Robert Archer Cooper (1934 - 1947)

Robert Archer Cooper  (1934 - 1947)Robert Archer Cooper was born in Waterloo Township, Laurens County, South Carolina, on June 12, 1874, the son of Henry Addison Cooper and Elizabeth Archer. On March 22, 1899, he married Mamie A. Machen, with whom he had a daughter, Mamie Elizabeth Cooper (Dissman). Mamie died in 1914. On November 15, 1917, Judge Cooper married Dorcas R. Calmes; they had a son, Robert Archer Cooper, Jr.

Judge Cooper was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1898 after reading for the law from 1897 to 1898 with John L. M. Irby. Some biographies indicate that he received a law degree from the University of South Carolina Law School. He then established a law firm with Mr. Irby. His official biography states, however, that he received a Doctor of Laws degree (Ll.D., honoris causa) from the Polytechnic Institute (now the Interamerican University) in San German, Puerto Rico. The honorary degree was granted on May 4, 1947. Judge Cooper held many private and government positions. From 1899 to 1900 he acted as a Magistrate of the State of South Carolina. He was a Trustee of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina and of Anderson College in Anderson, North Carolina. In 1900 he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he served until 1904. He was elected three times to be the Solicitor of the Eighth Judicial District of South Carolina, and served from 1905 to 1917.

Twice he was elected Governor of South Carolina, in 1918 and in 1920. He is known as having been a progressive governor. He established mandatory state-wide school attendance and a seven-month school term; he procured higher salaries for teachers, expanded healthcare and improved roadways; he enacted legislation to limit work hours in textile mills; and he urged the enactment of stricter tax laws and the revaluation of state property to finance his progressive measures.

Shortly before completing his second term, Judge Cooper resigned as Governor to accept a position with the Federal Farm Loan Board, a position he held for five years. He then resumed the practice of law and served as assistant to the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party from 1929 to 1932. He returned to public service when he was selected by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to organize the Community Credit Corporation, where he served briefly as General Counsel.

On January 8, 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Judge Cooper to succeed Judge Ira Kent Wells as the federal judge in Puerto Rico, and assumed his duties on January 29, 1934.

Judge Cooper arrived on the Island during a period of local political conflicts. In 1936, he presided over the trial and re-trial of Ponce attorney Pedro Albizu Campos and other Nationalist Party leaders for conspiracy to overthrow the Government of the United States in Puerto Rico by force, inciting rebellion and the recruitment of soldiers to take part in acts of armed hostility against the United States. (The Grand Jury had indicted them for planning and carrying out the murder of Colonel Elisha Francis Riggs, the Chief of Police.) On June 9, 1937, two days after Albizu Campos was taken from Puerto Rico to prison in Atlanta (he and the other Nationalists had been found guilty after the re-trial), there was an attempt on Judge Cooper's life. Fifteen shots were fired at him while he was driving home, but he was not harmed. On October 22, 1937, by Executive Order 7731, President Roosevelt designated and appointed Associate Justice Martín Travieso of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico to perform and discharge the duties of a district judge of this Court in the trial against the persons charged with attempting to kill Judge Cooper. The reason for the designation and appointment of Justice Travieso was because Judge Cooper was a necessary witness for the government in the trial and was under legal disability to act as a judge in the case.

Judge Cooper retired in 1947, having been the longest serving federal judge in Puerto Rico up to then. He died just six years later, on August 7, 1953. He was 79 years old.