Charles Evans Hughes was hilariously successful. He finished high school at age 11 and was later first in his class at Columbia Law School. He decided to run for re-election as Governor of New York rather than become William Howard Taft’s vice president. In private practice, he argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court; he spent seventeen years as a member of that Court, both as Associate Justice and Chief Justice. Hughes received the Republican presidential nomination in 1916 and became Secretary of State when a Republican was elected. He sat on the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the Permanent Court of International Justice (the World Court).
President Harding nominated cabinet members on the day he was inaugurated. Here’s his nomination of Hughes to serve as Secretary of State:
I’ve complained before about the Senate custom of scribbling on nominations to narrate the unfolding of the process (or for any other reason, really). See what I mean? And notice that the notations were made entirely in pencil. That’s certainly worsened the document’s discoloration. Some important nominations (I’m thinking of the first Justice Harlan’s) were even written in pencil. More than once I experienced a strange apprehension that these constitutional treasures could literally be erased from history.
Hughes’ major accomplishment as Secretary of State was directing the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22, which produced the Four-Power, Five-Power, and Nine-Power Treaties.
Another word on Hughes (from Jeff Shesol’s Supreme Power):
Hughes had a prodigious, photographic memory. He was reported to read–and fully absorb–several hundred pages an hour. He could dictate a speech from start to finish and deliver it hours later, almost word for word, without reference to his notes. ‘His is the best mind in Washington; to this everyone agrees,’ wrote an observer in the 1920s . . .
If only I could read Merlo Pusey’s two-volume biography of Hughes that rapidly.
I took this picture of Hughes’ Washington, D.C. home in June 2010:
My own Hughes autographs: