Edward Douglass White, U.S. Senator, 9th Chief Justice of the United States

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Edward Douglas White, Jr.

Birthplace: Lafourche, LA, United States
Death: May 19, 1921 (75)
DC, United States
Place of Burial: Washington D.C., DC, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward Douglass White, Sr., 10th Governor of Louisiana and Catherine Sidney Lee White
Husband of Virginia Montgomery White
Brother of Eliza Lee White and Susan Philomene White
Half brother of Andre Rinzole Brousseau

Managed by: Private User
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About Edward Douglass White, U.S. Senator, 9th Chief Justice of the United States


Edward Douglass White, Jr. (November 3, 1845 – May 19, 1921), American politician and jurist, was a United States senator, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the ninth Chief Justice of the United States. He was best known for formulating the Rule of Reason standard of antitrust law. He also sided with the Supreme Court majority in the 1896 decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the legality of segregation in the United States, though he did write for a unanimous court in Guinn v. United States (1915), which struck down many Southern states' grandfather clauses that disenfranchised blacks.

Early life and education

White was born on his parents' plantation near the town of Thibodeauxville (now Thibodaux) in Lafourche Parish in south Louisiana. He was the son of Edward Douglass White Sr., a former governor of Louisiana, and grandson of Dr. James White, a U.S. representative, physician, and judge. On his mother's side, he was the grandson of U.S. Marshal Tench Ringgold, and related to the Lee family of Virginia. The White family's large plantation cultivated sugar cane and refined it into a finished product.

White's paternal ancestors were of Irish descent, and he was a devout Roman Catholic his entire life. He studied first at the Jesuit College in New Orleans, then at Mount St. Mary’s College, near Emmitsburg, Maryland, and then attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. where he was a member of the Philodemic Society. He later studied law at the University of Louisiana, renamed Tulane University in 1884.

American Civil War service

White's studies at Georgetown were interrupted by the American Civil War. It has been suggested that he returned to Bayou Lafourche, where he supposedly enlisted as an infantryman in the Confederate States Army under General Richard Taylor and eventually attained the rank of lieutenant. This is questionable, 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 home in New Orleans. An apocryphal account states that White was almost captured by General Godfrey Weitzel's Union army when they invaded 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 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 W. N. R. Beall and accompanied him to Port Hudson. Port Hudson had a garrison of 18,000 Confederate soldiers, but a numerically superior Union force surrounded it. After a siege lasting from May 21 to July 8, 1863 (the longest siege in North American history), the Confederate forces unconditionally surrendered after learning of the fall of Vicksburg. White's presence at Port Hudson 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 with Admiral George Dewey (a Federal naval officer at Port Hudson), in both of which White mentioned his presence during the siege. However, 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 before exchange, this account is probably untrue.) When he was paroled, he supposedly returned to the family plantation, but it was abandoned, the canefields were barren, and most of the former slaves had left.

The only "hard" evidence of White's Confederate service consists of the account of his capture in March 1865 in an action in Morganza in Pointe Coupee Parish 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 Barrow's Company of a regiment of Louisiana cavalry, for all practical purposes a loosely-organized band of irregulars or guerrillas. One officer in this regiment, sometimes called 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. It is interesting to speculate that perhaps White accompanied Pruyn during that escape, which would explain White's absence from Port Hudson's prisoner rolls and later service in Pruyn's regiment.

White's Civil War service was 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 affirmation. White was one of three ex-Confederate soldiers to serve on the Supreme Court. The others were Associate Justices Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (II) and Horace Harmon Lurton. The Court's other ex-Confederate, Associate Justice Howell Edmunds Jackson, held a civil position under the Confederate government.

Political career

While living on the abandoned plantation, White began his legal studies. He then enrolled at the University of Louisiana, now named Tulane University, 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 briefly served in the Louisiana State Senate in 1874 and as an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1879 to 1880. He was politically affiliated with Governor Francis T. Nicholls, a former Confederate general.

He became famous in Louisiana for helping to abolish the Louisiana Lottery, a hotbed of corruption the fate of which was taken before the state's Supreme Court which ordered it discontinued in 1894.

The state's legislature appointed White to the United States Senate in 1891 to succeed James B. Eustis. He served until his resignation on March 12, 1894, when he was nominated by President Grover Cleveland (D) to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1896 he sided with the seven justices whose majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson approved segregation.

The White Court, 1910-1921

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. The media of the day widely expected Taft to name Republican Justice Charles Evans Hughes to the post. Second, White was the first Associate Justice to be appointed Chief Justice since John Rutledge in 1795. 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 is just what happened eleven years later.

White was generally seen as one of the more conservative members of the court. Besides being the originator of the “Rule of Reason," White also wrote the decision upholding the constitutionality of the Adamson Act, which mandated a maximum eight-hour work day for railroad employees, in 1916. 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." However, in practice the Southern states found other methods to disfranchise blacks which withstood Court scrutiny.

As Chief Justice, White swore in Presidents Woodrow Wilson (twice) and Warren G. Harding.

When he left the High Court, he was succeeded by William Howard Taft, making White the only Chief Justice to be followed by the President who appointed him.

Chief Justice White was one of thirteen Catholic justices – out of 111 total through the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor – in the history of the Supreme Court.

He married Leita Montgomery Kent, the widow of Linden Kent, on November 6, 1894, in New York City.

Death and legacy

White died in office and his remains were buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.. The Georgetown graveyard overlooks Rock Creek; also interred there are Associate Justice Noah Swayne and "almost-Justice" Edwin M. Stanton. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase was also buried there, but his body was transferred after 14 years to Cincinnati, Ohio's Spring Grove Cemetery.

White's statue is one of the two honoring Louisiana natives in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Another statue is in front of the Louisiana Supreme Court building in New Orleans. The second statue is a local landmark on the New Orleans scene. "Big Green Ed", as his likeness is often referred to, is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Visitors are often seen sitting at the base of his likeness, discussing issues of the day. Moreover, local custom holds that those who run around the statue in a counterclockwise direction will not be arrested that night.

Edward Douglas White Catholic High School in Thibodaux, Louisiana, bears his name (although dropped the extra "s" at the end of Douglass).

In his honor, the Edward Douglass White Lectures take place annually at the Louisiana State University Law Center. They have featured such distinguished speakers as Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist.

The play "Father Chief Justice: Edward Douglass White and the Constitution" by LSU Law Center professor Paul Baier was based on White's life.

In early January 2009 the State of Louisiana commissioned Rio Concho Restoration of Garland Texas to restore and preserve the memorial statue of Chief Justice Edward Douglass White, Jr., that resides on the front steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court Building at 400 Royal Street in the heart of the French Quarter of New Orleans. Photos of the statue's new look are at Rio Concho Restoration.

In 1995, White was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.

Edward Douglass White Council #2473 of the Knights of Columbus in Arlington VA is named in his honor.


WHITE, EDWARD DOUGLASS, (son of Edward Douglass White [1795-1847] and grandson of James White), a Senator from Louisiana; born near Thibodaux, Lafourche Parish, La., November 3, 1845; attended Mount St. Mary's College, near Emmitsburg, Md., the Jesuit College in New Orleans, La., and Georgetown College, Washington, D.C.; served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; studied law; admitted to the bar and commenced practice in New Orleans, La., in 1868; member, State senate 1874; associate justice of the supreme court of Louisiana 1879-1880; resumed the practice of law; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1891, until his resignation, effective March 12, 1894; chairman, Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expenses (Fifty-third Congress); appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States by President Grover Cleveland in 1894; appointed Chief Justice of the United States in 1910, and served until his death in Washington, D.C., May 19, 1921; interment in Oak Hill Cemetery.

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Edward Douglass White, U.S. Senator, 9th Chief Justice of the United States's Timeline

November 3, 1845
Lafourche, LA, United States
May 19, 1921
Age 75
DC, United States
Oak Hill Cemetery, 3001 R St NW, Washington D.C., DC, United States