Edward Douglass White

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Chief Justice Edward Douglass White took the office in 1910.

Edward Douglass White (November 3, 1845May 19, 1921), American politician and jurist, was a United States Senator, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the ninth Chief Justice of the United States. He was best known for formulating the rule of reason standard of anti-trust law.

The son of Edward Douglass White, a former Governor of Louisiana, White was born in a mansion in Lafourche Parish, La. on November 3, 1845. The White family owned a large plantation that produced sugar there. The plantation grew sugar cane and refined it into a finished product.

He studied at Mount St. Mary’s College, near Emmitsburg, Md. and the Jesuit College in New Orleans before attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C..

His studies at Georgetown were interrupted by the Civil War. White returned home to Bayou La Fourche, where he enlisted as an infantryman in the army of the Confederate States of America under General Tyler, and eventually made the rank of lieutenant. He was almost captured by General Godfrey Weitzel's army when they attacked Bayou La Fourche, but he evaded capture by hiding beneath hay in a barn. Later he was assigned as an aide to General W. N. R. Begle and accompanied him to Port Hudson.

Port Hudson had a garrison of 18,000 Confederate soldiers, but superior Union forces surrounded it. After a siege lasting weeks, the Confederate forces unconditionally surrendered. White was sent to a Mississippi prison camp. When he was paroled, he returned to the family plantation, but it lay in ruins, the canefields were barren, most of the servants had left.

While living on the abandoned plantation, White began his legal studies. He was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in New Orleans in 1868. He briefly served in the Louisiana State Senate in 1874 and as an Associate Justice in the Supreme Court of Louisiana from 1879 to 1880.

He became famous in Louisiana for abolishing the Louisiana Lottery, a hotbed of corruption that was taken before the state's Supreme Court and ordered discontinued in 1894.

The state's legislature appointed him to the United States Senate in 1891 to succeed J. B. Eustis. He served until his resignation on March 12, 1894, when he was nominated by President Grover Cleveland to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1910, he was elevated by President William Howard Taft to the position of Chief Justice of the United States upon the death of Melville Fuller. At the time, it was a controversial appointment for two reasons. First, White was a Democrat while Taft was a Republican. Second, White was the first Associate Justice to ever be appointed Chief Justice. Some historians believe that President Taft appointed White, who was 65 years old at the time and overweight, in the hope that White would not serve all that long and that Taft himself might someday be appointed - which, in fact, is just what happened 11 years later.

White was generally seen as one of the more conservative members of the court. He was the author of the “rule of reason” decisions in the 1911 Standard Oil Company and American Tobacco Company antitrust cases. White also wrote the decision upholding the constitutionality of the Adamson Act, which had mandated a maximum eight-hour work day for railroad employees, in 1916.

He married Eleanor Kent, the widow of Linden Kent, on November 6, 1894 in New York City. White died in office on May 19, 1921, and was buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

External Links


  • "Chief Justice White is dead at age 75 after an operation." New York Times, May 19, 1921.

Preceded by:
Samuel Blatchford
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
March 12, 1894December 18, 1910
Succeeded by:
Willis Van Devanter
Preceded by:
Melville Fuller
Chief Justice of the United States
December 19, 1910May 19, 1921
Succeeded by:
William Howard Taft

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