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24 Law & Hist. Rev. 173 (2006)
Living without Labels

handle is hein.journals/lawhst24 and id is 189 raw text is: FORUM: COMMENT

Living without Labels
Charles Evans Hughes's career ran along the fault lines of most of the
major political events of his lifetime. Muckraking catapulted him to fame.
He governed New York during four key years of the Progressive era as an
effective administrator and earnest reformer. He stayed with the Republican
Party when the Progressives bolted in 1912. He ran for the presidency in
1916 but missed the prize, albeit by a narrower electoral college margin
than any other contender until the very end of the century. He was in-
strumental in negotiating the international naval disarmament accords of
1921-22, landmarks of progressive internationalism in their day that fell
under sharp criticism a decade later. He presided over the U.S. Supreme
Court during the key years of the New Deal, though in most histories of
the 1930s Court he comes across as something of an also-ran behind its
more memorable shapers: Brandeis, Cardozo, Sutherland, Black, even
Roberts. Hard to pin to any achievement or distinct idea, slipping in and
out of the dramatic movements of his day, he was the kind of man who
makes history but easily falls out of the history books.
James Henretta's insistence that Hughes be taken seriously is important,
therefore, not simply for Hughes's reputation but for the class of which he
was a type. For all his striking strengths of character-his extraordinary
capacity for hard work, his incorruptibility, and his gimlet mind-what
is most important about him as a man of law and public affairs is his
normality. From bar to bench to statehouse, his career, Henretta shows,
was from beginning to end one of maneuver. Moments of heroic action
cohered with moments of remarkable pliability. A man of deep rectitude,
he adjusted his aims by his calculation of votes, both as governor and as
chief justice. This is the way normal politics works, and the way in which
the law works as well.
To bring Hughes's career into focus, Henretta folds these maneuvers, the
Daniel T. Rodgers is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton
University <drodgers @princeton.edu>.

Law and History Review Spring 2006, Vol. 24, No. I
© 2006 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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