William Winslow Crosskey

apf1-02037tIn 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.


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8 Responses

  1. Shag from Brookline says:

    What were Crosskey’s views on Brown v. Bd. of Educ., keeping in mind his relationship with John W. Davis, who represented the Bd. of Educ.?

  2. Joe says:

    “said a lot of wacky things”

    sorta weird just to toss that out there w/o details … a quick search brought up a three part blog series on the guy from a few years ago that cites others were critical of his historical analysis:

    http://legalhistoryblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/curious-case-of-william-winslow_18.html (Shag saw it already)

    Anyway, she’s another generation, but reading her new autobiography, I see Sen. Amy Klobuchar went to the law school he taught at and various familiar names have cameos in the book.

  3. Gerard Magliocca says:

    By “wacky things,” I mean that he misquoted stuff or omitted things that were contrary to his thesis. (I might have said “erroneous things” instead, I suppose.)

  4. Joe says:

    “Wacky” is a bit vague & that isn’t the first thing that comes to mind (more like “Napoleon wound up in Alaska” — to cite an old “Northern Exposure” plot) so thanks.

  5. Mike Stern says:

    Amy was in my class at the University of Chicago. Well after Professor Crosskey’s time. I have to admit I have never heard of him.

  6. Joe says:

    Yup – “she’s another generation.” In fact, she was born about the end of his tenure.

  7. Shag from Brookline says:

    The link Joe provides has a link to Part II, which has an interesting comment from Anonymous on Robert Bork as a student of Crosskey, pointing out that Bork never attended a class and did not do that well in the exam, suggesting that perhaps Crosskey had little influence on Bork.

    The link was posted in 2011 and followed up a comment by Bilder on why Crosskey was hated. As I recall Bilder had published an article on Madison’s Notes, several years before her book on that subject.

  8. Orin Kerr says:

    Crosskey “he would supposedly begin his con law class by slamming [a] book on the podium” AND he “said wacky things”? An unimaginable combination. 🙂