Historical marker #636 in Louisa, Kentucky (Lawrence County) honors Frederick “Fred” M. Vinson, who served as a U.S. Representative from Kentucky, a federal appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and as the 13th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Vinson was born in Louisa on January 22, 1890, in an eight-room, red brick house in front of the Lawrence County jail, where his father served as the jailer. He graduated from Kentucky Normal School in 1909 and enrolled at Centre College, where he graduated from at the top of his class. Following the completion of his legal studies, Vinson entered private practice in Louisa and became involved in local political affairs. He first ran for and was elected to office in Louisa as the City Attorney.
Vinson joined the Army during World War I. Following the War, he was elected as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the Thirty-Second Judicial District of Kentucky and served from 1921-1924. In 1924, Vinson ran in a special election for his district’s seat in Congress after the incumbent, William J. Fields, resigned to run for Governor. He was elected and was reelected twice before losing in 1928. However, the following election he won the seat back and served in Congress through 1937.
Vinson was nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 26, 1937, to an Associate Justice seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate that same year. Vinson resigned from the bench to become Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization during World War II. The Office of Economic Stabilization was established to control inflation during World War II through regulations on price, wage, and salary increases. He spent time as Federal Loan Administrator and director of War Mobilization and Reconversion for the Roosevelt Administration.
He was appointed United States Secretary of the Treasury by President Truman, a close friend of his since his days in Congress, and served from July 23, 1945, to June 23, 1946. His mission was to stabilize the American economy during the last months of the war and to adapt the United States financial position to the changed circumstances of the postwar world. Before the war ended, Vinson directed the last of the World War II War Bond drives. At the end of the war, he negotiated payment of the British Loan of 1946, which was the largest loan made by the U.S. to another country ($3.75 billion).
Vinson resigned as Secretary of the Treasury in order to be appointed Chief Justice of the United States by President Truman. In his time on the Supreme Court, he wrote 77 opinions for the court and 13 dissents. He, notably, wrote the decision in Shelley v. Kramer (1948) which struck down restrictive covenants used to racially segregate neighborhoods. He signed onto decisions upholding the separation of church and state, enforcing anti-trust laws against movie studios, and protecting some motion pictures from government censorship under the First Amendment. His service ended with his death on September 8, 1953, in Washington D.C. His final public appearance at the court was when he read the decision not to review the conviction and death sentence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
Frederick Vinson is buried at Pinehill Cemetery in Louisa. A collection of Vinson’s personal and judicial papers is archived at the University of Kentucky. Vinson’s birthplace is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This marker was dedicated on April 13, 1964. It reads:
"A great jurist, a distinguished Secretary of the Treasury, and a noted Congressman." Born in Louisa Jan. 22, 1890. City Atty.; Comm. Atty.; Congressman, 1923-29, 31-38. D.C. Court of Appeals, 1938-43. Director Economic Stabilization, Federal Loan Admin., Director War Mobilization. Secretary of Treasury, 1945. United States Chief Justice 1946 until his death, Sept. 8, 1953.