Fred M. Vinson

From Academic Kids

Fredrick M. Vinson

Frederick Moore Vinson (January 22, 1890September 8, 1953) served the United States in all three branches of government. In the legislative branch, he was an elected representative from Louisa, Kentucky for twelve years. In the executive branch, he was the Secretary of Treasury under President Harry S. Truman. In the judicial branch, he was the thirteenth Chief Justice of the United States.


Early years

Fred Vinson was born in the front part of the Lawrence County, Kentucky jail, where his father worked. His father died soon after his birth, and he was largely raised by his mother. She supported the family by taking in boarders. Vinson worked odd jobs while he was in school. He graduated from Kentucky Normal School in 1908 and enrolled at Centre College, where he graduated at the top of his class. He became a lawyer in Louisa, a small town of 2,500 residents. He first ran for, and was elected to office as the City Attorney of Louisa.

He joined the Army during World War I. When he returned following the war, he was elected as the Commonwealth Attorney for Thirty-Second Judicial District of Kentucky.

U.S. Representative from Kentucky

In 1924, he ran in a special election for his district's seat in Congress after William J. Fields resigned to become the governor of Kentucky. Vinson was elected as a Democrat and then was reelected twice before losing in 1928. His loss was attributed to his refusal to dissociate his campaign from Alfred E. Smith's presidential campaign. He won re-election in 1930, and he served in Congress through 1937.

While he was in Congress he befriended Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman, a friendship that would last throughout his life. He soon became a close advisor, confidant, card player, and dear friend to Truman. After Truman decided against running for another term as president in the early 1950s, he tried to convince a skeptical Vinson to run for the nomination, but Vinson turned down the President's offer. After being equally unsuccessful in enlisting General Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Truman eventually landed on Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson as his preferred successor for the 1952 presidential election.

U.S. Court of Appeals

His Congressional service ended when he was nominated by Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 26, 1937, to the federal bench. Roosevelt wanted him to fill a seat vacated by Charles H. Robb on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. While he was there, he was designated by Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone on March 2, 1942, as chief judge of the United States Emergency Court of Appeals. He served here until his resignation on May 27, 1943.

Secretary of Treasury

He resigned from the bench to become Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization, an executive agency charged with fighting inflation. He also spent time as Federal Loan Administrator (March 6 to April 3, 1945) and director of War Mobilization and Reconversion (April 4 to July 22, 1945). He was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Harry S. Truman and served from July 23, 1945, to June 23, 1946.

His mission as Secretary of Treasury was to stabilize the American economy during the last months of the war and to adapt the United States financial position to the drastically changed circumstances of the postwar world. Before the war ended, Vinson directed the last of the great war-bond drives.

At the end of the war, he negotiated payment of the British Loan of 1940, the largest loan made by the United States to another country, and the lend-lease settlements of economic and military aid given to the allies during the war. In order to encourage private investment in postwar America, he promoted a tax cut in the Revenue Act of 1945. He also supervised the inauguration of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund, both created at the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, acting as the first chairman of their respective boards. In 1946, Vinson resigned from the Treasury to be appointed Chief Justice of the United States by Truman.

Chief Justice

Vinson took the oath of office as Chief Justice on June 24, 1946. President Truman had nominated his old friend after Harlan Fiske Stone died. His appointment came at a time when the Supreme Court was deeply fractured, both intellectually and personally. One faction was led by the southerner Hugo Black, while the other by Robert H. Jackson, a native of New York. Some of the justices would not even speak to one another. Vinson was credited with patching this fracture, at least on a personal level.

In his time on the Supreme Court, he wrote 77 opinions for the court and thirteen dissents. His most dramatic dissent was when the court voided President Truman's seizure of the steel industry during a strike in a June 3, 1952 decision. His final public appearance at the court was when he read the decision not to review the conviction and death sentence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The major issues his court dealt with included racial segregation, labor unions, communism and loyalty oaths. On racial segration, he wrote that states practicing the separate but equal doctrine must provide facilities that were truly equal, in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents. The case Brown v. Board of Education was before the Court at the time of his death. Vinson, not wanting a 5-4 decision, had ordered a second hearing of the case. He died before the case could be reheard, at which time Earl Warren was appointed to the Court and the case was heard again.


He married Roberta Dixon of Ashland, Kentucky in 1924. They had two sons: Frederick Vinson, Jr. and James Vinson.

He died suddenly, and unexpectedly from a heart attack early on the morning of September 8, 1953. Many legal historians believe that his death was fortuitous for the Supreme Court, as his successor Earl Warren was able to persuade the Court to unanimously agree to the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education. Chief Justice Vinson's body was interred in Pinehill Cemetery, Louisa, Ky.


Preceded by:
Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
United States Secretary of the Treasury
Succeeded by:
John W. Snyder
Preceded by:
Harlan Fiske Stone
Chief Justice of the United States
June 24, 1946September 8, 1953
Succeeded by:
Earl Warren

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