I wonder how many people who went to CHARLES EVANS HUGHES HIGH SCHOOL in the Manhattan knew who Hughes was. Probably not many, as the school's name was changed a decade or so back to BAYARD RUSTIN HIGH SCHOOL.
So many schools in this city are named after famous people - or once famous people - or people who have some local celebrity. John Bowne High School, which I attended in Queens, is named for a Quaker (whose farmstead home is still standing as a museum in Flushing, New York), who was an early fighter for religious freedom in Dutch and British New York. We have schools named for Thomas Alva Edison, Grover Cleveland, De Witt Clinton, Martin Van Buren, Washington Irving, Samuel Tilden, and even Franklin K. Lane (Lane was Secretary of the Interior under Woodrow Wilson). There are others as well.
Hughes, the subject of this episode of PROFILES IN COURAGE, was a fine lawyer who became Governor of New York State in 1908, the man who reformed the life insurance laws of the United States, an Associated Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the Republican Presidential Candidate against Wilson in 1916, Secretary of State under Harding and Coolidge (1921 - 25), and Chief Justice of the United States from 1930- 1941. Quite a remarkable career. He was also the last really great political figure of the 20th Century (and last Presidential candidate) to have a full beard (and a distinguished looking one). Kent Smith played the role in this episode.
Hughes would be better known had he been elected President. He almost was. In 1912 he could have been a candidate for the Republican nomination, but he was bypassed by the public antics of Robert La Follette, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. In 1916 he was nominated, but he lost the election to Wilson because of Senator Hiram Johnson, who did not like Hughes and did not push him in California (the electoral votes of California decided the election).
He probably would have been an effective reform minded President, like he had been as a governor. Whether he would have avoided involvement in World War I is a matter I really could not say.
From 1916 to 1921 he was in New York City practicing law. He had had to resign the Supreme Court to run for the Presidency (Wilson offered him the Chief Justiceship if he did not run for the Presidential nomination
Chief Justice White was an elderly man: White, when he heard of the
offer, got so angry he swore he would live to be on the court in his seat after Wilson left office - he did!).
The incident that happened with Hughes, mentioned briefly in Kennedy's book, was that he willingly defended a group of pacifist socialists in a trial in 1920. During the war, once a regretful Wilson got committed, he pushed the war as hard as possible. He made sure that anyone who opposed the war was prosecuted for it. In particular pacifists, socialists, "Wobblies" (members of the International Workers of the World), anarchists, and communists. Hughes openly defended these socialists accused of sedition. He got an acquittal for them.
Again, the issue comes of how much real damage an act of political courage will do. Within a year Hughes was Harding's Secretary of State, and the head of the cabinet. His leading success was the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which limited the great power's fleets to a ratio. It lasted until 1933, and was the first real attempt of arms limitations. By then he was back on the United States Supreme Court, as Chief Justice - and would serve well enough to switch the Court from undercutting FDR's New Deal by a series of anti-New Deal decisions, to supporting the New Deal. He would be a leading figure of American political life until he retired in 1941.
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