Grosscup, Peter S. (1852–1921)

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GROSSCUP, PETER S. (1852–1921)

Peter Stenger Grosscup served nineteen years in the lower federal courts, the last twelve (1899–1911) on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Controversy dogged his judicial career. He preached the inevitability of industrial consolidation and the need for reasonable regulation of capital and labor. The judge's numerous critics within the Progressive movement charged that his conception of reasonableness merely disguised a probusiness bias.

Grosscup in 1894 gained national attention during the violent confrontation between Eugene V. Debs's American Railway Union and the Pullman Palace Car Company. The judge's sympathies were clear. Grosscup issued an injunction ordering the strikers to cease disruption of interstate commerce and the mails. Grosscup, describing the strikers to a federal grand jury, observed that "neither the torch of the incendiary, or the weapon of the insurrectionist, nor the inflamed tongue of him who incites to fire and sword is the instrument to bring about reform."

Grosscup's pronouncements in favor of reasonable regulation clashed with his advocacy of the abolition of the sherman antitrust act and his evanescent enforcement record. In United States v. Swift & Co. (1903) he did hold that since the commerce power included intercourse brought about by sale or exchange, application of the Sherman Act to outlaw price fixing by the Beef Trust was constitutional. However, in Standard Oil Co. of Indiana v. United States (1908), he spoke for a unanimous circuit court in reversing a district court fine of $29,240,000 against an oil company valued at $1,000,000. Grosscup testily wrote that the holding company—which could have afforded to pay—had not been on trial. The judge responded with mocking indifference to President theodore roosevelt's sharp denunciation of the opinion.

Grosscup was publicly perceived as a tool of the corporations. His involvement as a shareholder and director of several businesses further undermined his judicial credibility. After resigning under pressure, Grosscup successfully defied his critics to prove misconduct.

Kermit L. Hall


Vance, John T. 1964 Peter Stenger Grosscup. Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 4:21–22. New York: Scribner's.