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The Chief Justiceship of Melville W. Fuller, 1888-1910

James W. Ely, Jr.

Publication Year: 2012

In the first book in a generation to offer a fresh interpretation of the Supreme Court during the pivotal tenure of Melville W. Fuller, James Ely provides a judicial biography of the man who led the court from 1888 until 1910 as well as a comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the jurisprudence dispensed under his leadership. Highlighting Fuller's skills as a judicial administrator, Ely argues that a commitment to economic liberty, security of private property, limited government, and states' rights guided Fuller and his colleagues in their treatment of constitutional issues. Ely directly challenges the conventional idea that the Fuller Court adopted laissez-faire principles in order to serve the needs of business. Rather, Ely presents the Supreme Court's efforts to safeguard economic rights not as a single-minded devotion to corporate interests but as a fulfillment of the property-conscious values that shaped the constitution-making process in 1787.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Chief Justiceships of the United States Supreme Court


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p. 1-1

The Chief Justiceship of Melville W. Fuller

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p. 2-2

Chief Justiceships of The United States Supreme Court

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p. 3-3


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p. 5-5


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pp. 6-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Editor's Preface

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pp. ix-x

This series will provide readers with a convenient scholarly introduction to the work and achievements of the Supreme Court of the United States. Separate volumes will examine one or more chief justiceships, illuminating the Court's contribution to constitutional law, international law, and private law during that time period. ...

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pp. xi-xii

All commentators agree that the Supreme Court began to play an increasingly important role in the determination of public policy during the late nineteenth century. But historians have engaged in a fierce debate over the nature and extent of this judicial involvement. ...

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pp. 1-3

The historical reputation of jurists is apt to ebb and flow as succeeding generations see the past with different eyes.1 But Melville W. Fuller, despite being the subject of a sympathetic biography,2 has never found a place in the pantheon of judicial giants. ...

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1. A Gentleman and a Scholar

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pp. 4-24

Augusta, the capital of Maine, was a small frontier community in the 1830s. Into this rustic environment Melville Weston Fuller, the second son of Frederick Augustus Fuller and his wife, Catherine Martin Weston, was born on February 11, 1833. Family tradition pointed Fuller on the path to a legal career. ...

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2. Never a Better Administrator

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pp. 25-56

When Fuller took his seat in October 1888, his initial task was to exert leadership over his colleagues. This was a daunting assignment for a new chief justice who had only limited experience in public life. Although Fuller had appeared as counsel before the Supreme Court on a number of occasions, he was hardly a known quantity to the associate justices. ...

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3. Conservative Jurisprudence in the Age of Enterprise

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pp. 57-82

When Fuller became chief justice in 1888 the United States was experiencing sweeping social and economic change. This transformation generated a variety of novel and vexing issues that eventually found their way to the Supreme Court. ...

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4. Safeguarding Entrepreneurial Liberty

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pp. 83-126

Building upon earlier constitutional developments and fashioning innovative doctrines, the Fuller Court markedly intensified the constitutional protection of economic interests. The justices heard a steady stream of cases challenging the constitutionality of state and federal economic regulations and taxes. ...

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5. Defending the National Market

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pp. 127-149

Fuller's tenure marked a watershed in the development of affirmative congressional power under the commerce clause. Prior to his chief justiceship, the Supreme Court was called upon primarily to decide whether state laws usurped congressional authority with respect to interstate commerce. ...

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6. Civil Liberties, Equal Rights, and Criminal Justice

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pp. 150-171

Although the Fuller Court was willing to give heightened protection to the rights of property owners and the operation of the national market, the justices were generally unconcerned with guarding other asserted rights from government regulation. Hence the Supreme Court during Fuller's tenure displayed little sympathy for the claims of racial minorities, ...

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7. Issues of Government

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pp. 172-190

During the late nineteenth century the needs of a changing and more complex society posed novel challenges to established modes of governance. As the federal government gradually expanded in size and function, the Supreme Court was called upon to adjudicate the constitutional boundaries of the political branches and police the separation of powers. ...

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8. Private Litigation

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pp. 191-211

Although constitutional and public law litigation occupied an increasingly large share of the Supreme Court's time during Fuller's tenure, the justices continued to hear a heavy volume of private disputes concerning property, contracts, and torts. The bulk of this litigation arose under diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. ...

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9. Betting on the Future

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pp. 212-218

Fuller began to experience ill health during the 1909-10 term of the Supreme Court and became visibly more feeble. He died at his summer home in Sorrento, Maine, on July 4, 1910, at the age of seventy-seven and was buried in Chicago. He had served as chief justice for twenty-two years, ...

Appendix: Members of the Supreme Court During Fuller's Chief Justiceship, 1888–1910

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pp. 219-244

Appendix: Dates of Service on the Fuller Court

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pp. 220-245


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pp. 221-233

Table of Cases

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pp. 234-239


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pp. 240-248

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171716
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611171280

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Chief Justiceships of the United States Supreme Court