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Harlan Fiske Stone was born in Chesterfield, N. H., on October 11, 1872. His youth was spent in Amherst, Mass., where he attended the public schools. Perhaps in consequence of these early years, he has always seemed the embodiment of the traditional New England virtuesfrugal in habits, careful in his conduct and sturdy in his judgment. He entered Amherst College as a member of the class of 1894. His undergraduate record was enviable, both as a scholar and as a leader of his fellows, and he maintained throughout his life a lively interest in the College, serving as trustee for many years. Following his graduation he was for one year principal and science instructor of the Newburyport High School. In September, 1895, he entered Columbia Law School.
Columbia soon became one of the absorbing interests of his life. As a student there he maintained a high scholastic record, notwithstanding the necessity of earning his expenses by tutoring and by teaching history at Adelphi Academy. He had abiding love for teaching, which requires equally the learning of the scholar and the sympathy and understanding necessary to lead the student. He was delighted, therefore, about a year after receiving his LL. B. in 1898, to be appointed a part-time lecturer at Columbia Law School. During the next six years he taught a great variety of subjects and thus laid the foundation for that intimate familiarity with the law which was so richly to be reflected in the learning of his judicial opinions and the solidity of his judgments.
Concurrently with the satisfaction he achieved as a teacher, he was winning rapid recognition at the New York Bar. In 1903 he had become a partner in Wilmer, Canfield and Stone. Two years later he resigned from the Columbia faculty to devote his time exclusively to practice as a member of Satterlee, Canfield and Stone. He found many attractions in private practice. He enjoyed working out concrete legal problems by reducing complex matters to their simpler fundamentals. As a practicing lawyer his vast analytical talents and the wisdom of his counsel could be put to the immediate practical benefit of the client who asked his help.
Without relinquishing his work in the law firm, Harlan Stone returned to Columbia in 1910 to become Dean of the Law School. He continued active teaching throughout his thirteen years as Dean. His penetrating writings established him as a leading authority on the law of equity and trusts. In these fields he found his favorite paths, since here above all other branches the law showed its magnificent capacity for flexible adaptation to changing circumstances and to ends broader than the claims of particular litigants. The law of equity, in particular, showed with much clarity that the great role of judge is, as he later put it, to apply "all the resources of the creative mind to the perpetual problem of attuning the law to the world in which it is to function.”
Columbia Law School flourished under the wise guidance of Harlan Stone. He had firm ideas as to the importance of the legal profession and the high obligation of the law schools to their students and through them to society. He lent vigorous support to reforms in legal education, but was careful that these should not be made at the sacrifice of a thorough training in the basic groundwork of the law. He took a lively interest in his students, and won their life-long affection by his kindness, his unpretentiousness and his invariable willingness to lend a helping hand. His impartiality and common sense were combined with a self-assurance that encouraged others to draw upon his strength.
During the First World War Harlan Stone served as a member of a very active Board of Inquiry which disposed of the cases of drafted men who had refused on grounds of conscientious objection to perform military service. The problem of the conscientious objector was far less understood by the country in 1918 than it is today, and the difficult task called for the highest degree of patience, tolerance, and common sense. Shortly after the Board had completed its assignment, Harlan Stone summarized its work and gave account of his own views: "However rigorous the state may be in repressing the commission of acts which are regarded as injurious to the state, it may well stay its hand before it compels the commission of acts which violate the conscience." This was the same scrupulous regard for the rights of conscience which later moved him to write his dissenting opinion in the flagsalute case, perhaps the most dramatically successful dissent in the Court's history.
In 1923 he decided once again to devote his full time to private practice and resigned from Columbia to become a member of Sullivan and Cromwell. But he was not to remain there long. When changes became necessary in the Department of Justice, President Coolidge called upon Harlan Stone, whom he had known since their days at Amherst, to accept the appointment as Attorney General. His name was sent to the Senate on April 2, 1924. The remainder of his life was devoted wholly to the public service. At the Department of Justice he acquired at first-hand a knowledge and appreciation of the hazards and the skills involved in the successful management of a large government agency.
Harlan Stone had thus achieved singular eminence as a lawyer, as a teacher, and as a public servant when President Coolidge, on January 5, 1925, nominated him to the place on the Supreme Court left vacant by the retirement of Justice McKenna. The nomination nevertheless met some opposition in the Senate because of the fear of some, who did not know the man, that his representation of large financial interests during his law practice was evidence of bias and undue conservatism. Those who expressed those fears were glad, in later years, to admit their lack of foundation. Harlan Stone took his seat as an Associate Justice on March 2, 1925. He served on the courts of Taft and Hughes, and on the latter's retirement was nominated by President Roosevelt to be Chief Justice, taking the oath as Chief Justice on July 3, 1941. His vigorous, single-minded devotion to the work of the Court continued until the moment of his death.
The opinions of Justice Stone number nearly 600, and will be found from the 268th to the 328th United States. They cover the entire range of the Court's business and there is no part of it which has not been shaped by the solid craftsmanship of Harlan Stone. Many branches of the Supreme Court's work were already familiar to him, but many were new. His rapid mastery of patent, admiralty, and public land law, for example, is striking evidence of the adaptability of his learning and skill. Here, as in all of his work, one may see the impressive results of the combination of a forthright character and a powerful intellect. He was able to meet issues squarely because he understood them well.
The accidents of national and legal history served, however, to project into sharper focus the work of Justice Stone in the field of constitutional law. He was peculiarly suited by temperament and by training to discharge the delicate and awesome responsibilities of the judge who must measure an act of the legislature against the organic charter of the Nation. His talents and his wisdom were made available at a time in which they were to prove of especial benefit, for his span of service was to cover a period more critical in the history of the Court than any since the outbreak of the Civil War.
When Justice Stone came to the bench there had already developed within the Court a substantial divergency of views on constitutional issues of high importance to the Nation. Justice Stone brought to the Court an abiding faith in the power of reason and in the historic function of the judiciary. He was hopeful that the differences among his brethren might diminish through the process of deliberation and adjudication. During his first decade on the Court, however, as the constitutional issues pressed more heavily on the Court, he discovered that the differences were too deeply rooted for such adjustment. More and more often he found himself, in the company of Justices Holmes and Brandeis (and later Justice Cardozo), unable to accept the rigid interpretations and applications of the Constitution to which the majority of the Court adhered with staunch conviction.
Justice Stone took as his bench-mark the words of Chief Justice Marshall, and viewed the Constitution as a broad charter of government “intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.” Its provisions, he has said, were to be read "not with the narrow literalness of a municipal code or a penal statute, but so that its high purposes should illumine every sentence and phrase of the document and be given effect as a part of a harmonious framework of government." His opinions are the solid product of that basic philosophy. His approach to a constitutional issue was essentially pragmatic, with attentive regard to the lessons of experience, and he was wary of generalizations not anchored to the circumstances of particular cases. He was always mindful that judicial interpretations of the Constitution, since they are beyond the power of the legislature to correct, must in the first instance be confined to the case at hand, and, in the second, be open to reconsideration in the light of new experience and greater knowledge and wisdom.
With the shift in constitutional doctrine which occurred during the service of Chief Justice Hughes, Justice Stone had the satisfaction of seeing one after another of his dissenting opinions in constitutional cases become the law of the Court. This, in at least substantial part, was a tribute to his good judgment and sense of proportion and to the persuasiveness of his opinions. Interstate commerce, taxation, and the public regulation of business are among the many fields in which his careful develop