John Garibaldi Sargent
John Garibaldi Sargent served as attorney general of the United States under President CALVIN COOLIDGE. He was born October 13, 1860, in Ludlow, Vermont, to John Henmon and Ann Eliza Hanley Sargent. He was schooled locally and then entered Tufts College in Boston, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1887. Early in his college years, Sargent became active in the Zeta Psi Kappa Society; through the fraternity's activities he was introduced to many of Boston's oldest and most influential political families, including the Coolidges.
After college, Sargent returned to Ludlow, where he married Mary Lorraine Gordon in 1887. Sargent studied law with attorney, and future Vermont governor, William Wallace Stickney. Following Sargent's admission to the Vermont bar in 1890, he joined Stickney in the practice of law.
Sargent's first political appointment came in 1898 when he was named state's attorney for Windsor County, Vermont. He served until 1900 when he was appointed secretary of civil and military affairs for the state of Vermont by his law partner, who was then serving his first term as governor. After completing the two-year assignment, Sargent returned to the firm and resumed the practice of law. From 1902 to 1908, he argued the majority of his cases in federal court, and he established a national reputation as a trial lawyer.
In 1908 Sargent was named attorney general of Vermont. While in office, he was involved in one of the leading cases in the history of Vermont's highest court. In Sabre v. Rutland Railroad Co., 86 Vt. 347, 85 Aik. 693 (1912), attorneys for the railroad argued that the powers enjoyed by Vermont's Public Service Commission (which regulated railroads) violated the Vermont Constitution by commingling legislative, executive, and judicial functions. Sargent, arguing for Sabre and the state, disagreed. His position was that the SEPARATION OF POWERS was only violated when one branch exercised all of the powers of another branch. The court agreed with Sargent and recognized the QUASIJUDICIAL powers of executive-branch state agencies. The decision led the way for commissions and boards across the country to wield court-like powers.
While serving as Vermont's attorney general, Sargent also returned to school, receiving a master's degree from Tufts College in 1912. When Sargent returned to his law firm in 1913, he turned his attention to partisan politics. He supported REPUBLICAN PARTY candidates in Vermont and throughout the Northeast and
campaigned vigorously for WARREN G. HARDING in 1920 and Calvin Coolidge in 1924.
Sargent was named attorney general of the United States on March 17, 1925, but only after the president's first choice, financier Charles B. Warren, withdrew after the Senate questioned his willingness to enforce ANTITRUST LAWS. Sargent proved to be a safe and noncontroversial alternative. He was confirmed in just one day, and he served from March 18, 1925, until March 4, 1929.
Sargent was not known as a leader in the fight for racial equality, but he did ask the president to commute the sentence of MARCUS GARVEY in 1927. Garvey was a political activist from Jamaica who had been convicted of MAIL FRAUD for his efforts to recruit black Americans for his Universal Negro Improvement League and
African Communities Association Garvey v. United States, 267 U.S. 604, 45 S. Ct. 464 (1925). The tainted proceeding against Garvey was orchestrated by an overzealous young JUSTICE DEPARTMENT attorney named J. EDGAR HOOVER.
Sargent was outspoken in his disapproval of Hoover's tactics in the Garvey case, and he was among the first attorneys general to condemn the gathering of evidence through WIRETAPPING, a tactic approved by Hoover when he was director of the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION. Testifying before a congressional committee, Sargent said, "Wire tapping, ENTRAPMENT, or use of any illegal or unethical tactics in procuring information will not be tolerated…."
In 1930 Sargent returned to Vermont and again took an active role in his law firm. In his later years, Sargent devoted his time and energy to local businesses and community organizations. When years of political infighting finally forced the reorganization of Vermont's railroads in the early 1930s, Sargent was appointed to oversee the process.
Sargent died at his home in Ludlow, Vermont, on March 5, 1939.
Justice Department. 1991. 200th Anniversary of the Office of the Attorney General, 1789–1989. Washington, D.C.: Department of Justice, Office of Attorney General and Justice Management Division.
Youssef, Sitamon, et al. 1998. Marcus Garvey: The FBI Investigation Files. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Africa World Press.