Charles E. Hughes—A Worker

SUN MAGAZINE November 1 1906

Charles E. Hughes—A Worker

SUN MAGAZINE November 1 1906

Charles E. Hughes—A Worker


The lime-light has been thrown on both Hearst and Hughes but for some reason Hearst has ttracted most attention. Possibly his connection with journalism and his sensational methods account for this In a previous number of this magazine appeard a sketch of Hearst. We now give an account of his opponent.

CHARLES E. HUGHES was born at Glens Falls, N.Y., on April 11, 1862, the son of a Baptist minister, David Charles Hughes. His grandfather on his father’s side was identified with the founding of the American Bible Society in London, and an uncle, Richard Hughes, was a popular preacher in North Wales. The nominee’s father was born in Wales and came to this country m 1855.

Mr. Hughes’ mother was Mary Catherine Connolly. She lived in Ulster County and was a school teacher before she was married. Her forte was mathematics. She is living now at the age of 76 years at the home of her son in West End avenue and while the insurance* inquiry was on it used to delight her to remind the distinguished counsel for the committee that she had first drilled him in his three R’s and was, therefore, no small factor in all the trouble that was being made by him for some of the highly respectable life insurance actuaries and other dabblers with figures. On his mother’s side Mr. Hughes is of Scotch-Irish-English descent.

Soon after Mr. Hughes was born his father and mother moved from Glens Falls to Sandy Hill, a rural and restful place in the same county. Two years later the family moved to Oswego, where Charles Evans, at the age of 6 years, entered the public school.

He hadn’t been there but a few months when he surprised his father one day by announcing that he considered a large part of the time in the public school wasted. There was too much line drawing and other blackboard work to suit him. He had prepared his case thoroughly, so when his father began to argue with him he produced the evidence, which consisted of a schedule he had drawn up showing how he could carry on his studies at home under the tutelage of his parents and not only save time but make greater progress.

Mr. Hughes has told his friends who have asked him about that story that he doesn’t remember abything about the incident and that it doesn’t sound very probable. He was no prodigy when a boy, and if he made any suggestions for saving time back in those days he probably had about

the same reasons for doing it that the average schoolboy would have.

At any rate he was taken out of school and remained under the tutelage of his father and mother until he was 10 years old. The family had in the meantime moved to Newark, N.J., and there he entered a public school, being graduated in 1873.

A year later his father was called to a church in this city and the boy entered the old high school No. 35, in West Thirteenth street. This was one of the city's most notable high schools back in those days.

Young Hughes began to blossom out as an essayist. Like most high school boys he chose the most ponderous and awe inspiring subjects that could be found. “The Limitation of the Human Mind” and “The Evils of Light Literature” are two examples. In the high school with Hughes was R. Floyd Clarke, now a well known lawyer. Clarke was the star orator of the school, and every time Hugjies would come to the front with one of his essays Clarke was certain to break out with a declamation.

Mr. Hughes made his first appearance before a New York audience when he was thirteen years old. That was at the commencement exercises of old 35, which were held in the Academy of Music and were attended by several thousand persons. Hughes read an essay on “Self Help.”

Hughes had planned to enter the College of the City of New York, for which most of the boys in the high school had prepared, but he was so young that they would not accept him. He would have to wait a year until he was fourteen. That year he spent under the tutelage of his father and decided before it was over that he would enter Madison College, now

Colgate University, rather than the New York institution.

At that time Madison had a fiveyear course, but Hughes conceived the notion that he would like to get through at the same time as his old high school chums who had entered the College of the City of New York. So he set to work at home, and in one year read Virgil, Homer, the Anabasis and studied up in Latin and Greek composition. Before he began to study he had had only one term of Greek and Latin, but he managed to knock a year off his course at Madison. Hughes entered Madison College when he was fourteen years old. He was at that time a frail, sickly looking boy, with absolutely no indication that he would ever attain the physical development which he now enjoys.

Hughes took his freshman and sophomore years at Madison. While there he worked hard and had a good standing. At the end of his sophomore year, though, he decided that he would prefer to enter a larger institution. He selected Brown. He entered the sophomore year at Brown with the class of 1881. Fie could! have} entered the junior year, but he was looking for “college spirit” on the advice of his friends.

As a result he had scarcely any work to do in his first year at Providence, but he didn’t waste his time. He read voraciously, chiefly fiction and history. His father’s library had not been rich in fiction and young Flughes made up for lost time when he got the opportunity. He specialized in English and in the junior year îook a prize in English literature.

Hughes when he entered Brown had not taken the examinations for rank. Not having passed these special tests he was not eligible for honors. One

day Prof. Lincoln of the university faculty came to him and said :

“Look here, Hughes, you are making a great mistake. If you pass those examinations for rank you will get your key.”

The young collegian protested that he didn’t feel like taking the examinations. It was too much like conforming to a set rule. If he was good enough to pass the examinations for entrance into the sophomore class of Brown he didn’t see why he should be obliged to undergo another test for rank merely because he had entered from an outside institution. There was a pleasure to him in being independent and a free lance.

But the professor pressed hib argument, and Hughes finally consented to take the examinations after lie had been excused from some of them. He passed high and got his Phi Beta Kappa key at the end of his junior year. In the senior year he niiched in harder than ever, specializing in philosophy and history. When the final examinations were over he was third in his class and delivered the classical oration at the commencement exercises. There were fortyeight in the class. One of Hughes’ classmates was W. C. Baker, who was three times mayor of Providence.

Hughes became a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity at Madison and when he went to Brown joined the chapter there.

Hughes was only 19 years old when he was graduated. He had no well formed plans for the future. Being an only son it was the ambition of his father that he go into the ministry. The lad himself leaned more toward teaching than anything else, but the great difficulty was that he was so youthful looking that he couldn’t get a place. The Brown pro-

fessors who knew him well said that he was fully qualified to fill almost any ordinary academy chair, but they feared that he wouldn’t be able to keep the boys in order. Besides being youthful in appearance he was small and by no means rugged. Finally, though, he got a place as teacher at Delhi, N.Y.

The idea of studying law first occurred to him when he was writing the prophecy for his class atBrown. A classmate suggested that that was the proper profession for him to follow, but Hughes did not have any idea at that time of practising. He thought a knowledge of the law might help him in his teaching. Besides, his family, he has told his friends, were of a non-litigious and Christian , character and opposed the idea of his appearing at the bar.

He taught Greek and mathematics at Delhi and studied law in an office there. He decided after a year at Delhi that the only way to get a knowledge of the law was at law school and entered Columbia. He was there two years, being graduated in the class of 1884. In his senior year he won a fellowship, by which he was appointed to conduct a quiz for three years at $500 a year. This was a fyig help to the young lawyer, who was just starting out and had to shift for himself. The quiz duties occupied about four nights a week. Later Hughes organized a private quiz of his own and carried both of them on at the same time, while he was getting started in a law office.

He had,a desk first in the office of Gen. Stewart L. Woodford, who was then United States District Attorney. Mr. Hughes had no standing in the office but was simply allowed by the general to use the place to carry on his studies. Hughes knew no law-

yers in town and he was just about beginning to despair of getting started when a friend of his father suggested that he go down and talk with members of the firm of Chamberlain, Carter & Hornblower.

Armed with a letter of introduction, Hughes presented himself to Walter S. Carter, one of the well known lawyers of the city. Mr. Carter liked young men and it was his hobby to interest himself in them. He turned the applicant Hughes inside out in regard to his ambitions and qualifications and then suddenly branched off on the subject of German universities. He insisted that Hughes was foolish to think of going into the law then ; that he ought to take a course abroad. Hughes listened for some time, thinking good and hard about those four nights a week which he was putting in in the quiz room, then he remarked to Mr. Carter :

“Well, Mr. Carter, if I had the good fortune to be your son I might think about a course at a German university, but inasmuch as a living is the principal thing which I want now I am obliged to remind you that I should like to enter your office.”

Little did Hughes think at that time that he would in reality be a son of Mr. Carter within a few years. He married the lawyer’s younger daughter, Antoinette.

Mr. Carter took Hughes in at first merely to give him an opportunity to study, but shortly afterward he made him a clerk in the office with a salary. Among the other lawyers in the office at that time were Lloyd W. Bowles, who is now general counsel for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad ; James Byrne, who is now a partner of William B. Hornblower ; Robert Grier Monroe and Paul D.

Cravath. Henry W. Taft had left the office only a short time before Hughes entered.

The first case which Mr. Hughes had was not of the sort which he has cared to touch in recent years. There wasn’t much money in it for the young lawyer, but there was a lot of practice. It involved a good deal of scandal and was fought in the courts for more than a year. Mr. Hughes was mightily interested and Mr. Carter and the other lawyers in the office sat back and laughed to see him working his head off, but they were ready to congratulate him when he got a favorable decision after more than twelve months of work.

In 1886 the firm was changed to Carter, Hornblower &' Byrne, and Hughes still continued on salary. A year later Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Byrne withdrew and Hughes was admitted to the firm. It was then known as Carter, Hughes & Cravath. In 1890 Cravath left the firm. Mr. Hughes had by that time made a reputation for himself among lawyers of his acquaintance as a thoroughly capable man. His work was mostly confined to drawing briefs and passing on legal questions which arose in the office.

i íe had worked hard for several years and his health had run down. He had never given up the idea of teaching. The life appealed to him and he was interested in the professional side of the law more than in the practical. He happened to mention to a friend one night that he would be glad to accept a chair in law in any university. A little later he heard from the friend, offering him a place at Cornell University.

Mr. Carter tried to dissuade him from accepting the place. The older lawyer predicted a brilliant career for

Hughes at the bar, but the latter had made up his mind and left for Ithaca.

That was in 1891, Mr. Hughes then being 29 years old. He remained at Cornell two years. Mr. Carter kept urging him to return to New York. Finally he yielded to his father-inlaw’s wishes, but it was a very different Hughes that returned. In his two years stay at Ithaca he had exercised regularly, and built up the substantial physical structure which he now has. Hughes, re-entered the firm of his father-in-law, which was known then as Carter, Hughes & Dwight. The firm continued under that name until 1903, when Mr. Dwight retired and George Schurman, a brother of President Schurman of Cornell, succeeded him, Mr. Carter died in 1904, and Mr. Hughes became the head of the firm, which is now Hughes, Rounds & Schurman.

Long before Mr. Hughes was called upon to serve the public as a legislative investigator he was known to lawyers and judges as one of the ablest lawyers in this city. Mr. Carter, when asked several years ago to express his opinion as to who was the best lawyer in the country, answered without a moment’s hesitation : “Charles E. Hughes.”

Mr. Hughes was not known to the public prior to his appearance as an investigator because he did not deal with the sort of cases in which the public is generally interested. He devoted the most of his time to advocacy. He did not touch divorce cases or cases of negligence or assault. He was engaged altogether on difficult problems of law and fact — work which is very gratifying to a lawyer but does not appeal to the public.

There is little wonder, then, that Mr. Hughes refused at first to consider the offer of the legislative com-

mittee appointed to investigate gas in this city in 1904. He had abso^ lutely no desire to appear before the public. He rather shrank from it. Besides, he had the same opinion as most other people in regard to legislative investigations. He told the investigators that he would have nothing to do with it. A message came back to him from /Ubany. It said :

“We are after the truth. We mean to find it. No one can call us off.”

That message set Mr. Hughes to thinking. It was urged -upon him that he owed it as a public duty to accept, and he consented. In that investigation he established a new standard for work of the kind. He amazed the specially trained men who represented the gas companies by his quickness in grasping the technical problems involved and by his lucidity in presenting them. It was only natural that the insurance investigating committee should have turned to him about a year later.

Mr. Hughes when his services were being sought as counsel t-o the Armstrong committee was in the Tyrol. What the negotiations were which passed between the committee and Mr. Hughes by cable have never been made known, but it is certain that he demanded and received an absolute pledge that he would be untrammelled in his work.

One of the many admirable qualities of the man which were impressed upon the public in the course of that inquiry was his enduring patience. No point was too trifling for his attention and no road too devious for him to travel in his search after the truth. It seemed to be only a question of time with him. If there had been no limit to the period of inquiry he might be there yet, re-

tracing his questions to unwilling witnesses over and over again.

Those who followed him through the inquiry are certain that no lack of patience on his part would have driven him off. There was only one occasion in the entire inquiry when Mr. Hughes’ patience really left him and he showed his anger. That was when Richard A. McCurdy, then president of the Mutual Lie, was on the stand.

Mr. McCurdy’s lawyer had implied that Mr. Hughes was taking an unfair advantage of the witness ; that he was leading him up to a point where the impression made against him was most unfavorable and then dropping the line of inquiry without giving him a chance to explain. In other words, Mr. McCurdy was left in a position which unfairly exposed him to the attacks of the newspapers.

That was the first time that Mr. Hughes’ personal conduct of the inquiry had been questioned in any way. He was angry through and through. His face became very pale, his jaw. set hard and his eyes flashed, ibjit not for an instant did he lose hisj poise. He waited patiently until the Mutual lawyer had finished, then turning quickly to the committee he said :

“The record is more eloquent than anything I can possibly say of the extreme courtesy and fairness with which this examination has been conducted. If I have erred at all in my duty to the committee it has been in being more lenient than circumstances warrant. I have again and again subdued a very natural inclination to utter retorts which I think would have been entirely justifiable out of my desire that no one

should honestly discredit the fairness of the investigation. The witness who gets himself into a false position has himself only to blame. Candor and straightforwardness will ever be treated as they deserve to be treated and evasion will always be held up to the contempt which it deserves.” The crowd in the court room at the conclusion of Mr. Hughes’ remarks broke out in applause, and persons who heard him on that occasion have no doubt of his ability to cope with any emergency that may arise on the stump. The effect of his speech on Mr. McCurdy was sufficient to cause him to rise from his seat and compliment Mr. Hughes on the fairness with which he was conducting the investigation. Mr. Hughes’ perfect poise is the quality which his friends say he counts most highly. The most successful men, he believes, are they who keep cool and are able to pronounce calm, sober judgment under almost any conditions.

“It is not the man who reaches the corner first who wins,” said he, “but the man who knows just what to do after he gets there.”

Mr. Hughes has a keen sense of humor, but he doesn’t allow it very free play in his trial of a case. When the opportunity demanded it, though, it was able usually to turn the tables on the witness in the insurance inquiry. For instance, Mr. McCurdy was protesting that the investigation had been turned into an inquisition ; he believed that it ought to be raised to a higher level. Mr. Hughes listened attentively and then remarked : “But you have now, Mr. McCurdy, an excellent opportunity to raise the investigation to a very high level by telling us frankly and candidly what

you, as an insurance man of forty years experience, think about those dividends, but you won’t do it.”

Mr. Hughes is an effective speaker, but he can hardly be called an ora-

tor. His voice is a little monotonous and his delivery forced. His speeches read better than they sound. He is, however, able to hold an audience well.