Morrison R. Waite (November 29, 1816 – March 23, 1888)

Morrison Remick Waite, nicknamed "Mott" was the Chief Justice of the United States from 1874 to 1888.

In politics, he was first a Whig and later a Republican, and, in 1849–1850, he was a member of the Ohio Senate.

Morrison R. WaiteBefore the Civil War, Waite opposed slavery and the southern slave states withdrawal from the Union. In 1871, with William M. Evarts and Caleb Cushing, he represented the United States as counsel before the Alabama Tribunal at Geneva, and, in 1874, he presided over the Ohio constitutional convention. In the same year he was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to succeed Judge Salmon P. Chase as Chief Justice of the United States, and he held this position until his death at March 23, 1888 in Washington, D.C. President Grant had offered the Chief Justiceship to among other United States Senator Roscoe Conkling and Democrat Caleb Cushing before he settled on Waite who learned of his nomination by a telegram.

The nomination was not well-received. Former Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles remarked of the nomination that "It is a wonder that Grant did not pick up some old acquaintance, who was a stage driver or bartender, for the place," and the political journal The Nation said "Mr Waite stands in the front-rank of second-rank lawyers.

In the cases that grew out of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and especially in those that involved the interpretation of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, he sympathized with the general tendency of the court to restrict the further extension of the powers of the Federal government. In a particularly notable ruling in United States v. Cruikshank, the court struck down the Enforcement Act, ruling that "The very highest duty of the States, when they entered into the Union under the Constitution, was to protect all persons within their boundaries in the enjoyment of these 'unalienable rights with which they were endowed by their Creator.' Sovereignty, for this purpose, rests alone with the States. It is no more the duty or within the power of the United States to punish for a conspiracy to falsely imprison or murder within a State, than it would be to punish for false imprisonment or murder itself." He concluded that "We may suspect that race was the cause of the hostility but is it not so averred" . His belief was that white moderates should set the rules of racial relations in the South, which reflected the majority of the Court and the people of the United States, who were tired of the bitter racial strife involved with the affairs of Reconstruction. This belief backfired when arch-segregationists in the South regained power and legislated the infamous Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised African-Americans in the South. These laws lasted well into the 20th century.¹

Morrison R. Waite Quotes

"The very highest duty of the States, when they entered into the Union under the Constitution, was to protect all persons within their boundaries in the enjoyment of these 'unalienable rights with which they were endowed by their Creator.' Sovereignty, for this purpose, rests alone with the States. It is no more the duty or within the power of the United States to punish for a conspiracy to falsely imprison or murder within a State, than it would be to punish for false imprisonment or murder itself."
"The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."

"For protection against abusers by legislatures, the people must resort to the polls, not to the courts."

"He did not confine the constitution within the limits of his own experience... The disciplined and disinterested lawyer in him transcended the bounds of the environment within which he moved and the views of the client whom he served at the bar." ~ Felix Frankfurter on Morrison R. Waites

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