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Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky

Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography

James E. St. Clair
Linda C. Gugin
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky
    Book Description:

    Fred M. Vinson, the thirteenth Chief Justice of the United States, started his political career as a small-town Kentucky lawyer and rose to positions of power in all three branches of federal government. Born in Louisa, Kentucky, Vinson earned undergraduate and law degrees from Centre College in Danville. He served 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he achieved acclaim as a tax and fiscal expert. President Roosevelt appointed him to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and later named him to key executive-branch positions. President Truman appointed him Secretary of the Treasury and then Chief Justice. The Vinson court was embroiled in critical issues affecting racial discrimination and individual rights during the cold war.Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biographyoffers a wealth of insight into one of the most significant and highly regarded political figures to emerge from Kentucky.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5886-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    In the almost fifty years since his death, the name Fred M. Vinson has all but disappeared from public awareness and consciousness. This work is intended to bring the life and times of a dedicated public servant back to the surface for examination and study by present and future generations of Americans. He was, above all, a true believer in government and public service. Vinson never doubted for a moment that the highest calling for an American was serving in government—federal, state, county, or municipal. For more than thirty years, he demonstrated that conviction, starting out as a part-time...

  5. CHAPTER 1 A Long Journey from “Jail”
    (pp. 1-19)

    In the fall of 1948, President Truman confronted gloomy prospects both at home and abroad. He was all but counted out in his race against Republican Thomas E. Dewey to retain the White House, and Cold War tensions had escalated because of the Soviet Union’s blockade of Berlin. Seizing on a suggestion by two young campaign aides, Truman decided the time was ripe for bold action on the international front, action that, if it was successful in easing the tension, might also reverberate to his advantage in the election. So on October 3 the president called his good friend Fred...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Capitol as His Oyster
    (pp. 20-46)

    “It’s right amusing to think about Vinson when we went to Washington,” recalled the wife of Vinson’s chief aide, Hubert Hutton, in an interview more than fifty years after she and her husband rode with Congressman-elect Fred M. Vinson and his wife, Roberta, aboard the Chesapeake and Ohio number two train from Louisa to the nation’s capital. “We were like four little lost ducks or something up there on the Hill. We went up to tour around, to see where the Capitol was,” Althea Hutton said. “I suppose Mr. Vinson thought it looked like an oyster and he would take...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Rapid Recovery and Rise
    (pp. 47-64)

    Fred Vinson had no intention of just fading away. He hated to lose, and his personal code of honor required that a defeat be avenged. Beyond pride, though, were other reasons. He had unfinished business, such as the passage of a bonus bill for veterans. Most important of all, he desired a return to Washington because he had found his calling in public service. He summarized his feelings about serving in government in extended remarks he placed in theCongressional Recordon his last day as a member of the Seventieth Congress, March 1, 1929: “Many people think that a...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Loyal Lieutenant
    (pp. 65-93)

    Opposing Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early, heady days of his administration, a time when most Americans saw him as the savior come to lift the country out of the despair of the Great Depression, bordered on sacrilege. “People are looking to you almost as they look to God,” one person wrote to the White House a few days after the president’s inauguration on March 4, 1933.¹ The weather on that Saturday—cold and gloomy—matched the country’s dire economic condition. Millions had lost their jobs, their homes, their savings, and their futures. In the new president, though, “tens of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Vinson’s Transition from Legislator to Jurist
    (pp. 94-124)

    When Fred Vinson was sworn in as associate justice of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia,¹ on May 12, 1938, at the age of forty-eight, it was a big transition for the Kentucky politician who had served twelve years in Congress and achieved great heights in legislative leadership. Vinson’s devotion to his legislative responsibilities was so strong that more than five months elapsed between his confirmation for the circuit court and his swearing in. The delay was the result of Vinson’s desire to steer the tax bill to passage in the House of Representatives. In...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Available Vinson
    (pp. 125-155)

    On New Year’s Day 1945, a Monday, Tennessee congressman Estes Kefauver wrote a short note to Fred M. Vinson, who at the time had been director of the Office of Economic Stabilization (OES) for a year and a half. “Today, I am in my office thinking of the past year and of the things and people we should be thankful for,” he began. “My thoughts turn to you and of the hard work, vision and unselfish service you have rendered our country. I just wanted to express my confidence in you and to wish you good health in the new...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Chief Justice and His Court
    (pp. 156-189)

    On June 24, 1946, as thousands watched, Fred M. Vinson was sworn in as the nation’s thirteenth chief justice. President Truman, who said he had “labored long and faithfully” in his duty of selecting a chief justice, declared that the only regret he had was “losing Vinson from the cabinet.” The president voiced confidence that respect for the Supreme Court would be “enhanced” by Vinson’s appointment. Despite the fact that Vinson was the thirteenth chief justice, Truman said his appointment was “lucky for the U.S. and lucky for Mr. Vinson.”¹ The next seven years, however, did not live up to...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Chief Justice, the President, and the Politics of Economic Stabilization
    (pp. 190-230)

    Fred Vinson, puffing on his pipe, leaned forward and spoke in confidential tones to Harry Truman. “What would the people of the United States of America think if they knew that the President and the Chief Justice were playing poker with five aces?” The two men were playing poker at Key West at the time, when they discovered that two decks of cards had inadvertently been mixed together. The American people might have been less concerned about the makeup of the card deck than the fact that the president and the chief justice maintained such intimate contact. Vinson’s occasional visits...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Individual Rights in the Cold War Climate
    (pp. 231-276)

    When Fred Vinson became chief justice in 1946, the Red Scare era in American politics had already begun to boil. Responding to the spreading fear in the land that Communists were hell-bent on world domination, Congress the previous year had made the previously temporary House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) into a standing committee. Armed with the power of subpoena and the enthusiastic cooperation of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, HUAC became a major power base for investigating and exposing subversive activities. Congressional Republicans blasted the Truman administration as being “soft on communism” and made this one of the major issues...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Dilemma of Due Process and the Promise of Equality
    (pp. 277-332)

    Two of Fred Vinson’s most notable traits as a justice, his commitment to judicial restraint and his adherence to precedent, exerted a strong influence on how he responded to the thorny constitutional issues about the requirements of due process and equal protection of the law. Although both issues had important ramifications for state governments, each one presented a different set of considerations. Vinson’s role on the Court, and in particular his leadership of the Court, varied in the two areas. In Court debates about due process questions, Vinson was not the pivotal player. The main battle was between the Court’s...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 333-340)

    Baseball Commissioner Fred M. Vinson? President Fred M. Vinson? At the midway point of the twentieth century, it seemed altogether possible that yet another position of power and prestige, even the highest office in the land, was in store for the folksy, bushy-browed man from eastern Kentucky. Fred M. Vinson had been, after all, a man for all seasons during the decade of the forties, frequently and effortlessly moving from one job of importance to the next with calm and confidence. If a vacuum on the national scene existed, the public had come to expect that it would be filled...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 341-368)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 369-380)
  18. Index
    (pp. 381-396)