A Winter’s Tale Or, The Legal Mind In Formation

July 2017

As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes was the living embodiment of law and rectitude. But even he had at least one skeleton in his moral closet. It is revealed in two letters written to his parents during his junior year at Brown University, and reprinted from Merlo J. Pusey’s definitive biography.

Feb. 11, 1880

Dear Pa,

… I have bought a pair of skates. You wonder, & think of my promise. … Know therefore that when I told you I would never ask you for a pair, on account of my overcoat, I nevertheless intended to have a pair & earn them myself. A fellow hard up, offered me his skates (American Club, like my other pair, in fine condition, polished, sharpened, if new last year if cost $5.00, as you know) for $3.00.1 took them. You ash, where did you get the money? A Sophomore came to me one day, told me he had to have an essay in three days, & couldn’t spare the time to write it. He only wanted a fair one. I wrote it & received $1.00, which I laid away. He told another one, who is a fine scholar if for him I wrote a fine essay, got him an “ex.” & received $2.00, which added to my $1.00 gave me a pair of skates, all for about ten hours work as they had to do the copying .

I shouldn’t wonder if I had more such jobs. You see I read over some of the man’s essay if imitate his style just as nice as you please. Don’t mention this as it is strictly confidential between those fellows if myself. It don’t make any difference to me, but the fellows would be in a nice pickle if it got out. We have had skating for a week if I never enjoyed it so much in my life . …

Feb. 17th, 1880

Dear Ma ,

I received your kind letter the other day, & took great pleasure in reading it. For, besides the interest you naturally feel in me, I was much pleased that the way 1 earned my skates had been a subject of discussion among you. For, I supposed it would be a foregone conclusion. Now, I will give you a few reasons why I think my conduct proper, (1) The aim I had in view. Now you know, skating is a very healthy exercise & also pleasing. It is the very best means of quieting the brain & stimulating physical health. Now to buy a pair of skates without asking my father for money was a very laudable aim. (2) Earning money is also a fine thing for the young. (3) The advantages accruing to myself from much writing. (4) I don’t regard myself as placed in any predicament whatever. It is no worse to write an essay for a fellow than to help him out with his lesson. And no blame could attach itself to me in any case. Hack writing, or writing for money is a perfectly legitimate business. I am not supposed to know for what it is to be used. I wrote a certain paper, received so much for it & it is the responsibility of the man himself whether he uses it for himself. (5) Writing like everything else can be bought & sold. If I buy a pencil I have a right to use it as my own, & if a fellow buys an essay of me as merchandise, the only copy in the world, it passes out of my hand & he has a right to do as he wills with it .

Now I wouldn’t care if the whole faculty knew of it for with me it was only a business transaction & the other fellows must settle the moral point with themselves .