Melville Fuller

Melville Fuller
Melville Fuller
8th Chief Justice of the United States
In office
July 20, 1888[1] – July 4, 1910
Nominated by Grover Cleveland
Preceded by Morrison Waite
Succeeded by Edward Douglass White
Personal details
Born February 11, 1833(1833-02-11)
Augusta, Maine
Died July 4, 1910(1910-07-04) (aged 77)
Sorrento, Maine
Spouse(s) Calista Reynolds (1858); Mary Coolbaugh (1866)
Alma mater Bowdoin College
Religion Episcopalian

Melville Weston Fuller (February 11, 1833 – July 4, 1910) was the eighth Chief Justice of the United States between 1888 and 1910.


Early life and education

Fuller was born in Augusta, Maine. Both his maternal grandfather, Nathan Weston and paternal grandfather, Henry Weld Fuller were judges. His father was a well-known lawyer. His parents divorced shortly after his birth, and he was raised by Nathan Weston. He attended college at Harvard University for one year before graduating from Bowdoin College, Phi Beta Kappa[2] in 1853. He then spent six months at Harvard Law School, leaving without graduating in 1855.

Law practice

Fuller first studied law under the direction of an uncle, in Bangor, Maine. In 1855, he went into partnership with another uncle. He also became the editor of The Age, a leading Democratic newspaper in Augusta, Maine. Soon he got tired of Maine and moved to Chicago. In 1860, he managed Democrat Stephen Douglas' campaign for the Presidency of the United States

At the time, Chicago was becoming the gateway to the West. Railroads had just linked it to the east. Fuller built a law practice in Chicago. Within two years, he appeared before the Supreme Court of Illinois in the case of Beach v. Derby. He became a leading attorney in the city. He first appeared before the United States Supreme Court in the case of Traders' Bank v. Campbell. He also argued the case of Tappan v. the Merchants' National Bank of Chicago, which was the first case heard by Chief Justice Morrison Waite, whom he would later replace.

Political career

He was a minor figure in Illinois politics. He spent one term in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1863 to 1865, and was a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1862, and to the national Democratic Conventions of 1864, 1872, 1876, and 1880. In 1876, he made the nominating speech for Thomas Hendricks, for the Democratic electoral vote for President. After his inauguration as President, Grover Cleveland tried to make Fuller chairman of the Civil Service Commission, but he declined. President Grover Cleveland tried to persuade Fuller to be Solicitor General of the United States, but Fuller turned down the second offer for a government job. In 1886, Fuller was president of the Illinois State Bar Association.

Chief Justice

On April 30, 1888, President Grover Cleveland nominated him for the Chief Justice position when Morrison Waite died in 1888. Fuller was not the first man to be mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee; the former ambassador to Great Britain, Edward J. Phelps, was perceived as the front-runner for the nomination. Fuller's nomination was tepidly received in the Senate. He had avoided military service during the Civil War, and while serving in the Illinois House of Representatives had attempted to block wartime legislation proposed by Governor Richard Yates. Republicans thus launched a smear campaign against Fuller, portraying him as a Copperhead — an anti-war Democrat — and publishing a tract claiming that "The records of the Illinois legislature of 1863 are black with Mr. Fuller's unworthy and unpatriotic conduct."[3] However, he was eventually confirmed by the United States Senate on July 20, 1888, by a vote of 41 to 20, with nine Republicans voting with the Democrats to confirm him. He received his commission the same day.

Chief Justice Fuller administering the oath to William McKinley as president in 1897. Outgoing president Grover Cleveland stands to the right.

On the bench, he oversaw a number of memorable or important opinions. The famous phrase "Equal Justice Under Law" apparently paraphrases his opinion in Caldwell v. Texas, 137 U.S. 692 (1891) where Fuller discussed "equal and impartial justice under the law."[4] The equally famous (and much criticized) phrase "separate but equal," justifying segregation in the South, was made famous by the Fuller Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

The Court under Fuller declared the income tax law unconstitutional in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429.[5] In Western Union Telegraph Company v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 128 U.S. 39[6] the Court ruled that states could not tax interstate telegraph messages. The Court through his opinion struck a blow against government antitrust legislation with the 1895 case United States v. E. C. Knight Co..[7] In Fuller's majority decision, the court found that the refining of sugar by a company within the boundaries of one state could not be held to be in restraint of interstate commerce under the terms of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, regardless of the product's final market share. (E.C. Knight Company's owner, the American Sugar Refining Company, controlled more than 90% of sugar production at the time). In his opinion the court sided with the 7-man majority, Justice David J. Brewer did not participate, ruling in favor of "separate but equal" segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson.

On immigration, Fuller, speaking for the court, ruled in US Supreme Court case "Gonzalez vs. Williams" (192 U.S. 1, 1904), that under the immigration laws Puerto Ricans were not aliens, and therefore could not be denied entry into the United States. The Court however declined to declare that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. The question of the citizenship status of the inhabitants of the new island territories, their situation remained confusing, ambiguous, and contested. Puerto Ricans came to be known as something in between: "noncitizen nationals".[8] In this famous immigration case, Isabel Gonzalez arrived from Puerto Rico at Ellis Island in August 1902. Immigration Commissioner William Williams held her as an "illegal" with plans to deport Gonzalez back to San Juan, Puerto Rico. She appealed her case, whereby the Court ruled in favor of Gonzalez and allowed her to remain in the US. Fuller's opinion did not go so far as to claim that she was automatically a US citizen, however, he recognized that Puerto Rico was a territory of the US (as of the 1898 Spanish American War), and therefore Isabel had the right to remain in the US. This paved the way for future Puerto Ricans to freely immigrate to the US. Later, in 1917 the Jones Act was passed by Congress which provided for even more immigration/citizenship rights to Puerto Ricans.

Role Outside the Court

In 1893, he turned down an offer from President-Elect Grover Cleveland to serve as Secretary of State; it was the third time he turned down a government job offer from Cleveland.

He also served on the Arbitration Commission in Paris in 1899 to resolve a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela.


He was said to closely resemble Mark Twain. Once, when the humorist was stopped on the street, a passerby demanded the Chief Justice's autograph. Twain supposedly wrote:

It is delicious to be full, but it is heavenly to be Fuller. I am cordially yours, Melville W. Fuller.

He was married twice. He married Calista Reynolds in 1858; she died in 1864. He married Mary Coolbaugh in 1866. He had six daughters.


He died in Sorrento, Maine, and his remains are interred at Graceland Cemetery.[9][10][11]

According to one study, while on the Supreme Court, Fuller voted in favor of civil rights for African Americans in 15.15% (5 of 33) of the cases before him and voted in favor of civil rights for Asian Americans in 24.14% (7 of 29) of cases before him. Both percentages were below the average for the Supreme Court as a whole.[12]

As Chief Justice, he administered the oath of office to five Presidents (Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft)

See also


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: Melville Fuller". 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  2. ^ Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  3. ^ Rehnquist, William H. Centennial Crisis: The Disputed Election of 1876. Vintage Publications, 2004. p. 226.
  4. ^ Caldwell v. Texas, 137 U. S. 692 (1891) -- US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez at
  5. ^ Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 157 U. S. 429 (1895) -- US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez at
  6. ^ Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Pennsylvania, 128 U. S. 39 (1888) -- US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez at
  7. ^ United States v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U. S. 1 (1895) -- US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez at
  8. ^ Gonzales v. Williams, 192 U. S. 1 (1904) -- US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez at
  9. ^ Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Melville Fuller memorial at Find a Grave.
  11. ^ See also, Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.
  12. ^ The First Justice Harlan by the Numbers: Just How Great was "The Great Dissenter?" 32 Akron L. Rev. 629 (1999)

Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3. 
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1568021267. 
  • Ely, James W. (1995). The Chief Justiceship of Melville W. Fuller, 1888-1910. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1570030189. 
  • Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L.. eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0791013774. 
  • Furer, Howard B., ed (1986). The Fuller Court, 1888-1910. (The Supreme Court in American Life Series). New York: Associated Faculty Press, Inc.. ISBN 0867330600; ISBN 9780867330601. .
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195058356. 
  • King, Willard L. (1950). Melville Weston Fuller: Chief Justice of the United States 1888-1910. New York: The Macmillan Company. 
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0871875543. 
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. pp. 590. ISBN 0815311761. 

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Morrison Waite
Chief Justice of the United States
Succeeded by
Edward Douglass White

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  • Melville W. Fuller — Melville Weston Fuller Melville Weston Fuller (* 11. Februar 1833 in Augusta, Maine; † 4. Juli 1910) war ein US amerikanischer Jurist und Oberster Bundesrichter der USA von 1888 bis 1910. Der in Augusta, Maine, geborene F …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Fuller (surname) — Fuller is a surname referring to someone who treats cloth or leather with the process called Fulling (synonymous with Tanner) and may refer to:*Alexandra Fuller, British writer *Alfred Fuller (1885 1973), Canadian businessman *Alvan T. Fuller… …   Wikipedia

  • Melville (surname) — For other uses, see Melville (disambiguation). See also: Melville family Melville is a surname and a given name. The surname has two different origins: Scottish and Irish. The given name originates from England and Scotland. Contents 1 …   Wikipedia

  • Fuller, R(ichard) Buckminster — born July 12, 1895, Milton, Mass., U.S. died July 1, 1983, Los Angeles, Calif. U.S. inventor, futurist, architect, and author. The grandnephew of Melville Fuller, he was expelled twice from Harvard University and never completed his college… …   Universalium

  • Fuller, R(ichard) Buckminster — (12 jul. 1895, Milton, Mass., EE.UU.–1 jul. 1983, Los Ángeles, Cal.). Inventor, futurista, arquitecto y autor estadounidense. Sobrino nieto de Melville Fuller, fue expulsado en dos ocasiones de la Universidad de Harvard y nunca completó su… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Fuller — ist ein berufsbezogener englischer Familienname, der sich auf das Walken von Wolle bezieht.[1] Inhaltsverzeichnis A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Fuller — [fool′ər] 1. (Richard) Buckminster [buk′min stər] 1895 1983; U.S. engineer, inventor, & philosopher 2. (Sarah) Margaret ( Marchioness Ossoli) 1810 50; U.S. writer, critic, & social reformer 3. Melville Weston [wes′tən] 1833 1910; U.S. jurist:… …   English World dictionary

  • Fuller, Melville Weston — ▪ chief justice of United States born Feb. 11, 1833, Augusta, Maine, U.S. died July 4, 1910, Sorrento, Maine  eighth chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1888–1910), whose amiability, impartiality, and rare administrative… …   Universalium

  • Fuller — /fool euhr/, n. 1. George, 1822 84, U.S. painter. 2. Henry B(lake), ( Stanton Page ), 1857 1929, U.S. novelist, poet, and critic. 3. Melville Weston /wes teuhn/, 1833 1910, Chief Justice of the U.S. 1888 1910. 4. R(ichard) Buckminster, 1895 1983 …   Universalium

  • Melville W. Fuller — noun United States jurist and chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1833 1910) • Syn: ↑Fuller, ↑Melville Weston Fuller • Instance Hypernyms: ↑chief justice …   Useful english dictionary

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