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Harry Truman Supports FDR’s Plan to Pack the Supreme Court (SOLD)
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“the Court is packed now, and has been for fifty years, against progressive legislation…. The country will be just as safe, the Constitution just as strong, and the Republic just as great… [if we] let the privileges of our Government be for the whole people and not for just a favored few.”

HARRY S. TRUMAN. Mimeographed typed manuscript signed “Harry S. Truman, U.S.S. Mo.,” six pages, 8.5 x 14, April 1937. “Speech Delivered at Kansas City, Missouri, April 19, 1937, by Senator Harry S. Truman.” He traces the history of the Court’s influence in blocking progressive legislation, and discusses the changing number of Justices, which ranged from six in 1789 to ten in 1863, to nine in 1869.

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Partial Transcript

“Roosevelt evidently considered this situation and wisely decided that the easiest way to meet the situation would be to get some younger men on the Court whose minds and hearts are more in sympathy with modern humanitarian thought. He suggested a reorganization of the lower Courts and an increase in membership on the Supreme Court for the purpose—a procedure followed by Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Grant. It is the simplest, easiest and most common-sense way of meeting an impossible situation.

The cry is that the President wants to pack the Court. Well, if that were possible, the Court is packed now, and has been for fifty years, against progressive legislation. If you don’t believe it, read some of the dissenting opinions of Justices Clark, Harlan, Holmes, and Stone, and even Chief Justice Hughes, in whose beard certain people in this city believe reposes more wisdom than Daniel Webster had in his head. The Court was warned by every one of these eminent Justices that the very condition now confronting the Court would come about.

…Anyway, it is my opinion that the Court cannot be packed. President Jefferson appointed a man by the name of Johnson to the Supreme Court and he made it his policy to be against every policy of Jefferson…Lincoln appointed Salmon P. Chase Chief Justice because, as Secretary of the Treasury, Chase helped write the legal tender laws. Chase decided that they were unconstitutional when he was Chief Justice. To come to more recent appointments, Wilson appointed McReynolds, a real conservative and anti-New Deal Justice. Coolidge appointed Stone—the best New Dealer on the Court—and Hoover appointed Cardozo, a real progressive who is in touch with the times. None of these late Presidents would have appointed any one of these Justices if they had known what their attitude on the Court would be. Therefore, I say the Court cannot be packed, but I hope with some new minds and new blood fresh from the people that it can be unpacked, or be given a modern common sense viewpoint.

It is my honest opinion, after much careful study and consideration that the President’s plan is the easiest and simplest one so far proposed to meet a situation where the Court has assumed legislative powers which in no sense it constitutionally possesses. The country will be just as safe, the Constitution just as strong, and the Republic just as great as it has ever been in its history… We will have a greater and better country when we adjust our production to our needsand give the farmer a square deal; adjust hours and wages for the proper distribution of income; take little children out of sweat shops and textile mills, and let the privileges of our Government be for the whole people and not for just a favored few.”


Overall toning, a few small edge chips and tears, and staple holes to upper left corner, otherwise fine condition.

Historical Background

While the Constitution established the Supreme Court, its composition was left to Congress. The 1789 Judiciary Act set the number at six: a chief justice and five associate justices. In 1807, Congress added a justice; in 1837, the number was upped to nine; and in 1863, there were ten justices on the bench. After the war, Congress passed the Judicial Circuits Act, which reduced the court to seven justices and blocked the highly unpopular President Andrew Johnson from adding to the court. In 1869, Congress raised the number of justices to nine, where it has remained. In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to add justices, potentially to fifteen based on his “court-packing” plan.

Then-Senator Harry S. Truman made reference to the court’s rich history when he delivered this speech supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s controversial legislative initiative to add Justices to the Supreme Court. Roosevelt had hoped to change the court’s direction after seeing major parts of the New Deal struck down by the conservative court. FDR’s plan, outlined in the “Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937,” would have allowed him to appoint an additional justice for every justice over the age of seventy years and six months. The bill failed, and Roosevelt was widely criticized as having overstepped the separation of powers as outlined in the Constitution. Nonetheless, the court backed off, allowing important pieces of the New Deal to stand. When Truman became president and had the chance to name Supreme Court justices, he too was criticized and accused of cronyism as he had close personal ties to all four of the justices he appointed.

As a whole, this address provides great insight into the future president’s views on the American judicial system and the powers of the Supreme Court.