Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

In 1886, Landis first ventured into Republican Party politics, supporting a friend, Charles F. Griffin, for Indiana Secretary of State. Griffin won, and Landis was rewarded with a civil service job in the Indiana Department of State. While employed there, he applied to be an attorney. At that time, in Indiana, an applicant needed only to prove that he was 21 and of good moral character, and Landis was admitted. Landis opened a practice in Marion, Indiana but attracted few clients in his year of work there. Realizing that an uneducated lawyer was unlikely to build a lucrative practice, Landis enrolled at Cincinnati’s YMCA Law School (now part of the University of Cincinnati) in 1889. Landis transferred to Union Law School (now part of Northwestern University) the following year, and in 1891, he took his law degree from Union and was admitted to the Illinois Bar. He began a practice in Chicago, served as an assistant instructor at Union and with fellow attorney Clarence Darrow helped found the nonpartisan Chicago Civic Centre Club, devoted to municipal reform. Landis practiced with college friend Frank O. Lowden; the future commissioner and his law partner went into debt to impress potential clients, buying a law library secondhand.

Washington years and aftermath (1893–1905)

In March 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed federal judge Walter Q. Gresham as his Secretary of State, and Gresham hired Landis as his personal secretary. Gresham had a long career as a political appointee in the latter part of the 19th century; though he lost his only two bids for elective office, he served in three Cabinet positions and was twice a dark horse candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Although Gresham was a Republican, he had supported Cleveland (a Democrat) in the 1892 election because of his intense dislike for the Republican nominee, President Benjamin Harrison. Kenesaw Landis had appeared before Judge Gresham in court. According to Landis biographer J.G. Taylor Spink, Gresham thought Landis "had something on the ball" and believed that Landis’s shorthand skills would be of use.

In Washington, Landis worked hard to protect Gresham’s interests in the State Department, making friends with many members of the press. He was less popular among many of the Department’s senior career officials, who saw him as brash. When word leaked concerning President Cleveland’s Hawaiian policy, the President was convinced Landis was the source of the information and demanded his dismissal. Gresham defended Landis, stating that Cleveland would have to fire both of them, and the President relented, later finding out that he was mistaken in accusing Landis. President Cleveland grew to like Landis, and when Gresham died in 1895, offered Landis the post of United States Ambassador to Venezuela. Landis declined the diplomatic post, preferring to return to Chicago to begin a law practice and to marry Winifred Reed, daughter of the Ottawa, Illinois postmaster. The two married July 25, 1895; they had two surviving children, a boy, Reed, and a girl, Susanne—a third child, Winifred, died almost immediately after being born.

Landis built a corporate law practice in Chicago; with the practice doing well, he deeply involved himself in Republican Party politics. He built a close association with his friend Lowden and served as his campaign manager for governor of Illinois in 1904. Lowden was defeated, but would later serve two terms in the office and be a major contender for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination. A seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois was vacant; President Theodore Roosevelt offered it to Lowden, who declined it and recommended Landis. Other recommendations from Illinois politicians followed, and Roosevelt nominated Landis for the seat. According to Spink, President Roosevelt wanted "a tough judge and a man sympathetic with his viewpoint in that important court"; Lowden and Landis were, like Roosevelt, on the progressive left of the Republican Party. Roosevelt transmitted the nomination to the Senate, which confirmed Landis the same afternoon, without any committee hearing.