Tuesday, August 3, 2010

August 3, 1852 – Yale Wins Regatta versus Harvard

A decade after each had formed their boating club for crew, Yale issued a challenge to its rival Harvard for a race “to test the superiority of the oarsmen of the two colleges.” The Race (as it became known) was held on a warm day at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire with the various clubs of the teams putting forth several boats. Just before leaving New Haven, a group of Yale students decided that, though hardly sporting, they would reorganize their crews to put forth a strongest boat with the other members on another boat. The result was Yale's boat Shawmut winning by an impressive three lengths to Harvard's Oneida. General Franklin Pierce (soon to be President Pierce in 1853) awarded Yale the silver-inscribed oars used for the trophy.

While nothing of note seemingly came from the simple boating match (another would be held in 1855 with Yale winning again; and a third in 1859 with Harvard taking the lead), an air of craftiness and superiority would come over the Yale campus. Students took to heart a lesson of plotting.

This feeling would come to a head forty years later on the US Supreme Court while Melville Fuller (a Harvard man, graduating in 1853) was the Chief Justice. Three Yale men served as Associate Justices: Henry Billings Brown (Yale, 1856), David J. Brewer (Yale, 1856), and George Shiras, Jr. (Yale, 1853). While they supported votes with Fuller putting into effect the legality of the anti-trust Sherman Act, they decided that it was time the federal government took a step further.

It was over dinner at Shiras's Washington residence that they formulated their plan to take it upon themselves to clear up questions that might be solved in blood later in American history. For example, Brewer noted, if the question of slavery had been handled by the courts in the Dred Scott case in 1857, there would have been no need for a Civil War to sort out the social affairs of states. They had then only been starting their legal careers and still gloating over victory in The Race, but they knew they could have done something. Now they had the chance for real change.

In 1895, Brown convinced Shiras and Brewer to follow him in supporting the Income Tax Act of 1894 that had come under question in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Company, 157 U.S. 429. With a slight majority of 6-3, income tax became legal in the United States, and they felt that the working people would be kept better affirmed in power and not be in fear of taking a violent step toward revolution. They later supported limits on workers' hours as well as the Trust Busting of the Roosevelt and Taft administrations.

1896 held another key vote in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537. The case of a 1/8 black man attempting to ride a “whites only” car in Louisiana came under fire by protection from the 14th Amendment. Though they initially agreed that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to mandate laws on intrastate travel, the three began to suspect the idea of “equality” if races were truly kept separate. They joined with Justice Harlan dissenting (a former slave owner, he had many negative things to say of racism and, specifically, the evils of the Ku Klux Klan), but they knew the court would be split 5-4. By using the quote “Equal Justice Under Law” Fuller had used himself in Caldwell v. Texas, 137 U. S. 692 (1891), they managed to persuade the Chief Justice to side with them, thus stopping a trend toward “segregation” over the whole of the country, despite political fallout and several white uprisings. Working further with race relations, the Court would support the citizenship of the American-born Chinese man Wong Kim Ark in 1898.

While the South, Midwest, and large cities of the North went through a troubling decade of integration from 1900-10, the court also dealt with the growing territories of the United States, declaring citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1904 with Gonzalez vs. Williams (192 U.S. 1) and outlining the rights of the peoples among newly conquered islands in the famous Insular Cases. Justice became required in such places as the war-torn Philippines, which underwent a sort of Reconstruction modeled on that of the South after the Civil War and now stands as a model among Southeastern Asian countries after independence in 1946.

The distribution of wealth and power among the lower classes caused an upheaval for rights in the United States, many of which were granted to keep up American morale in World War I. The Post-War Boom lasted well into Hoover's second term, but eventual readjustment of the inflated markets caused the painful Crash of '33. With much of the country applauding First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's work to advance minorities in public-works programs, the Great Depression was considered over by the time war was declared in 1941. Peace in the form of the Cold War settled on America, when another Supreme Court decision named the draft unconstitutional in the exception of defense against an invading enemy. The Korean and Vietnam Wars would thus be handled by volunteers and an increasingly professional army, as displayed by the Years of Service awards given by President Johnson after the Armistice of 1969 in Saigon, South Vietnam.

In reality, Harvard won the Race. Brown, Brewer, and Shiras served as Justices but did not attempt to manipulate the law to achieve what may happen in the future. Rather, they served as fairly conservative upholders of a strict reading of the Constitution. Income Tax was struck down, anti-trust supported (except for production facilities located within a single state, which fell under state laws), Wong Kim Ark became a citizen from birth, and Plessy vs. Ferguson upheld Jim Crow laws, establishing legality for sixty years of racial suppression.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter