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 H. Taft
Preceded byMelville Fuller
Succeeded byWilliam H. 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
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 in 1845 in his parents' plantation house, now known as the Edward Douglass White House, near the town of Thibodauxville (now Thibodaux) in Lafourche Parish in south Louisiana.[2] He was the son of Edward Douglass White Sr., a former governor of Louisiana, and Catherine Sidney Lee (Ringgold).[3] He was a grandson of Dr. James White, a U.S. representative, physician, and judge.

On his mother's side, he was the grandson of Tench Ringgold, appointed as a U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia under the James Monroe and Andrew Jackson administrations. He was also related on his maternal side to the Lee family of Virginia. The White family's large plantation in Louisiana was based on cultivating and processing for market sugar cane, depending on the extensive labor of slaves.

White's paternal ancestors were of Irish Catholic descent, and he was reared in that religion, a devout Roman Catholic his entire life. He studied first at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, then at Mount St. Mary's College near Emmitsburg, Maryland. Last, he attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he was a member of the Philodemic Society. After the American Civil War, he returned to academic work and studied law at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University) in New Orleans.

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 former slaves.

The only "hard" 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, documenting 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.

During the Reconstruction era, White was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Later, while on the Supreme Court, he approved of the film The Birth of a Nation, which helped reignite the Klan in the 1920s.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

White served in the Louisiana State Senate in 1874,[7] a year marked by interracial violence in political campaigns and elections. He also served on the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1878 to 1880.[7] In 1891, the State Legislature elected him to the United States Senate[7] 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]

Associate justice[edit]

White was nominated by 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 U.S. Senate the same day it was received, and on March 12, 1894 he took the judicial oath of office.[1][7]

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."

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[7] 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). Nonetheless, his selection was quickly confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and he took the judicial oath of office on December 19, 1910.[1]

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.

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

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."[8]

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 the last serving Supreme Court Justice appointed by President Cleveland. He was succeeded by former president Taft, who had himself long-desired the chief justiceship, thus making White the only chief justice to be followed in office by the president who appointed him.

Marriage and family[edit]

White married Leita Montgomery Kent, the widow of Linden Kent, on November 6, 1894, in New York City.[9][10] 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.[10]


White died on May 19, 1921, at the age of 75.[7] Buried initially at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court Historical Society reports that his body was transferred after 14 years to Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.[11]

Legacy and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ George R. Adams and Ralph Christian (April 1976). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Edward Douglass White House / Edward Douglass White Louisiana State Commemorative Area" (pdf). National Park Service. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Chalmers, David M. Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1965. Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y, 1965., p. 27
  5. ^ New Orleans newspaper The Republican, February 14, 1877.
  6. ^ "Edouard Edmund Bermudez (1832-1892)". Louisiana Supreme Court. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Edward Douglass White, 1910-1921". Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Delehant, John W. (December 1967). "A Judicial Revisitation Finds Kneedler v. Lane Not So 'Amazing'". ABA Journal. 53: 1132.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b "Mrs. E.B.D. White, 81, Dead in Washington". January 16, 1934. p. 21. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Recipients | The Laetare Medal". University of Notre Dame. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  13. ^ "Statue to White Will be Unveiled to Ceremonies." The Times-Picayune (March 4, 1926): p. 6.
  14. ^ "Edward Douglass White Council #2473". Arlington Virginia: Knights of Columbus. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  15. ^ "Chief Justice White #2586". West Orange, New Jersey: New Jersey State Council, Knights of Columbus. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  16. ^ 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 1476617546. Retrieved December 9, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James Eustis
U.S. senator (Class 3) from Louisiana
Served alongside: Randall Gibson, Donelson Caffery
Succeeded by
Newton Blanchard
Preceded by
John P. Jones
Chair of the Senate Contingent Expenses Audit Committee
Succeeded by
Johnson N. Camden
Legal offices
Preceded by
Samuel Blatchford
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Willis Van Devanter
Preceded by
Melville Fuller
Chief Justice of the United States
Succeeded by
William Taft