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Edward Samuel Corwin

Edward Samuel Corwin was a noted historian, political scientist, and CONSTITUTIONAL LAW scholar.

Born January 19, 1878, on a farm in rural Plymouth, Michigan, Corwin graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan in 1900, where he was president of his class. He entered graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his doctor's degree in 1905. Corwin then took a teaching position at Princeton University, where he began a long association with WOODROW WILSON, then president of Princeton. Wilson had recruited Corwin to be one of the first faculty at the university to teach undergraduates in small seminars called precepts, one of Wilson's many educational innovations. Wilson and Corwin quickly became friends, though Corwin often disagreed with Wilson's more conservative views. Corwin was selected by Wilson to update his book Division and Reunion, and Corwin wrote part 6 of the text, which was published in 1909.

In 1911, Corwin was promoted to full professor. Seven years later, he was appointed to a chair first occupied by Wilson, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, which Corwin held until his retirement from Princeton in 1946. In 1924, he also became chair of the newly formed Department of Politics. Corwin was known at Princeton as a demanding yet popular professor; students regularly voted his courses on constitutional interpretation as the most difficult but also the most valuable.


While pursuing his teaching career, Corwin authored an impressive number of books and articles. In his first book, National Supremacy—Treaty Power vs. State Power (1913), Corwin explored the complex relationship between federal and state powers in foreign affairs. His later books, including The President: Office and Powers (1940, 3d ed. 1948), The Twilight of the Supreme Court (1934), Court over the Constitution (1938), Constitutional Revolution, Ltd. (1941), The Constitution and World Organization (1944), Total War and the Constitution (1947), and Liberty against Government (1948) established him as a preeminent authority on the Constitution. Some of his books—including The Constitution and What It Means Today (first published in 1920 and now called Edward S. Corwin's Constitution and What It Means Today) and The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (1949)—

are considered standard texts in the field of constitutional law and are still kept current.

In addition to his work at Princeton, Corwin served as a visiting professor and lecturer at major universities, including Johns Hopkins University, New York University, Boston University, and Yale University. From 1928 to 1929, he was visiting professor at Yenching University, in Beijing. He was also the recipient of a number of major awards, including the American Philosophical Society's Franklin Medal in 1940 and the Henry M. Phillips Prize in the Science and Philosophy of Jurisprudence in 1942.

Corwin's expertise eventually led him to federal government service. In 1935, he became adviser to the Public Works Administration, and from 1936 to 1937, he acted as special assistant and consultant to the attorney general, on constitutional issues. He publicly supported President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT's COURT-PACKING PLAN—a bill proposed by Roosevelt to expand the U.S. Supreme Court so that he could nominate justices who would uphold NEW DEAL legislation—but opposed Roosevelt's run for a third term as a breach of tradition.

Corwin maintained an active career following his retirement from Princeton in 1946. During the 1947–48 academic year, he served as a visiting professor at Columbia University, and from 1949 to 1952, he was an editor for the Legislative Reference Section, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, where he directed a major research project that resulted in the multivolume Constitution Annotated: Analysis and Interpretation (1952). In 1954, he became chairman of a national committee opposed to the Bricker Amendment, S.J. Res. 1, 83d Cong., 1st Sess. (1953), which had been proposed to restrict the president's treaty-making power.

Corwin, who died in 1963 at the age of 85, carries the distinction of being the only non-lawyer among the ten legal scholars and writers most frequently cited by the Supreme Court of the United States. Corwin was acutely aware of his important role, noting that "if judges make law, so do commentators."


Loss, Richard. 1981. Corwin on the Constitution. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

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