“Constructions of the Constitution…”

December 29, 1906

William A. Rogers

“Constructions of the Constitution…”

Presidential Administration, Theodore Roosevelt; U.S. Constitution; U.S. Supreme Court;

Moody, William H.; Roosevelt, Theodore; Taft, William Howard;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

"Constructions of the Constitution will be found to vest the power where it will be exercised--in the national government"--Secretary Root's Speech

Harper’s Weekly was concerned about the centralization of governmental power during the administration of Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), and in December 1906 criticized an address in which Secretary of State Elihu Root called for federal intervention in situations where the states failed to act.  Root’s speech, which the newspaper assumed was actually written by President Roosevelt, is excerpted in the caption of the featured cartoon.  The cartoon warns that William Moody, whom the president had recently named to the U.S. Supreme Court, will be a judicial tool by which Roosevelt can expand federal powers at the expense of state control through new “constructions of the Constitution.”  On the right, Secretary of War William Howard Taft sits studying the “Simplified Constitution” while waiting his turn for the next appointment to the Supreme Court (he had already declined the offer, but would later serve as chief justice, 1921-1930).  The same issue of Harper’s Weekly carries another cartoon by Rogers in which the grinning president is whitewashing out the names of individual states on an American flag, while Root delivers his oration to a shocked audience including Uncle Sam clutching the Constitution.  Beside Moody, President Roosevelt also appointed Oliver Wendell Holmes (1902) and William Day (1903) to the U.S. Supreme Court.

William Henry Moody was born on December 23, 1853, in Newbury, Massachusetts, the son of farmers.  He graduated from Phillips Andover Academy in 1872 and Harvard in 1876, leaving Harvard Law School after four months to read law under Richard Henry Dana.  After admission to the state bar in 1878, Moody practiced law in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where he was elected city solicitor (1888-1889).  In 1890, he was named the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Massachusetts, and three years later helped prosecute Lizzie Borden, who was accused of murdering her father and step-mother with an axe.  Although Borden was acquitted, Moody gained recognition for his courtroom skills.  In 1895, he was elected as a Republican to fill a vacant seat in Congress, and subsequently elected three more times.  He impressed his congressional colleagues with his command of legislative details and debating skills, and served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

In May 1902, President Roosevelt appointed Moody, whom he had befriended in 1895, as secretary of the navy.  Moody served in that capacity for two years, working to expand and improve the U.S. naval fleet, and reform the navy’s organization.  In June 1904, the president named him as the U.S. Attorney General.  In his new position, Moody became a key advisor to the president and played a leading role in the prosecution of the administration’s antitrust lawsuits, successfully arguing Swift and Company v. United States (1905) before the U.S. Supreme Court.  He agreed with Roosevelt’s distinction between “good” and “bad” trusts.  The Justice Department under Moody negotiated agreements with large business corporations that it deemed were working in the public interest, such as International Harvester and U.S. Steel, but prosecuted Standard Oil because its economic power and business activities were considered contrary to the public interest.  As attorney general, Moody took a case concerning peonage of blacks to the Supreme Court, and ordered contempt proceedings against a sheriff who allowed a black rape suspect to be lynched.

When Justice Henry Brown resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1906, President Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to convince Taft to take the position and then considered appointing a Southern Democrat.  Finally, on December 12, 1906, the president announced the selection of Moody, emphasizing the attorney general’s nationalist philosophy by describing him as a follower of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, not states’ rights advocates Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun.  The Senate approved the nomination on December 17.  During Moody’s brief tenure on the Supreme Court, he wrote 67 opinions, including 5 dissents.  His most famous dissent came in the Employers’ Liability Cases (1908) in which his minority opinion upheld the constitutionality of a congressional statute protecting employees involved in interstate commerce.  The constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, he argued, included the authority to legislate labor-management relations.  Despite his general support of enhanced federal powers, Moody’s most important majority opinion (later overturned) ruled that the federal constitutional provision in the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination did not apply in state courts (Twining v. State of New Jersey, 1908).

Moody’s judicial career was cut short when he developed debilitating rheumatism in early 1909 and was increasingly forced to neglect his judicial responsibilities.  In 1910, Congress passed legislation that permitted Moody to qualify for federal retirement benefits, and he retired from the Supreme Court.  A saddened President Roosevelt remarked, “there is not a public servant, at this particular time, that the public could so ill afford to lose.”  Eventually incapable of moving his arms and legs, Moody lived seven more years with the painful disease, cared for by his sister until his death on July 2, 1917.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Constructions of the Constitution…”
July 14, 2024

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