Morrison Remmick Waite
Morrison Remmick Waite was born in Lyme, Connecticut on November 27, 1816. His father, Henry Matson Waite, served as the Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors. Morrison Waite spent his childhood days in a village schoolhouse learning the basics of Webster's Spelling Book and Murray's Grammar. Long school hours ended with carefree summers on his family farm or the farms of his grandfathers.[C. Peter Magrath, Morrison R. Waite: The Triumph of Character (New York: The Macmillan Company), pp.24-27].
Morrison spent a year studying Greek and Latin at Bacon Academy, one of the best private schools, while he applied for admission to Yale University. Upon passing the exams, Waite joined 125 other men as Yale's Class of 1837. One of Waite's classmates commented on his character:
Never rhetorical and never ostentatious, he was from the beginning until his graduation a most intelligent, a most faithful, and a most successful student, having always the respect of all in these qualities, and not less in the sobriety of his conduct and dignity of his character.(Ibid., p.29).
Morrison Waite graduated in the summer of 1837 and returned to Connecticut to read law with his father. Although fascinated with the subject, Waite found little adventure in Connecticut and turned toward the frontier area to satisfy his ambitions. Attracted to the Western Reserve area, Waite set out to visit his uncle, Horace Waite, who worked in Maumee, Ohio as a merchant.(Ibid., pp.30-33).
Originally, Waite intended to travel all the way to Michigan. But by late 1838, he decided to settle in Maumee where he found employment with Samuel Young, a lawyer who had arrived in the area a few years earlier. Young and Waite established a successful law practice and worked closely together as colleagues and as friends.(Ibid., pp.36-37). In 1850, Waite moved to Toledo to open another office. Shortly after, Young decided to leave the law practice in pursuit of business and banking interests. Morrison Waite's brother, Richard, joined the practice and the name consequently changed to M.R. & R. The practice continued to serve the Toledo area for approximately eighteen years.(Toledo Biography Scrapbook, Local History Room, Toledo Lucas County Public Library).
Waite ventured into other areas of political life. He served as Maumee's mayor in 1846 and as a member of the Ohio Legislature in 1849, representing the Whig Party. Between 1871 and 1872 Waite received the honor of being a member of the counsel for the United States in the Alabama claims dispute with Great Britain. The trial took place before the arbitration commission in Geneva, Switzerland.(Ibid).
Morrison Waite's involvement with the case in Geneva led to his nomination for Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 4, 1874. Waite accepted the nomination and replaced the deceased Salmon P. Chase on the high court. Waite remained on the bench for fourteen years and was most noted for his decisions involving Chinese exclusion, polygamy, and the right of the states to prohibit the liquor traffic. Waite participated in over 1,000 decisions made by the Court. He is possibly most noted for writing the majority opinion in the acclaimed case of Munn vs. Illinois (1877) which set the precedent for the Granger cases and eventual establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission. While on the bench, Waite declined a bid to run for the presidency and also an appointment to the electoral commission designed to resolve the disputed 1876 Hayes-Tilden presidential election.(Ibid).
Dedicated to his position on the Supreme Court, Waite nevertheless avoided the formalities and fancy lifestyles of Washington society. Waite found great pleasure in returning to Toledo and to his old friends, the "Maumee pioneers". Waite once commented:
As I get farther and farther away from our early years on the Maumee, the pleasures of meeting with those I knew increase. Aside from that too, it is pleasant to hear the old stories of the old times repeated and to live over in imagination the life we there led.(Magrath, p.307).
On March 23, 1888, Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite died after being stricken by a severe case of pneumonia. Crowds of people gathered and formed a memorial procession when his body arrived in Toledo from Washington. Morrison Waite was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery beneath a stone that deeply reflected his charactersimple and honest. Enduring memorials to Waite in the Toledo area include Waite High School.(Toledo Biography Scrapbook).
Morrison Remmick Waite's grave
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)