Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

Criticism of Landis having both the judicial and baseball positions began almost as soon as his baseball appointment was announced in November 1920. On February 2, 1921, lame duck Congressman Benjamin F. Welty (Democrat-Ohio) offered a resolution calling for Landis’s impeachment. On February 11, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer opined that there was no legal impediment to Landis holding both jobs. On February 14, the House Judiciary Committee voted 24–1 to investigate Landis. Reed Landis later stated, "[n]one of the other congressmen wanted Father impeached but they did want him to come down and defend himself because they knew what a show it would be."

Although Welty’s departure from office on March 4, 1921 began a lull in criticism of Landis, in April, the judge made a controversial decision in the case of Francis J. Carey, a 19-year-old bank teller, who had pled guilty to embezzling $96,500. Carey, the sole support of his widowed mother and unmarried sisters, gained Landis’s sympathy. He accused the bank of underpaying Carey, and sent the youth home with his mother. Two members of the Senate objected to Landis’s actions, and the New York Post compared Carey with Les Miserables’s Jean Valjean, noting "[b]etween a loaf of bread [Valjean was incarcerated for stealing one] and $96,500 there is a difference." A bill barring outside employment by federal judges had been introduced by Landis’s foes, but had expired with the end of the congressional session in March; his opponents tried again in July, and the bill failed in the Senate on a tie vote. On September 1, 1921, the American Bar Association, a trade group of lawyers, passed a resolution of censure against Landis.

By the end of 1921, the controversy was dying down, and Landis felt that he could resign without looking pressured. On February 18, 1922, he announced his resignation as judge effective March 1, stating, "There are not enough hours in the day for all these activities". In his final case, he fined two theatre owners for evading the federal amusement tax. One owner had refused to make restitution before sentencing; he was fined $5,000. The owner who had tried to make his shortfall good was fined one cent.

Early life and pre-judicial career (1866–1905)

Boyhood and early career (1866–1893)

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was born in Millville, Ohio, the sixth child and fourth son of Abraham Hoch Landis, a physician, and Mary Kumler Landis, on November 20, 1866. The Landises descended from Swiss Mennonites who had emigrated to Alsace before coming to the United States. Abraham Landis had been wounded fighting on the Union side at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia, and when his parents proved unable to agree on a name for the new baby, Mary Landis proposed that they call him Kenesaw Mountain. At the time, both spellings of "Kenesaw" were used, but in the course of time, "Kennesaw Mountain" became the accepted spelling of the battle site.

Abraham Landis worked in Millville as a country physician. When Kenesaw was eight, the elder Landis moved his family to Delphi, Indiana and subsequently to Logansport, Indiana where the doctor purchased and ran several local farms—his war injury had caused him to scale back his medical practice. Two of Kenesaw’s four brothers, Charles Beary Landis and Frederick Landis, became members of Congress.

As "Kenny," as he was sometimes known, grew, he did an increasing share of the farm work, later stating, "I did my share—and it was a substantial share—in taking care of the 13 acres … I do not remember that I particularly liked to get up at 3:30 in the morning." Kenesaw began his off-farm career at age ten as a news delivery boy. He left school at 15 after an unsuccessful attempt to master algebra; he then worked at the local general store. He left that job for a position as errand boy with the Vandalia Railroad. Landis applied for a job as a brakeman, but was laughingly dismissed as too small. He then worked for the Logansport Journal, and taught himself shorthand reporting, becoming in 1883 official court reporter for the Cass County Circuit Court. Landis later wrote, "I may not have been much of a judge, nor baseball official, but I do pride myself on having been a real shorthand reporter." He served in that capacity until 1886. In his spare time, he became a prize-winning bicycle racer and played on and managed a baseball team. Offered a professional contract as a ballplayer, he turned it down, stating that he preferred to play for the love of the game.