For more than four decades, with vigor and authority, Merlo John Pusey wrote daily for this newspaper on a range of subjects as broad as its front page. Perhaps you do not recognize his byline for, although he wrote many books and articles, nearly everything he wrote for The Post appeared unsigned in this column. But if you read this page at any time between 1928 and 1971, when he retired, his voice was well known to you. If you read this page today, you will continue to hear many echoes of it.
Editorial writers' ideas are sharpened and refined by the battles they have joined, and Mr. Pusey's first great battle was over President Roosevelt's attempt in 1937 to pack the Supreme Court. It was, he believed, an attempt to spring "the balance wheel of democracy," and he wrote at blazing speed his first book, "The Supreme Court Crisis," laying out the case against the president's purposes. For the rest of his career he bore a mistrust of expanding presidential claims of authority, and of expanding government.
Because the following years were a period of presidential ascendancy in American politics, Mr. Pusey often found himself in the minority in editorial conferences. Whether he won or lost the day's joust, he carried on with limitless courtesy, patience and helpfulness to the rest of the staff down to, and sometimes especially to, the most junior. Most of the questions addressed on the page were settled within the bounds of the debate that Mr. Pusey carried on for nearly 30 years with his old friend and adversary, the late Alan Barth, whose political convictions had been hammered out in resistance to another kind of political excess, the trespasses on civil liberties by Red-hunting congressional committees in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The to men agreed absolutely on the centrality of the Constitution in American political life, but since they frequently read the Constitution differently, the basic concepts of the law were woven all through the discussions of those years. It was possibly after the thirtieth recapitulation of their disagreement over the legalities of wiretapping that Mr. Barth said, "Merlo is about as malleable as Oliver Cromwell."
And not only in editorial conferences. He once found himself serving on a Montgomery County jury in a murder case shortly before Thanksgiving. As the jury began its deliberations it became clear that Mr. Pusey had characteristically formed a clear and precise view of the case -- and, also characteristically, was in the minority. The other jurors wanted to go home for the holiday, but soon realized that Mr. Pusey considered a Thanksgiving weekend in the jury room to be a very small price to see justice done. Minds began to change, and the jury came to a unanimous verdict -- Mr. Pusey's verdict -- in good time for Thanksgiving dinner. He always believed that principles don't count for much without the stamina to uphold them.
He began campaigning for home rule for Washington in the 1930s, when the city was under the unchallenged rule of a small knot of segregationist congressmen on the House District Committee. Born in Utah, he had a westerner's sharp interest in water, natural resources and national parks. A Mormon, he took great pride in his church's contributions to this city.
From his book on the Supreme Court he went on to write the biography of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes in 1952, and many other books -- politics, history and biography. Earlier this year he published a volume of poetry, and he was still writing poetry until shortly before his death yesterday, at the age of 83, here in Washington.