Hughes, Charles Evans (b Glens Falls, Warren Co, 11 Apr 1862; d Osterville, Mass, 27 Aug 1948). Governor and US Supreme Court justice.
Educated at Madison College (now Colgate University), Brown University, and Columbia Law School (1884), he practiced law in New York City for 20 years, interrupted by a two-year hiatus teaching at the Cornell University Law School (1891–93). In 1905 he was appointed counsel to New York State legislative committees investigating abusive business practices by utilities and life insurance companies. He became the Republican candidate for governor in 1906 and defeated Democrat William Randolph Hearst.
Hughes labored during his first year in office to assert his primacy over the party Republicans who dominated the state legislature. He removed officials he believed unfit for office or lacking in administrative ability and secured the adoption of legislation giving him power to initiate investigations of executive agencies and departments.
The centerpiece of his legislative program was his successful proposal to establish public service commissions with strong investigative and rate-fixing authority over utilities and transportation companies. Hughes supported labor reform legislation, including the nation’s first workers’ compensation law. He also secured support for his proposals to ameliorate the conditions of aliens, improve the probation system, control the spread of tuberculosis, and regulate the sale and labeling of drugs. He helped strengthen the existing policy of environmental conservation, and his crusade to end racetrack gambling ultimately overcame the hostility of the political establishment and the power of racing interests.
Reelected in 1908, Hughes resigned in October 1910 after accepting Pres William H. Taft’s offer of a seat on the US Supreme Court, where he served as associate justice for six years, writing a number of decisions broadly construing congressional power to regulate interstate commerce. In June 1916 he resigned to stand as the Republican candidate to oppose incumbent president Woodrow Wilson. While garnering about 52% of New York State ballots, Hughes was hurt by the perception that his victory might take the country into World War I, trailed Wilson in the popular vote nationwide, and suffered a narrow electoral college defeat, receiving 254 to Wilson’s 277 electoral votes. Resuming the practice of law in 1917 in New York City, Hughes was appointed secretary of state by Pres Warren G.
Harding in 1921. During his four-year tenure, Hughes negotiated a separate US peace treaty with Germany, supported the Dawes Plan as a way to ease Germany’s World War I reparations burden, and oversaw efforts to improve US relations with Latin America. He also negotiated a significant naval disarmament agreement among the world’s leading military powers during a 1921–22 international conference in Washington, DC. Hughes again returned to private law practice in New York City in 1925.
Named chief justice of the United States by Pres Herbert Hoover in 1930, Hughes guided the Supreme Court through the turbulent years of the Great Depression. His fidelity to the Bill of Rights was reflected in opinions broadly interpreting First Amendment freedoms. After initially voting to strike down major components of New Deal regulatory legislation, Hughes later led the Court in a more moderate direction, writing the key decision in 1937 that upheld the constitutionality of the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act). He helped defeat Pres Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposal to increase the size of the Supreme Court with a letter to the US Senate Judiciary Committee stating the Court was abreast of its docket and would function less efficiently with more members. Remembered most for his work with the Supreme Court, from which he retired in 1941, Hughes also served on the Permanent Court of International Justice and wrote several books on foreign relations and the Supreme Court itself.
The Autobiographical Notes of Charles Evans Hughes, ed. David J. Danelski and Joseph S. Tulchin (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ Press, 1973)
Pusey, Merlo J. Charles Evans Hughes, 2 vols (1951; repr New York: Garland Publishing, 1979)
Wesser, Robert F. Charles Evans Hughes: Politics and Reform in New York, 1905–1910 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press, 1967)
Robert A. Klump
Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 748].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.