History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


James C. McReynolds

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


Nice signature of Justice McReynolds

James Clark McReynolds, 18621946.  Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, 19141941.  Signature, J. C. McReynolds, on a 1¼ x 4½" slip of paper clipped from a letter.

This is a nice example of McReynoldʼs signature.  It is written beneath the typed words “Very truly yours,” indicating that it was clipped from a letter.

Although McReynolds was a Democrat, appointed to the Supreme Court by President Woodrow Wilson, by the time he retired he was the most conservative voice on the CourtMcReynolds is best known as one of the “Four Horsemen,” the group of four conservative Justices who opposed most of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs.  McReynolds and Justices George Sutherland, Willis Van Devanter, and Pierce Butler influenced the Court's invalidation of much New Deal legislation, including the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, Schecter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935); the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936); the Bituminous Coal Act of 1935, Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 U.S. 238 (1936); and a New York minimum wage law for women and children, Morehead v. New York, 298 U.S. 587 (1936).  By 1937, the success of these four, often joined by the swing vote of Justice Owen Roberts, led to Roosevelt's infamous “Court Packing Plan,” by which the President sought to appoint a majority of new Justices favorable to the administration.  From 1937, when a change in the views of Justice Roberts killed the Court Packing Plan, through 1941, when McReynolds retired, McReynolds dissented 119 times.  He voted against more New Deal legislation than any other Justice.  Increasingly isolated, McReynolds announced his retirement by saying, bitterly, that “any country that elects Roosevelt three times deserves no protection."

McReynolds was also by far the most cantankerous of the Justices, unable to get along with most of his colleagues.  Indeed, Wilson had appointed him to the Supreme Court to get him out of the cabinet as Attorney General.  A man that one critic described as "intolerably rude,” McReynolds refused to converse with Justice John Clarke, another Wilson appointee, because Clarke was too liberal.  He was also so anti-Semitic that he likewise refused to speak to Justices Louis D. Brandeis and Benjamin N. Cardozo.  Chief Justice William Howard Taft said that McReynolds was “fuller of prejudice than any man I have ever known."  Yet McReynolds also had a soft spot for children and heavily supported children's and other charities.  He left the bulk of his estate to charities, including the Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C.

A fascinating account of McReynolds and his time leading up to and during the Court Packing Plan appears in John Knox, The Forgotten Memoir of John Knox:  A Year in the Life of a Supreme Court Clerk in FDRs Washington (Dennis J. Hutchinson & David J. Garrow, eds., 2002). 

McReynolds has signed here in brown fountain pen.  The piece is irregularly trimmed but could be framed.  A faint paperclip impression at left touches the lower loop in the “J."  Overall the piece is in fine condition.

Provenance:  This signature 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 McReynoldsʼs typed name, that Justice Clark inserted behind the item in the page protector used to house this letter his collection.  This piece is not laid down to the backing sheet.

Unframed.  Please ask us about custom framing this piece.


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