William Winslow Crosskey
In my research, I keep coming across Professor Crosskey’s work and the intellectual puzzle of the man.
If you don’t know, Crosskey was a constitutional scholar at the University of Chicago from 1935-1962. His most prominent student (I think) was Robert Bork, who probably absorbed Crosskey’s keen interest in history as he developed the first version of originalism.
Crosskey was capable of astounding insights that no other person could have produced. For example, he would supposedly begin his con law class by slamming Max Farrand’s book on the podium promising “to demonstrate to you that Madison was a forger–[that] he tampered with the notes he kept of the debates at the federal constitutional convention in order to suit his own political advantage and that of his party.” Turns out that there was a lot of truth in this claim, as Mary Bilder’s new book on the Notes explains. Crosskey also was the strongest academic critic of Charles Fairman’s article rejecting incorporation, and made many telling points in favor of what the Court eventually (for the most part) embraced.
On the other hand, Crosskey also said a lot of wacky things. Indeed, I would be very reluctant to take anything he said about history as true without checking, and I think others who have used his work would say the same thing. How to explain this paradox?
When Crosskey died in 1968, Harry Kalvan wrote a tribute explaining that he did not start at Law School until he was 30, but that at Yale he was “a formidable figure who sat in the front row scowling at everything that was said, his arms obdurately folded as he conspicuously declined to take notes.” After clerking for Chief Justice Taft and working with John W. Davis in practice, he went to Chicago at age 40.
I would be curious if any of our readers was a student of Crosskey’s.