Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Charles Evans Hughes (1921–1923): Secretary of State

Charles Evans Hughes was born in Glens Falls, New York, on April 11, 1862. Educated at Madison (now Colgate) University and Brown University (B.A., 1881), Hughes graduated from Columbia Law School in 1884. He practiced law in New York City and later served as counsel for two joint committees of the New York legislature investigating gas utilities (1905) and insurance company campaign contributions (1906).

Elected governor of New York in 1906 over William Randolph Hearst, Hughes was reelected in 1908. In 1910, President William Howard Taft made him an associate justice on the Supreme Court. Later, Hughes reluctantly accepted a Republican draft as the presidential nominee and lost to Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

Hughes returned the practice of law until 1921, when President Warren Harding named him secretary of state. He was reappointed by President Coolidge and served in that post until 1925. During his tenure, Hughes organized the Washington Conference (1921-1922), pursued the Open Door Policy with China, and sought to guarantee Japanese security in the western Pacific.

President Hoover appointed him chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1930, and Hughes made his name as a “swing” justice, voting with both conservative and liberal blocks on the philosophically divided court. Notably, he would lead the fight against Franklin Roosevelt’s “court-packing” plan in 1937. Hughes retired from the court in 1941 and died in New York on August 27, 1948.