Fred M. Vinson


Frederick "Fred" Moore Vinson (January 22, 1890 – September 8, 1953) was an American attorney and politician who served as the 13th chief justice of the United States from 1946 until his death in 1953. Vinson was one of the few Americans to have served in all three branches of the U.S. government. Before becoming chief justice, Vinson served as a U.S. Representative from Kentucky from 1924 to 1928 and 1930 to 1938, as a federal appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1938 to 1943, and as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from 1945 to 1946.[1]

Fred M. Vinson
13th Chief Justice of the United States
In office
June 24, 1946 – September 8, 1953
Nominated byHarry S. Truman
Preceded byHarlan F. Stone
Succeeded byEarl Warren
53rd United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
July 23, 1945 – June 23, 1946
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Preceded byHenry Morgenthau Jr.
Succeeded byJohn Wesley Snyder
Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization
In office
May 28, 1943 – July 23, 1945
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byJames F. Byrnes
Succeeded byWilliam Hammatt Davis
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
In office
December 15, 1937 – May 28, 1943
Nominated byFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byCharles Henry Robb
Succeeded byWilbur Kingsbury Miller
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky
In office
January 24, 1924 – March 3, 1929
Preceded byWilliam J. Fields
Succeeded byElva R. Kendall
Constituency9th district
In office
March 4, 1931 – May 27, 1938
Preceded byElva R. Kendall
Succeeded byJoe B. Bates
Constituency9th district (1931–1933)
8th district (1933–1938)
Personal details
Frederick Moore Vinson

(1890-01-22)January 22, 1890
Louisa, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedSeptember 8, 1953(1953-09-08) (aged 63)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placePinehill Cemetery, Louisa, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Julia Dixon
(m. 1924)
EducationCentre College (BA, LLB)

Born in Louisa, Kentucky, Vinson pursued a legal career and served in the U.S. Army during World War I. After the war, he served as the Commonwealth's Attorney for the Thirty-Second Judicial District of Kentucky before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1924. He lost re-election in 1928 but regained his seat in 1930 and served in Congress until 1937. During his time in Congress, he became an adviser and confidante of Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Vinson to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit. Vinson resigned from the appellate court in 1943, when he became the Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization. After Truman acceded to the presidency following Roosevelt's death in 1945, Truman appointed Vinson to the position of Secretary of the Treasury. Vinson negotiated the payment of the Anglo-American loan and presided over the establishment of numerous post-war organizations, including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (commonly called the World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund.

After the death of Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone in 1946, Truman appointed Vinson to the Supreme Court. Vinson dissented in the case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, which ruled against the Truman administration's control of the nation's steel mills during a strike. He ordered a rehearing of the Briggs v. Elliott case, which was eventually combined into the case known as Brown v. Board of Education.

As of 2024, Vinson is the last chief justice to have been appointed by a Democratic president.

Early years edit

Birthplace in Louisa, Kentucky

Vinson, known universally as Fred, was born in the newly built, eight-room, red brick house in front of the Lawrence County jail in Louisa, Kentucky, where his father served as the Lawrence County Jailer.[1] As a child he would help his father in the jail and even made friends with prisoners who would remember his kindness when he later ran for public office. Vinson worked odd jobs while in school. He graduated from Kentucky Normal School in 1909 [2] and enrolled at Centre College, where he graduated at the top of his class with a Bachelor of Arts degree. While at Centre, he was a member of the Kentucky Alpha Delta chapter of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He received a Bachelor of Laws from the now defunct College of Law.[3] He entered private practice in Louisa.[4] He first ran for and was elected to office as the City Attorney of Louisa.[4][1]

Vinson joined the Army during World War I.[4] Following the war, he was elected as the Commonwealth's Attorney for the Thirty-Second Judicial District of Kentucky.[4] Vinson married Julia Roberta Dixon on January 24, 1924, in Ashland, Kentucky. They had two sons.[1]

United States Representative from Kentucky edit

In 1924, Vinson ran in a special election for his district's seat in Congress after William J. Fields resigned to become the Governor of Kentucky. Vinson was elected as a Democrat and then was reelected twice before losing in 1928. His loss was attributed to his refusal to dissociate his campaign from Alfred E. Smith's presidential campaign. However, Vinson came back to win re-election in 1930, and he served in Congress through 1937.[1]

While he was in Congress he befriended Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman, a friendship that would last throughout his life. He soon became a close advisor, confidant, card player, and dear friend to Truman. After Truman decided against running for another term as president in the early 1950s, he tried to convince a skeptical Vinson to seek the Democratic Party nomination, but Vinson turned down the President's offer.[5] After being equally unsuccessful in enlisting General Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Truman eventually landed on Governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson as his preferred successor in the 1952 presidential election.

In 1930, former congressman Vinson moved his law practice from Louisa, Kentucky thirty miles north to Ashland. With aspirations to return to Washington, D.C. as congressman, Vinson formed a circle of Ashland friends who could aid him politically and professionally. This group included his next door neighbor Paul G. Blazer.[6] Vinson returned to Washington, D.C. as congressman in 1931. Vinson would become a frontline supporter of President Roosevelt and his cabinet's New Deal revolution.[7]

United States Court of Appeals edit

Vinson taking the oath of office as judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 1938

Vinson was nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 26, 1937, to an Associate Justice seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (now the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) vacated by Associate Justice Charles Henry Robb.[4] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 9 of that year, and received his commission six days later.[4] He was designated by Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone to serve as Chief Judge of the Emergency Court of Appeals.[4] His service terminated on May 28, 1943, due to his resignation.[4]

Secretary of the Treasury edit

Vinson resigned from the bench to become Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization, an executive agency charged with fighting inflation.[citation needed] He also spent time as Federal Loan Administrator (March 6 to April 3, 1945) and director of War Mobilization and Reconversion (April 4 to July 22, 1945).[citation needed] He was appointed United States Secretary of the Treasury by President Truman and served from July 23, 1945, to June 23, 1946.[citation needed]

His mission as Secretary of the Treasury was to stabilize the American economy during the last months of the war and to adapt the United States financial position to the drastically changed circumstances of the postwar world.[citation needed] Before the war ended, Vinson directed the last of the great war-bond drives.[citation needed]

At the end of the war, he negotiated payment of the British Loan of 1946, the largest loan made by the United States to another country ($3.75 billion), and the lend-lease settlements of economic and military aid given to the allies during the war.[citation needed] In order to encourage private investment in postwar America, he promoted a tax cut in the Revenue Act of 1945.[citation needed] He also supervised the inauguration of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund, both created at the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, acting as the first chairman of their respective boards.[citation needed] In 1946, Vinson resigned from the Treasury to be appointed Chief Justice of the United States by Truman.[citation needed]

Chief Justice edit

Swearing in of Chief Justice Vinson on White house portico

Vinson was nominated by President Harry S. Truman on June 6, 1946, to become Chief Justice of the United States, following the death of Harlan F. Stone.[4] Vinson was recommended to Truman by former chief justice Charles Evans Hughes and former associate justice Owen Roberts. Both noted Vinson's experience in all three branches of the federal government, with Hughes telling Truman, "You have a Secretary of the Treasury who has been a Congressman, a Judge of the Court of Appeal, and an executive officer in President Roosevelt's and your cabinets".[8] He was confirmed by the United States Senate by a voice vote on June 20, 1946, received his commission on June 21,[4] and took the oath of office on June 24.[9] His appointment came at a time when the Supreme Court was deeply fractured, both intellectually and personally.[10] One faction was led by Justice Hugo Black, the other by Justice Felix Frankfurter.[10] Vinson was credited with patching this fracture,[according to whom?] at least on a personal level.[citation needed] He was the presiding officer of the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges (now the Judicial Conference of the United States) from 1946 to 1948, and presiding officer of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1948 to 1953.[4] In addition to his chief justiceship, Vinson served as circuit justice for the Fourth Circuit and the District of Columbia Circuit from June 26, 1946, until his death on September 8, 1953.[4]

Fred M. Vinson bust, U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. Sculptor Jimilu Mason.

In his time on the Supreme Court, he wrote 77 opinions for the court and 13 dissents. His most dramatic dissent was when the court voided President Truman's seizure of the steel industry during a strike in a June 3, 1952, decision, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.[citation needed] His final public appearance at the court was when he read the decision not to review the conviction and death sentence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.[citation needed] After Justice William O. Douglas granted a stay of execution to the Rosenbergs at the last moment, Chief Justice Vinson sent special flights out to bring vacationing justices back to Washington in order to ensure the execution of the Rosenbergs.[citation needed] During his tenure as Chief Justice, one of his law clerks was future Associate Justice Byron White.[citation needed]

The major issues his court dealt with included racial segregation, labor unions, communism and loyalty oaths.[citation needed] On racial segregation, he wrote that states practicing the separate but equal doctrine must provide facilities that were truly equal, in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents.[citation needed] The case of Briggs v. Elliott was before the Court at the time of his death.[citation needed] Vinson, not wanting a 5–4 decision, had ordered a second hearing of the case.[citation needed] He died before the case could be reheard, and his vote may have been pivotal.[11] Upon his death, Earl Warren was appointed to the Court and the case was heard again.[citation needed]

When Secretary of State Dean Acheson came under fire from congressional Republicans for being "soft on communism" at the end of 1950 Vinson was briefly mentioned as the possible replacement as Secretary of State, which would have required his resignation from the court.[12] This, however, did not come about.

As Chief Justice, Vinson swore in Truman (in 1949) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (in 1953) as President.

Death and legacy edit

Vinson died on September 8, 1953, of a heart attack at his Washington home. His body was interred in Pinehill Cemetery in Louisa, Kentucky.[13][14]

An extensive collection of Vinson's personal and judicial papers is archived at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where they are available for research.[citation needed]

A portrait of Vinson hangs in the hallway of the chapter house of the Kentucky Alpha-Delta chapter of Phi Delta Theta (ΦΔΘ) international fraternity, at Centre College.[citation needed] Vinson was a member of the chapter in his years at Centre.[citation needed] Affectionately known as "Dead Fred", the portrait is taken by fraternity members to Centre football and basketball games and other events.[citation needed]

The Fred M. Vinson Birthplace, in Louisa, Kentucky, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[citation needed]

See also edit

Notes edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e For biographical details see Hatcher (1967).
  2. ^ "Fred M. Vinson". Oyez. Archived from the original on 2017-02-11. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  3. ^ St. Clair, James E.; Gugin, Linda C. (2002). Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 13–14.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Frederick Moore Vinson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  5. ^ Alonzo L. Hamby (1973). Beyond the New Deal: Harry S.Truman and American Liberalism. Columbia University Press. pp. 481–482.
  6. ^ St. Clair & Gugin 2002, p. 48.
  7. ^ St. Clair & Gugin 2002, p. 66.
  8. ^ Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (1993), p. 330.
  9. ^ Video: Big Four Turns Down Austria on Tyrol, 1946/06/24 (1946). Universal Newsreel. 1946. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  10. ^ a b James E. St. Clair and Linda C. Gugin, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography Archived 2020-08-01 at the Wayback Machine, p. 169-171.
  11. ^ Vinson Archived 2015-09-02 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Democrats 'Hope' In Acheson Case", Spokane Chronicle (December 18, 1950), p. 2.
  13. ^ Christensen, George A. (1983). "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices". Supreme Court Historical Society 1983 Yearbook. Archived from the original on September 3, 2005.
  14. ^ Christensen, George A. (February 19, 2008). "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited". Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41. University of Alabama.

Further reading edit

  • Abraham, Henry J., Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court. 3d. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). ISBN 0-19-506557-3.
  • Cushman, Clare, The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies,1789-1995 (2nd ed.) (Supreme Court Historical Society), (Congressional Quarterly Books, 2001) ISBN 1-56802-126-7; ISBN 978-1-56802-126-3.
  • Frank, John P., The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions (Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel, editors) (Chelsea House Publishers: 1995) ISBN 0-7910-1377-4, ISBN 978-0-7910-1377-9.
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-505835-6; ISBN 978-0-19-505835-2.
  • HATCHER, JOHN HENRY. "FRED VINSON: CONGRESSMAN FROM KENTUCKY, A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY: 1890-1938" (PhD dissertation, University of Cincinnati ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1967. 6715964).
  • Martin, Fenton S. and Goehlert, Robert U., The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography, (Congressional Quarterly Books, 1990). ISBN 0-87187-554-3.
  • Pritchett, C. Herman, Civil Liberties and the Vinson Court. (The University of Chicago Press, 1969) ISBN 978-0-226-68443-7; ISBN 0-226-68443-1.
  • St. Clair, James E., and Gugin, Linda C., Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography (University Press of Kentucky: 2002) ISBN 0-8131-2247-3; ISBN 978-0-8131-2247-2.
  • Symposium, In Memoriam: Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, 49 Northwestern University Law Review 1–75, (1954).
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., Division and Discord: The Supreme Court under Stone and Vinson, 1941-1953 (University of South Carolina Press, 1997) ISBN 1-57003-120-7.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I., The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Garland Publishing 1994). 590 pp. ISBN 0-8153-1176-1; ISBN 978-0-8153-1176-8.

External links edit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Associate Justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Position established Chief Judge of the Emergency Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Justice of the United States
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Secretary of the Treasury
Succeeded by