|Hoover at the time he attended |
George Washington University Law School
From 1913 to 1917, the man who would become one of the most powerful and controversial figures in American history was a mere law student, wrestling with the same kind of work that hundreds of thousands of students have done since. This was not J. Edgar Hoover, fighter of subversives and criminals, but John Edgar Hoover, a young man in his late teens and early twenties trying to pass Contracts, Torts, and the assortment of other classes he needed to get his law degree.
Hoover attended The George Washington University Law School starting in the fall of 1913, immediately after graduating from Central High School in Washington, D.C. He chose GW because he could help support his family by working as a clerk in the Library of Congress by day and taking his classes in the early evening. So when Hoover sat down at the New Masonic Temple at the intersection of 13th Street, New York Avenue, and H Street (the home of GW’s law school from 1910 to 1920) in September 1913 for his first class, he was just a boy of 18.
When J. Edgar Hoover entered law school, the legal education system was in a state of transformation.The George Washington University adopted the case method of instruction around 1905-1906, when professors visited other schools and witnessed how effective it was when combined with the Socratic method of questioning students.
A meticulous student
The methodical and meticulous Hoover who reveled in organizing and cataloguing information as a
career bureaucrat probably enjoyed the formalized structure of the case method as a student. His law
school notebooks contain thousands of pages of notes, one page per case (sometimes with glued-additions). He followed the same process for each case: write out the plaintiff’s and defendant’s claims, summarize the details of the case, indicate the relevant point of law under consideration, and indicate the court’s ruling on the matter. Under this section, he always included a “notes” section in which he would draw out the lesson, rule, or legal principle to be derived from the case. Sometimes he would even include an opinion on the ruling, although it is not clear whether the occasional “this decision is not good” or “the opinion in this case is very good and of great use” came from his textbook, his professor, or Hoover himself.
According to his transcript held at The George Washington University registrar’s office, Hoover’s academic performance during his first year was mediocre at best: four B’s, four C’s, and one D. Over the years his grades steadily improved as he buried himself in his work. In a 1953 profile of Hoover,
a former law school classmate described him as “slim, dark, and intense. He sat off by himself against the wall and always had the answers. None of us got to know him very well.” By the time he graduated with his L.L.B. in 1916, he was tied for 15th place in class ranking out of a group of 67. In his final year at GW,during which he worked to receive his L.L.M., his marks were all A’s and B’s.
Hoover’s highest marks came during his final semester at GW from Bankruptcy. He scored a 98%.
Impact of Professor Gregory
The professor whose legal philosophy might have had the most impact on shaping Hoover’s views was Charles Noble Gregory, dean of the law school from 1911-1914 and Hoover’s contracts professor.h Gregory was not only a founding member of the American Society of International Law and former president of the American Association of Law Schools, but also was consulted about various international and domestic situations as they arose. For example, he weighed in on the liability of the White Star Company for the Titanic tragedy in 1912. The White House even solicited Gregory’s opinion on the constitutionality of the national budget proposal that same year.
During the lead-up to World War I, Gregory was an outspoken critic of German submarine warfare on neutral U.S. ships, arguing that Americans had the right to trade with whoever they wanted. Gregory’s legal ideas intersect with Hoover’s philosophy on the subjects of alien immigrants and radicalism.
Charles Noble Gregory had demonstrated in the past that deportation of anarchists based on their political beliefs was entirely legal -- a key foundation to Hover's later role in the Justice Departm,ent's 1919-1920 Palmer Raids.
Although we may not know how much he discussed his views on alien radicals in class, Gregory
illuminated his interpretation of the law clearly in an article he wrote for the Juridical Review entitled, “A Question of International Law in the Deportation of Aliens.” Before moving on to the trickier international issues with deportations, he examined the settled case law in the United States. He unequivocally determined that the Supreme Court has “upheld the validity of a statute for the deportation of alien anarchists” and quotes from a case that decrees “The constitutionality of the legislation in question in its general aspect is no longer open to discussion in this Court.” Going further, he pointed out that cases involving aliens “of the excludable class could not be reviewed by the Courts on habeus corpus…” Summing up this argument, Gregory writes, “It seems that the lawfulness of exclusion or deportation of aliens…must be taken as quite fully settled.”
A few years after writing the Juridical Review article, Gregory presented a paper at the meeting
of the American Society of International Law entitled “The Expulsion of Aliens,” in which he stated that “the maintenance of a rigorous surveillance of anarchists” and the statute “for deporting them [was] held lawful and constitutional.”
If the case method is about extracting legal principles from settled case law, then the young Hoover, sitting in a classroom during his first year, would no doubt have absorbed the principle that the United States had every right to deport alien radicals.
We will never know precisely how significantly these men contributed to Hoover’s view of the law. No doubt there were many sources and experiences that shaped this complex man – his parents, his religion, his jobs, his bosses and mentors. The Bureau celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008, and upon that occasion it is worth considering those who schooled the young man who, one day, would lead it for almost half the period of its existence.
Andrew Simpson is a historical consultant at History Associates, Inc. For the full article or any questions or comments, please contact him at email@example.com or else post a comment here.