Zechariah Chafee

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Zechariah Chafee
Zechariah Chafee, 1907 (Brown Archives)
Born(1885-12-07)December 7, 1885
DiedFebruary 8, 1957(1957-02-08) (aged 71)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Philosophy of law
Main interests
Constitutional law, Freedom of speech, Equity

Zechariah Chafee, Jr. (December 7, 1885 – February 8, 1957), was an American professor of law, judicial philosopher and civil rights advocate. Defending freedom of speech, he was described by Senator Joseph McCarthy as "dangerous" to America. [1] Legal scholar Richard Primus called Chafee "possibly the most important First Amendment scholar of the first half of the twentieth century." [2]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe, which is 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Professor academic title at universities and other post-secondary education and research institutions in most countries

Professor is an academic rank at universities and other post-secondary education and research institutions in most countries. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences, a teacher of the highest rank.

Freedom of speech Right to communicate ones opinions and ideas

Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term "freedom of expression" is sometimes used synonymously but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.



Chafee was born in Providence, Rhode Island, [3] and graduated from Brown University, where he was a member of Alpha Delta Phi, in 1907. Later, he received a law degree from Harvard University, completing his LL.B. in 1913. He was influenced by the theories of sociological Jurisprudence presented by Roscoe Pound and others at Harvard. He met Harold J. Laski, a political scientist and later a leader of the United Kingdom's Labour Party, who became a lifelong friend, there. He practiced at the law firm of Tillinghast & Collins from 1913–1916. Chafee joined Harvard Law School as an assistant professor at Harvard Law School in 1916, and was promoted to full professor in 1919. He was appointed Langdell Professor of Law in 1938 and university professor in 1950. He remained at Harvard Law School until 1956.

Providence, Rhode Island Capital of Rhode Island

Providence is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Rhode Island and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. It was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a Reformed Baptist theologian and religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He named the area in honor of "God's merciful Providence" which he believed was responsible for revealing such a haven for him and his followers. The city is situated at the mouth of the Providence River at the head of Narragansett Bay.

Brown University University in Providence, Rhode Island

Brown University is a private Ivy League research university in Providence, Rhode Island. Founded in 1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, it is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

Alpha Delta Phi North American collegiate fraternity

Alpha Delta Phi (ΑΔΦ), commonly known as Alpha Delt, ADPhi, or ADP, is a North American Greek-letter social college fraternity. Alpha Delta Phi was originally founded as a literary society by Samuel Eells in 1832 at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Its more than 50,000 alumni include former presidents and senators of the United States, and justices of the Supreme Court.

Chafee was also an authority on equity, interpleader, negotiable instruments, and unfair business competition. In 1936 Chafee drafted the Federal Interpleader Act of 1936 (49  Stat.   1096); he considered this his foremost professional accomplishment. [4] He became an expert on congressional apportionment and helped apportion seats in the United States House of Representatives based on the 1930, 1940 and 1950 censuses.

Equity (law) Set of legal principles supplementing but distinct from the Common Law

In jurisdictions following the English common law system, equity is the body of law which was developed in the English Court of Chancery and which is now administered concurrently with the common law.

Interpleader is civil procedure that allows a plaintiff or a defendant to initiate a lawsuit in order to compel two or more other parties to litigate a dispute. An interpleader action originates when the plaintiff holds property on behalf of another, but does not know to whom the property should be transferred. It is often used to resolve disputes arising under insurance contracts.

The Federal Interpleader Act of 1936 49 Stat. 1096 was United States federal legislation enacted by the 74th United States Congress approved January 20, 1936.

In 1920 he was one of twelve lawyers reporting on illegal activities of the Department of Justice.

United States Department of Justice U.S. federal executive department in charge of law enforcement

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ), also known as the Justice Department, is a federal executive department of the U.S. government, responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice in the United States, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries. The department was formed in 1870 during the Ulysses S. Grant administration.

Chafee nearly lost his job in 1921. He was brought before the Harvard Board of Overseers on a charge of radicalism for his questioning of the sentence handed down in Abrams v. United States 250 U.S. 616 (1919). He defended himself eloquently before a special committee in the Harvard Club of Boston and was allowed to remain at the law school.

The Harvard Board of Overseers is one of Harvard University's two governing boards. Although its function is more consultative and less hands-on than the President and Fellows of Harvard College, the Board of Overseers is sometimes referred to as the "senior" governing board because its formation predates the fellows' 1650 incorporation.

Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States upholding the 1918 Amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a criminal offense to urge curtailment of production of the materials necessary to the war against Germany with intent to hinder the progress of the war. The 1918 Amendment is commonly referred to as if it were a separate Act, the Sedition Act of 1918.

<i>United States Reports</i> United States Supreme Court decisions

The United States Reports are the official record of the Supreme Court of the United States. They include rulings, orders, case tables, in alphabetical order both by the name of the petitioner and by the name of the respondent, and other proceedings. United States Reports, once printed and bound, are the final version of court opinions and cannot be changed. Opinions of the court in each case are prepended with a headnote prepared by the Reporter of Decisions, and any concurring or dissenting opinions are published sequentially. The Court's Publication Office oversees the binding and publication of the volumes of United States Reports, although the actual printing, binding, and publication are performed by private firms under contract with the United States Government Publishing Office.

From 1929 to 1931 Chafee was a consultant to the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement ( the Wickersham Commission) for which he co-authored a report on lawlessness in law enforcement in 1931.

The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement was a committee established by then U.S. President, Herbert Hoover, on May 20, 1929. Former attorney general George W. Wickersham (1858–1936) chaired the 11-member group, which was charged with surveying the U.S. criminal justice system under Prohibition, and making recommendations for appropriate public policy.

He was Lowell Television Lecturer for the 1956-1957 academic year and finished a 16 lecture television series "The Constitution and Human Rights", an adaptation of a general education course he developed here in 1950, on Boston's educational Channel, WGBH just before he died.

Chafee received the following honorary degrees: Doctor of Law from St. John's University, in 1936, Brown University in 1937, and the University of Chicago in 1953; Doctor of Civil Law from Boston University in 1941; and Doctor of Letters from Colby College in 1944.

He was a Fellow at Brown University, and a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Bar Association, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Massachusetts Historical Society, Alpha Delta Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, the Harvard Club of Boston, the Tavern Club (of Boston), and the Century Association). [5]

Civil liberties

Chafee wrote several works about civil liberties, including:

Freedom of Speech in War Times (1919) Freedom of speech in war times.djvu
Freedom of Speech in War Times (1919)

Chafee's first significant work (Freedom of Speech) [6] established modern First Amendment theory. Inspired by the United States' suppression of radical speech and ideas during the First World War, Chafee edited and updated a collection of several of his journal articles. [7] In these individual articles-cum-chapters, he assessed significant World War I cases, including those of Emma Goldman.

He revised and reissued this work in 1941 as Free Speech in the United States , which became a leading treatise on First Amendment law. His scholarship on civil liberties was a major influence on Oliver Wendell Holmes' and Louis Brandeis' post-World War I jurisprudence, which first established the First Amendment as a significant source of civil liberties. Chafee met with Justice Holmes after the Schenck case 249 U.S. 47 (1919), which upheld a conviction of an activist who encouraged draft resistance, and convinced him that free speech needed greater consideration. Shortly thereafter, Holmes joined Brandeis in a dissent in another World War I dissent case; [8] this dissent is recognized as the foundation of modern First Amendment jurisprudence.

Some of Chafee's more important work occurred through his membership on the American Bar Association's Bill of Rights Committee to 1938 to 1947. In this capacity he submitted briefs amicus curiae several Supreme Court of the United States cases. In (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,319 U.S. 624 (1943) Chafee submitted a amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court hoping to persuade the Court to reverse an earlier decision [9] upholding a state law requiring a salute to the flag by children of Jehovah's Witnesses based in the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Chafee was, from 1943 from 1947, vice-chairman of the Commission on the Freedom of the Press (Hutchins Commission). The Commission was established in 1943 by Henry Luce to determine if freedom of the press was in danger in the United States and was chaired by Robert Maynard Hutchins.

Chafee became an advocate for international human rights through his work as a representative on the United Nations Subcommission on Freedom of Information and the Press in 1947 through 1951. He was a United States delegate to the 1948 United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information and the Press.

Family and personal life

Chafee married Bess Frank Searle in 1912 and had four children: Zechariah Chafee III, Robert S. Chafee, Anne Chafee Brien, and Ellen Chafee Tillinghast. [10] He and his wife both suffered nervous breakdowns and his son, Robert, committed suicide. [11]

He was the scion of a notable Rhode Island family that traced its Rhode Island lineage back to Roger Williams. His father, Zechariah Chafee (Sr.), was long affiliated with Brown University. Chafee's nephew was Senator John Chafee and his grandnephew is the Governor and former Senator Lincoln Chafee.


Chafee died in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1957. [12]

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Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning enforcement of the Espionage Act of 1917 during World War I. A unanimous Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., concluded that defendants who distributed fliers to draft-age men, urging resistance to induction, could be convicted of an attempt to obstruct the draft, a criminal offense. The First Amendment did not alter the well-established law in cases where the attempt was made through expressions that would be protected in other circumstances. In this opinion, Holmes said that expressions which in the circumstances were intended to result in a crime, and posed a "clear and present danger" of succeeding, could be punished.

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  1. 1952 U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.
  2. Primus, Richard A. (1998). "Canon, Anti-Canon, and Judicial Dissent". Duke Law Journal. Duke University School of Law. 48 (2): 243–304. doi:10.2307/1373107. JSTOR   1373107.
  3. "Chafee, Zechariah. Papers, 1898-1957: Finding Aid". Harvard University Library. Retrieved April 7, 2014.Cite web requires |website= (help)
  4. West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2 Zehariah Chafee Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc.
  5. "Finding aid for Zechariah Chafee, Papers, 1898–1957". Harvard Law School.Cite web requires |website= (help)
  6. Zechariah Chafee (1920). Free Speech. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe.
  7. Chafee, Zechariah (June 1919). "Freedom of Speech in War Times". Harvard Law Review. 32: 932. doi:10.2307/1327107.
    Chafee, Zechariah (November 16, 1918). "Freedom of Speech". The New Republic (17): 66.
    Henry R. Linville, John L. Tildsley, and Z. Chafee, Jr., " The Schools and the Issue of Freedom," in leaflets, "The Public and the Schools," published by Public School Education Assn., N. Y., May 3, 17, 24, 1919.
  8. Abrams v. United States , 250 U.S. 616 (1919).
  9. Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 (1940)
  10. "Finding aid for Zechariah Chafee, Papers, 1898–1957". Harvard Law School Library.Cite web requires |website= (help)
  11. Smith, Donald L. (1986). Zechariah Chafee, Jr.: Defender of Liberty and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 190–193. ISBN   0-674-96685-6.
  12. "Zechariah Chafee Jr., 71, Dead; Lawyer, Civil Liberties Champion; Member of Harvard Faculty 40 Years Defended Rights of Individuals and Press Thunderer on the Left Drafted Claims Law". New York Times. February 9, 1957. Retrieved 2008-03-21.Cite news requires |newspaper= (help)

Further reading