THE SUPREME COURT OF
THE UNITED STATES
AUTHOR OF HISTORY OF THE GREAT AMERICAN FORTUNES. HISTORY OF TAMMANY HALL. HISTORY OF PUBLIC FRANCHISES IN NEW YORK CITY, ETC.
CHARLES H. KERR & COMPANY
By GUSTAVUS MYERS
Entered at Stationers Hall, London, Eng., 1912
By Gustavus Myers
All Rights Reserved by Gustavus Myers
Including that of Translation into Foreign
Languages, including the Scandinavian
JOHN F. HIGGINS
PRINTER AND BINDER
378-382 MONROE STREET
To a work such as this, avoiding as it does both theories and conclusions, and confining itself strictly to ascertainable facts, little or no prefatory note is required. Neither is any explanation necessary as to why the author chose to write the historical narrative of the Supreme Court of the United States. All departments of human activity are subject, or should be, to scrutiny and investigation, and the series of facts discovered become a definite part of knowledge to be explored, assembled and disseminated.
Quite true, while research has hitherto penetrated into all other branches of historical development, the courts have been singularly exempt. That they have been immune from searching inquiry ; that around them has been created a myth, a fiction of supermundane superiority, is no reason why the case should continue so. On the contrary, the more their history and course have been shrouded in tradition and mystery, the more pressing is the necessity for learning and describing the actual facts. Only those who for sentimental or ulterior purposes would seek to disseminate fiction rather than facts can object to a serious inquiry into any institution and the collocation of verified facts. Such an objection at once discredits and disposes of itself in its obvious attack upon an attempt to bring out the truth, and in its aim to suppress the facts from becoming public information.
The long roll of facts herein set forth have not, it is needless to say, been created by the author. Good, bad or indifferent, they are all matters of record ; there they lie in the archives awaiting the patient and sincere research of the historical delver ; and if nearly all of them are now presented for the first time that is not the fault of the facts but constitutes a standing exposure of the superficial, if not designedly partial character, of much of the extant work passed off as historical writing. Spurious as most of these writings are, destitute of the merit of even a disposition to plumb the truth, characterized by a desire to glorify the basest passions and gloze over the true causes and development of events, they have unfortunately had their influence in propagating confusion, falsehood, and, worst of all, popular submission to the ideas and conceptions demanded by the dominant class. But the day has even now dawned when such works are going to the rubbish heaps or perhaps being regarded as singular curiosities of intellectual vassalage.
For nearly a century and a quarter the Supreme Court of the United States has towered aloft in omnipotent sway over all other institutions. Absolute and final, its decrees have gone deep into the history of the nation, and have had their mighty effect upon those wars of classes and subdivisions of classes which it was once (and to some extent still is) the fashion, to ignore in theory while asserting the fact in deed. During its whole existence the Supreme Court of the United States has been overwhelmed with laudation, although not at all times free from criticism.
But generalities do not concern us, nor do mere gilded words or fine assumptions have weight. What we do care about is to know the facts, so far as the annals can give them, of this all-powerful institution. We seek to learn its antecedents, its establishment, its development, its successive personnel, and its course, and what relation the whole bore to the great questions and interests of each associated era. This is the information supplied in the following pages ; and if the facts presented are striking, original and voluminous, it should be remembered that they are only such as are in the records ; without doubt many more underlying facts have never been introduced into the accessible archives, and these are lost to the authentic search of the historian.
As will be seen, this work is not one of a routine biographical or descriptive character, dependent upon injections of fanciful matter or dramatic coloring. It seeks to go to the basic depths, and in doing so it becomes far more than a narrative of a single institution. It carries with a comprehensive history of the development of capitalist resources, power and tactics, and of the great and continuing conflict of classes. It reveals the true sources of the primitive accumulation of wealth which necessarily beginning with the appropriation of land and the dispossession of the workers, have extended to the elaborate and conjointed forms of capitalist power subsisting to-day.
Palpably, a dominant class must have some supreme institution through which it can express its consecutive demands and enforce its will, whether that institution be a king, a Parliament, a Congress, a Court or an army. In the United States, the one all-potent institution automatically responding to these demands and enforcing them has been the Supreme Court of the United States. Vested with absolute and unappealable power, it has been able, with a marvelously adaptable flexibility, to transmute that will not merely into law but into action. Hence, the narrative of that court inevitably becomes a history of the origin and progress of capitalism and correspondingly of the forces in society antagonistic to the capitalist order.
Because, however, the Supreme Court as an institution has throughout its whole existence incarnated into final law the demands of the dominant and interconnected sections of the ruling class it should not be supposed that its members have necessarily been susceptible to the vulgar forms of venal corruption. That the rise and ever-expanding sway of the capitalist class have been accompanied by ceaseless fraud and bribery is overwhelmingly attested by the cumulative evidence. But no one can read the proofs herein presented without being impressed by the fact that the Supreme Court as a whole has been peculiarly free from venal corruption in an age when such corruption was common if not continuous. During the extended career of that Court, personal venality has not been the determining factor.
Instance after instance occurs where justices, at the end of long service on that Bench, have died virtually penniless, or possessed of the most scantily moderate degree of means. Yet many of those very justices were the same who by their decisions gave to capitalists vast resources, or powers translatable into immense wealth. The influences so consistently operating upon the minds and acts of the incumbents were not venal, but class, influences, and were all the more effective for the very reason that the justices in question were not open to pecuniarily dishonest practices. From training, association, interest and prejudice, all absorbed in the radius of permeating class environment, a fixed state of mind results. Upon conditions that the ruling class finds profitable to its aims, and advantageous to its power, are built codes of morality as well as of law, which codes are but reflections and agencies of those all-potent class interests.
In the case of men whose minds are already permanently molded to such purposes, and whose character and station forbid the use of illicit means, immeasurable subservience can be obtained which crude and vulgar money bribery would hopelessly fail to accomplish. Under these circumstances a great succession of privileges and powers are given gratuitously, and class corruption appears as honest conviction because of the absence of personal temptations and benefits on the part of the justices. In this deceptive and insidious guise supreme judicial acts go forth to claim the respect and submission of the working class against whom the decisions are applied.
Furthermore, in taking a large survey of historical events, the fact that nearly all of the men ascending to the Supreme Court of the United States had, as attorneys, served powerful individuals or corporations need occasion no undue comment. Understanding the development of modern society, and its evolutionary transitions, we can clearly perceive that certain men skilled in law had to do the indispensable legal work of capitalist interests, and whether this or that set of lawyers did it is immaterial historically. Able servitors of the ruling economic forces, it naturally followed that those forces, controlling Government, should select certain of those lawyers to go on the Supreme Court Bench ; and how completely, consistently and accurately the personnel of the Supreme Court has represented the dominant class section or sections of each era is abundantly shown by the mass of facts in these chapters.
In conclusion I desire to express to my friends Frederick Sumner Boyd and Anne Sumner Boyd my deep appreciation of their kind services in connection with the final revision of the manuscript for publication, and to all those who have in substantial ways encouraged the preparation of this work, and placed means at my disposal, I wish to acknowledge my sincere appreciation.
New York, January, 1912.