Charles Evans Hughes, (1862-1948), Secretary of State and the only Brown man to run for President of the United States, was born in Glens Falls, New York on April 11, 1862, the son of Reverend David C. Hughes, a Baptist clergyman who was born in Wales. Young Charles was a precocious child, who found his kindergarten class too slow and presented his father with a “plan of study” written by himself, which included Herodotus, Homer, and Virgil. After that, his mother became his tutor. He entered Brown in 1878 after two years at Colgate. He became a member of Delta Upsilon and an editor of the Brunonian. He was usually short of money for personal expenditures during his college days, and once resorted to ghost-writing essays in order to buy a pair of skates. Proud of his enterprise, he wrote to his father, on February 11, 1880:
“I have bought a pair of skates. ... You ask, 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 & 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.”His parents were not so pleased with this enterprise as he had expected, and on February 17, the future Chief Justice was writing in his own defense:
“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 is 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. (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 ... he has a right to do as he wills with it.”Having lost his case, he gave in graciously on February 22:
“Although you may not see it, I know perfectly well, that my course is not reprehensible before the faculty or before justice. I could cite similar cases in past college history. But, if I have laid myself open to the slightest moral crimination, I am willing to repent and beg your forgiveness. You know the proverbial rashness of youth. You also know my fondness for skating. You know my desire of independence & my aptitude for easy writing. I hope that in view of these facts, you will consider my conduct, if not morally right, as excusable & pardonable. Well, I might as well say out & out that I will pull in my horns & you stand victor of the arena.”
After graduation in 1881, Hughes taught Greek, French, and mathematics at Delaware Academy in Delhi, New York, for two years while he studied law in his spare time. He graduated from Columbia Law School at the head of his class, and married the daughter of the senior partner of the law firm where he worked. Because of his health he took two years off from his practice to teach law at Cornell University. He attracted attention in 1905 as a special counsel investigating New York City gas and electric companies. He declined the Republican party nomination for mayor of New York City, but accepted the nomination for governor in 1907. In the election he was the only Republican elected, defeating William Randolph Hearst. Before his second term was completed, President Taft appointed him an associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1910. He resigned from the Court on June 10, 1916, when he was nominated as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. During the counting of votes Hughes actually went to bed thinking he had been elected, and awoke to find that California’s electoral votes had gone to Woodrow Wilson. His loss in California was attributed to his failure to meet with Governor Hiram Johnson during the campaign.
He returned to his law practice in New York. Appointed Secretary of State by President Warren G. Harding in 1921, he gained prominence for calling the first Arms Limitation Conference at Washington and for opposing recognition of the Soviet Union without payment of Czarist debts and rights of private property. He resigned as Secretary of State in 1925. From 1928 to 1930 he was a justice on the Permanent Court of International Justice. In 1930 he was appointed for the second time to the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover, as Chief Justice to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of William Howard Taft. As Chief Justice, the conservative Hughes often sided with Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. There were 5-4 decisions upholding the constitutionality of the Wagner Labor Act and barring the payment of obligations in gold. He supported Social Security legislation and the Tennessee Valley Authority. He disagreed with Roosevelt’s proposal to change the Court by adding new justices in equal number to those who did not retire at 70. During his tenure the National Industrial Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act invalidated. He left the Supreme Court in July 1941, and retired from social life after the death of his wife in 1945. He died on August 27, 1948 at the age of 86 at his daughter’s cottage in the Wianno Club in Osterville on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Always the loyal alumnus, Hughes returned to the campus to be the principal speaker at the 100th anniversary of Rhode Island Alpha of Phi Beta Kappa in 1930 and at the alumni meeting in 1937, at which he recalled the four Brown presidents he had known and heralded the beginning of Henry M. Wriston’s presidency with these much quoted prophetic words, “It is always Old Brown and it is always New Brown. I am here to greet the New Brown of this era, to hail the dawning of a new day full of the brightest promise.” Wriston issued a statement on the death of Hughes, who was the senior member of the Board of Fellows:
“The outside world knew Charles Evans Hughes as a great governor, a distinguished jurist and an accomplished diplomat, but Brown men knew him as a loyal, energetic and forward-looking alumnus, trustee and Fellow. His keenness of mind, gift of speech, and flawless memory made him an extraordinarily valuable member of the Corporation to which he gave devoted attention. He holds a unique position in the life and history of the university.”