Edward Douglass White

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Edward Douglass 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[1]
Nominated byWilliam Howard Taft
Preceded byMelville Weston Fuller
Succeeded byWilliam Howard Taft
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
March 12, 1894 – December 18, 1910[1]
Nominated byGrover Cleveland
Preceded bySamuel Blatchford
Succeeded byWillis Van Devanter
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
March 4, 1891 – March 12, 1894
Preceded byJames Eustis
Succeeded byNewton Blanchard
Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court
In office
January 1879 – April 1880
Nominated byFrancis T. Nicholls
Preceded byWilliam B. Giles Egan
Personal details
Edward Douglass White Jr.

(1845-11-03)November 3, 1845
Thibodaux, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedMay 19, 1921(1921-05-19) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Leita Montgomery
(m. 1894)

Virginia Montgomery Kent
EducationMount St. Mary's University (BA)
Georgetown University (MA)
Tulane University (LLB)

Edward Douglass White Jr. (November 3, 1845 – May 19, 1921) was an American politician and jurist from Louisiana. He was a United States Senator and the ninth chief justice of the United States. He served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1894 to 1921. He is best known for formulating the Rule of Reason standard of antitrust law.

Born in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, White practiced law in New Orleans after graduating from the University of Louisiana. He also attended the College of the Immaculate Conception, present-day Jesuit High School in New Orleans, class of 1865. His father, Edward Douglass White Sr., was the 10th Governor of Louisiana and a Whig US Representative. White fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was captured in 1865. After the war, White won election to the Louisiana State Senate and served on the Louisiana Supreme Court. As a member of the Democratic Party, White represented Louisiana in the United States Senate from 1891 to 1894.

In 1894, President Grover Cleveland appointed White as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1910, President William Howard Taft elevated him to the position of Chief Justice. The appointment surprised many contemporaries, as Taft was a member of the Republican Party. White served as Chief Justice until his death in 1921 when he was succeeded by Taft.

He sided with the Supreme Court majority in Plessy v. Ferguson, 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 protection of the laws. In one of several challenges to Southern states' grandfather clauses, used to disfranchise African-American voters at the turn of the century, he wrote for a unanimous court in Guinn v. United States, which struck down many Southern states' grandfather clauses. He also wrote the opinion in the Selective Draft Law Cases, which upheld the constitutionality of conscription.

Early life and education[edit]

White was born on November 3, 1845,[2]: 17  on his family's sugar plantation near Thibodaux, Louisiana, about thirty miles to the west of New Orleans.[3]: 16 [a] His father, Edward Douglass White Sr., was a lawyer and judge who had served as a U.S. Representative and as the governor of Louisiana.[5]: 218 [b] The elder White retired from Congress in 1843; his sugar plantation employed dozens of slaves.[5]: 218  His wife was Catherine Sidney Lee Ringgold, the daughter of influential Washington, D.C., businessman and politician Tench Ringgold;[5]: 218  she was a descendant of the Lee family, and the future chief justice was thus distantly related to Confederate general Robert E. Lee.[6]: 204  The couple had five children, of whom White Jr. was the youngest son.[5]: 218  In April 1847, before his namesake son had reached his third birthday, White Sr. died.[5]: 218–219  His wife remarried in 1850, wedding a French-Canadian immigrant merchant.[5]: 219  The family moved to New Orleans the subsequent year.[5]: 219 

White attended a Jesuit school in New Orleans beginning at the age of six.[2]: 18  Starting in 1856, he and his brother attended Mount St. Mary's College, near Emmitsburg, Maryland.[2]: 18  White enrolled in 1858 at Georgetown University, which biographer Robert Baker Highsaw characterized as "probably the best Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States".[2]: 18  It was distinctly Jesuit as well: university president John Early and a majority of the faculty were all members of the Society of Jesus.[2]: 18  White's Jesuit training influenced his legal philosophy later in life, leading him to emphasize formal logical reasoning.[7] At Georgetown, he studied the classics, the flute, and the violin; he also participated in the school's cadet corp.[5]: 219  After the American Civil War broke out, White left Georgetown without a degree, returning home.[8]

Confederate soldier[edit]

White's studies at Georgetown were interrupted by the Civil War. It has been suggested[by whom?] that he returned to Bayou Lafourche, enlisted in the Confederate States Army, and served under General Richard Taylor, eventually attaining the rank of lieutenant. This is questionable[by whom?], 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.[citation needed]

An apocryphal account states that White was almost captured by Union troops near 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 Parish 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 William Beall and accompanied him to Port Hudson, Louisiana, which was besieged and captured by Union troops in 1863. 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 of its former slaves.

The only documented 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, noting 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 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.

According to biographer Paul Finkelman:

Although the moviemaker D. W. Griffith claimed White endorsed his racist movie, The Birth of a Nation (1915), and asserted that White had been in the Ku Klux Klan, there is no evidence to support either of Griffith's contentions.[9]

In 1877, White served on the Reception Committee of the Knights of Momus in New Orleans. The Knights' Mardi Gras parade was an attack on Reconstruction so extreme that it was widely condemned, and even denounced by the Krewe of Rex.[10]

Political career[edit]

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. He was also mentored as a young attorney by Edouard Bermudez, a New Orleans lawyer who later served as Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.[11]

White served in the Louisiana State Senate in 1874,[12] a year marked by interracial violence in political campaigns and elections. He also served on the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1878 to 1880.[12] In 1891, the State Legislature elected him to the United States Senate[12] to succeed James B. Eustis. During his time in state politics, White was politically affiliated with two-time governor Francis T. Nicholls (1876–1880; 1888–1892), a former Confederate general.

United States Supreme Court[edit]

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. White's background as a Democrat, Confederate veteran and Southern lawyer might predict legal positions that would be hostile to federal power. On the contrary, articulated nationalist positions in his decisions, much like President William Howard Taft who promoted him to Chief Justice. He supported expanded regulation and taxation by Congress. He was usually conservative in racial issues, as were most justices. However, he wrote the majority decisions in favor of civil rights in important cases. Late in life, he expressed sorrow at the entire Civil War experience in his role in it.[13]

Associate justice[edit]

White was nominated by Democratic President Grover Cleveland to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in February 1894, after the failed nominations of William B. Hornblower and Wheeler Hazard Peckham. In contrast to those nominations, White's was approved by the Senate the same day it was received, and on March 12, 1894, he took the judicial oath of office.[1][12]

In 1896, White was a part of the 7–1 majority in Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were "equal in quality."[14]

Chief justice[edit]

White as he appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1910.

President William Howard Taft nominated White to the position of Chief Justice of the United States in December 1910,[12] following the death of Melville Fuller. Although White had served for sixteen years on the Court, the appointment was controversial, first because White was a Democrat while Taft was a Republican, and second because White was the first incumbent associate justice to be appointed as chief justice. (John Rutledge, a former associate justice, had been given a recess appointment as chief justice in 1795). His selection was quickly confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and he took the judicial oath of office on December 19, 1910.[1]

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."[15] But, Southern states quickly devised other methods to continue their disfranchisement of blacks (and in some cases, many poor whites) that withstood Court scrutiny.[14]

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."[15]

During his tenure as chief justice, White swore in presidents Woodrow Wilson (twice) and Warren G. Harding. At the time of his death on May 21, 1921, he had served on the Court for a total of 26 years, 10 of them as chief justice. He was succeeded by former President Taft, who had long-desired the chief justiceship, thus making White the only chief justice to be followed in office by the president who appointed him.

Personal life[edit]

White married Leita Montgomery Kent, the widow of Linden Kent, on November 6, 1894, in New York City.[16][17] His wife was the daughter of Romonzo and Virginia High Montgomery; White proposed to her before her first marriage but was turned down, and proposed again after her first husband died in 1892.[17]

White's paternal ancestors were of Irish Catholic descent, and he was reared in that religion, a Roman Catholic his entire life.


White died on May 19, 1921, at the age of 75.[12] He is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.[18]

Legacy and honors[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The home in which White was born is now known as the Edward Douglass White House; it is part of a Louisiana state park dedicated to White.[4]: 160 
  2. ^ White Sr. was the son of James White, a doctor and lawyer who held various political positions in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana.[2]: 14–15 


  1. ^ a b c d "Justices 1789 to Present". www.supremecourt.gov. Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Highsaw, Robert Baker (1981). Edward Douglass White, Defender of the Conservative Faith. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-0753-9 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ Pratt, Walter F., Jr. (1999). The Supreme Court under Edward Douglass White, 1910–1921. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-57003-309-4 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ Chambers, S. Allan, Jr. (2000). National Landmarks, America's Treasures. Internet Archive. New York, NY: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-19764-5.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Kent, Andrew (June 2016). "The Rebel Soldier Who Became Chief Justice of the United States: The Civil War and Its Legacy for Edward Douglass White of Louisiana". American Journal of Legal History. 56 (2): 209–264 – via HeinOnline.
  6. ^ Klinkhamer, Marie Carolyn (July 1947). "The Family Background of Chief Justice White". The Catholic Historical Review. 33 (2): 191–205. ISSN 0008-8080 – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ Joyce, Walter E. (June 1967). "Edward Douglass White: The Louisiana Years, Early Life and on the Bench". Tulane Law Review. 41 (4): 751–768 – via HeinOnline.
  8. ^ Stevens, Dennis G. (1999). "Constitutional Jurisprudence at a Crossroads: Edward Douglass White". In Stevens, Richard G.; Franck, Matthew J. (eds.). Sober As a Judge: The Supreme Court and Republican Liberty. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-0010-3.
  9. ^ Paul Finkelman. 2000
  10. ^ New Orleans newspaper The Republican, February 14, 1877.
  11. ^ "Edouard Edmund Bermudez (1832-1892)". Louisiana Supreme Court. Archived from the original on June 8, 2019. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Edward Douglass White, 1910-1921". Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  13. ^ Andrew Kent, "The Rebel Soldier Who Became Chief Justice of the United States: The Civil War and its Legacy for Edward Douglass White of Louisiana." American Journal of Legal History (2016) 56#2 pp 209-264.
  14. ^ a b Kent, 2016.
  15. ^ a b Delehant, John W. (December 1967). "A Judicial Revisitation Finds Kneedler v. Lane Not So 'Amazing'". ABA Journal. 53: 1132.
  16. ^ Chadwick, Georgia (Spring 2008). "Looking Out on Royal Street" (PDF). De Novo, the Newsletter of the Law Library of Louisiana. 6 (1): 6–8. Retrieved September 24, 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Mrs. E.B.D. White, 81, Dead in Washington". January 16, 1934. p. 21. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  18. ^ Christensen, George A. (1983). "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices". Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook 1983. Archived from the original on September 3, 2005. Retrieved November 24, 2013.
  19. ^ "Recipients | The Laetare Medal". University of Notre Dame. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  20. ^ Stole, Bryn (December 23, 2020). "Edward Douglass White statue removed from steps of Louisiana Supreme Court". NOLA.com. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
  21. ^ "Statue to White Will be Unveiled to Ceremonies." The Times-Picayune (March 4, 1926): p. 6.
  22. ^ "Edward Douglass White Council #2473". Arlington Virginia: Knights of Columbus. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  23. ^ "Chief Justice White #2586". West Orange, New Jersey: New Jersey State Council, Knights of Columbus. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  24. ^ Williams, Greg H. (July 25, 2014). The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O'Brien. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-1754-1. Retrieved December 9, 2017.


  • United States Congress. "Edward Douglass White (id: W000366)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on 2009-04-11
  • "Chief Justice White Is Dead at Age 75 After an Operation." The New York Times. May 19, 1921
  • Floyd, William Barrow, The Barrow Family of Old Louisiana, (Transylvania Printing Co., Lexington, Ky., 1963)
  • Highsaw, Robert B. (1981) Edward Douglass White: Defender of the Conservative Faith, Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1ISBN 0807124281.
  • Kent, Andrew. "The Rebel Soldier Who Became Chief Justice of the United States: The Civil War and its Legacy for Edward Douglass White of Louisiana." American Journal of Legal History (2016) 56#2 pp 209–264.
  • Klinkhammer, Marie. (1943) Edward Douglass White, Chief Justice of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.
  • Pratt, Walter F. (1999) The Supreme Court Under Edward Douglass White, 1910–1921. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-309-9.
  • Reeves, William D., Paths to Distinction: Dr. James White, Governor E.D. White and Chief Justice Edward Douglass White of Louisiana. Thibodaux, La., 1999: Friends of the Edward Douglass White Historic Site. ISBN 1-887366-33-4.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. senator (Class 3) from Louisiana
Served alongside: Randall Gibson, Donelson Caffery
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Chair of the Senate Contingent Expenses Audit Committee
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Chief Justice of the United States
Succeeded by