death by an unknown assailant. In these passages, we appreciate that Warren thought such cruelties of life played a part in his own formation, perhaps in determining his characteristic seriousness of nature.
Frivolity is scrupulously avoided in these pages; there are no remembrances of playfulness, outings, social events, dating, family or personal enjoyments, even idle moments, either as a boy or as a man. If Warren mentions playing the clarinet, which he did throughout high school and college days for pleasure and profit, it is stated to be only a means of making extra money. If he mentions experiences at work, it is only to point out the valuable lessons derived therefrom, even to stretching the point by saying that delivering ice could certainly be considered as performing a humanitarian service. College days, when he got away from home for the first time, were not spent in any social experimentation or carousing, but rather in friendly conversations, good reading, and an occasional beer with his friends.
The two people he mentions most are his father, who was his educational benefactor and stalwart example of practical determination, and his wife Nina, apparently the most wholesome and encouraging life companion that he could have wished for, to judge from his frequent remark, and this book’s dedication, that she was “the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The good humor associated with Warren throughout his public life is...
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