DOUGLAS, WILLIAM O. - Writing 11 Days after the Execution of Convicted Spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, which Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas Sought to Halt
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DOUGLAS, WILLIAM O. - Writing 11 Days after the Execution of Convicted Spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, which Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas Sought to Halt

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DOUGLAS, WILLIAM O. (1898-1980). American Supreme Court justice whose term is the longest in the court’s history. ALS. (“Bill”). 1p. 8vo. Washington, June 30, 1953. Written to journalist and author CORNELIUS VANDERBILT, JR. (1898-1974) on his Supreme Court stationery.


Your letter of June 18th about the Rosenberg matter touched me deeply. It was good of you to write me. I do hope we can get together soon. I’ll look at your book soon. I thank you for the fine compliments you paid mine…”


In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt appointed Douglas, a former Columbia and Yale law professor and member of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the retirement of Justice Louis D. Brandeis. His confirmation at the age of 40 made him one of the youngest justices ever to sit on the high court. A frequent dissenter, Douglas is remembered for his defense of the First Amendment and as a champion of civil liberties.


Our letter concerns the espionage case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (1918-1953 and 1915-1953), Jewish-American communists convicted of conspiring to commit espionage by passing nuclear secrets to the Soviets and one of the most important American legal cases of the 20th century. In March 1951, three weeks after their highly publicized trial, the Rosenbergs were convicted and sentenced to death. Acampaign to clear their names, claiming anti-Semitism and a government frame up, attracted the support of such prominent figures as Albert Einstein, Pope Pius XII, Fritz Lang, Nelson Algren, Dashiell Hammett, Jean Cocteau, Frieda Kahlo, and Diego Rivera. Unfortunately, partly due to the highly charged atmosphere of Cold War America, the protests did little to change either public opinion or the verdict on appeal. On June 17, 1953, Douglas ordered a stay of execution, stating that the judge did not have the consent of the jury to impose the death penalty as required by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Chief Justice Fred Vinson reconvened the Supreme Court in order to set aside the stay and the Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953, becoming the only American civilians executed for spying during the Cold War. Recent interviews and disclosures confirm that Julius Rosenberg was guilty of espionage, but documents declassified in 1995 point to Ethel’s innocence. Douglas faced the threat of impeachment from Congress for his stay but ultimately remained on the court. He was again nearly impeached in 1970 when House Speaker Gerald Ford was angered by Douglas’s activities outside the courtroom, including authoring articles for left wing magazines.


Vanderbilt was a World War I veteran who defied his wealthy family’s expectations and pursued a career in newspapers. After working for the New York Herald and New York Times, he embarked on several of his own newspaper publishing endeavors in Los Angeles and Miami, which left him heavily in debt. He also authored a number of autobiographical books including Experience of a Cub Reporter, Farewell to Fifth Avenue, Reno, Park Avenue, Palm Beach, Filthy Rich, and his 1955 The Living Past of America. Despite his literary achievements and connections to important members of society, it is for his seven wives that he is perhaps best remembered.


Written in bright blue ink and in excellent condition. Rare with a reference to the Rosenbergs.


Item #20504

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