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Joseph McKenna


From the personal collection of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark


McKenna sends his autograph

Joseph McKenna, 1843-1926.  Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1898-1925.  Autographed Letter Signed, Joseph McKenna, one page, 5⅛" x 6½", Washington, [D.C.], June 8, 1926.

Just over five months before his death, McKenna responds to a request for his autograph.  He writes, in full:  “In compliance with your request I enclose autograph.  Respectfully . . . ."  The accompanying autograph, if McKenna enclosed one separately, is not present.

McKenna served in all three branches of the federal government.  A Republican, he represented California in the United States House of Representatives before President Benjamin Harrison appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, headquartered in San Francisco, in 1892.  Five years later, President William McKinley made McKenna his Attorney General, a post that McKenna held some ten months before McKinley appointed him to the Supreme Court.   

As a Justice, McKenna was a centrist.  His most notable opinion was United States v. United States Steel Corp., 251 U.S. 417 (1920), a pro-business decision in which a bare 4-3 majority of the Supreme Court, with two Justices recused, held that the “rule of reason,” under which only those combinations in unreasonable restraint of trade are illegal, applies in antitrust cases.

McKenna resigned from the Court in 1925 at the suggestion of Chief Justice William Howard Taft because his health had severely deteriorated following a stroke that he suffered ten years before.  He died in 1926. 

McKenna has written and signed this letter in black fountain pen.  The single horizontal fold affects the tail of one letter in the text.  The top of the upper left corner is missing, and there are mounting traces and an old dealer pencil price notation on the back.  Overall the letter is in fine condition.

Provenance:  This note comes from the personal collection of Justice Tom C. Clark, who served on the Supreme Court from 1949 until 1967. Justice Clark collected the autographs of other Supreme Court Justices dating back into the 19th Century.  We are privileged to offer a number of items from the collection.  This one comes with the backing page, which bears the federal eagle watermark and Justice McKennaʼs typed name, that Justice Clark inserted behind the item in the page protector used to house this letter his collection.  This note is not laid down to the backing sheet, which bears a notation in another hand.




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