William H. Moody for the Prosecution of Lizzie Borden

10 Jun

(Recycled from October, 2011)

The prosecution team in the matter of the Commonwealth vs. Lizzie Andrew Borden was led by three times ex-Governor George Robinson, but included the formidable William Henry Moody, whose stellar career surpassed all others associated with the case.  An extraordinarily handsome man, in my opinion, he remained a life-long bachelor.

If Lizzie continued her reading of Harper’s Weekly, she may have seen the December 29, 1906 issue below and its cartoon cover story on one of the men who played a part in a “most interesting occasion.”  Most all of the text which follows comes from that article.


William Henry Moody was born on December 23, 1853, in Newbury, Massachusetts, the son of farmers. He graduated from Phillips Andover Academy in 1872 and Harvard in 1876, leaving Harvard Law School after four months to read law under Richard Henry Dana. After admission to the state bar in 1878, Moody practiced law in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where he was elected city solicitor (1888-1889). In 1890, he was named the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Massachusetts.


In 1895, he was elected as a Republican to fill a vacant seat in Congress, and subsequently elected three more times. He impressed his congressional colleagues with his command of legislative details and debating skills, and served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.


Theodore Roosevelt first met Moody in 1895 and quickly came to admire a man with a similar physical build, athletic interests, and a progressive Republican perspective. In 1902, Roosevelt appointed Moody as secretary of the navy.


Moody served in that capacity for two years, working to expand and improve the U.S. naval fleet, and reform the navy’s organization.


In June 1904, the president named him as the U.S. Attorney General. In his new position, Moody became a key advisor to the president and played a leading role in the prosecution of the administration’s antitrust lawsuits, successfully arguing Swift and Company v. United States (1905) before the U.S. Supreme Court. He agreed with Roosevelt’s distinction between “good” and “bad” trusts.

MoodNavyThe Justice Department under Moody negotiated agreements with large business corporations that it deemed were working in the public interest, such as International Harvester and U.S. Steel, but prosecuted Standard Oil because its economic power and business activities were considered contrary to the public interest. As attorney general, Moody took a case concerning peonage of blacks to the Supreme Court, and ordered contempt proceedings against a sheriff who allowed a black rape suspect to be lynched.

MoodycartoonHarper’s Weekly was concerned about the centralization of governmental power during the administration of Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), and in December 1906 criticized an address in which Secretary of State Elihu Root called for federal intervention in situations where the states failed to act. Root’s speech, which the newspaper assumed was actually written by President Roosevelt, is excerpted in the caption of the featured cartoon. The cartoon warns that William Moody, whom the president had recently named to the U.S. Supreme Court, will be a judicial tool by which Roosevelt can expand federal powers at the expense of state control through new “constructions of the Constitution.” On the right, Secretary of War William Howard Taft sits studying the “Simplified Constitution” while waiting his turn for the next appointment to the Supreme Court.


When Justice Henry Brown resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1906, President Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to convince Taft to take the position and then considered appointing a Southern Democrat. Finally, on December 12, 1906, the president announced the selection of Moody, emphasizing the attorney general’s nationalist philosophy by describing him as a follower of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, not states’ rights advocates Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun. The Senate approved the nomination on December 17.

Moody-JusticeDuring Moody’s brief tenure on the Supreme Court, he wrote 67 opinions, including 5 dissents. His most famous dissent came in the Employers’ Liability Cases (1908) in which his minority opinion upheld the constitutionality of a congressional statute protecting employees involved in interstate commerce. The constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, he argued, included the authority to legislate labor-management relations. Despite his general support of enhanced federal powers, Moody’s most important majority opinion (later overturned) ruled that the federal constitutional provision in the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination did not apply in state courts (Twining v. State of New Jersey, 1908). Moody’s judicial career was cut short when he developed debilitating rheumatism in early 1909 and was increasingly forced to neglect his judicial responsibilities. In 1910, Congress passed legislation that permitted Moody to qualify for federal retirement benefits, and he retired from the Supreme Court.

A saddened President Roosevelt remarked, “there is not a public servant, at this particular time, that the public could so ill afford to lose.” Eventually incapable of moving his arms and legs, Moody lived seven more years with the painful disease, cared for by his sister until his death on July 2, 1917.


2 responses to “William H. Moody for the Prosecution of Lizzie Borden

  1. Pete Jamison

    June 18, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    Was he gay?

  2. mburgan

    November 16, 2016 at 11:21 AM

    Robinson was on the defense team.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: