Joseph Coerten Hornblower

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Joseph Coerten Hornblower (May 7, 1777 – June 11, 1864) was an American lawyer and jurist from Belleville, New Jersey. He was the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Joseph Coerten Hornblower
Born(1777-05-07)May 7, 1777
DiedJune 11, 1864(1864-06-11) (aged 87)
Belleville, New Jersey
OccupationLawyer, judge, politician, and professor

Early life and educationEdit

Hornblower was born on May 7, 1777 in Belleville, New Jersey and lived there for his entire life. [1] His parents were Josiah and Elizabeth (née Kingsland) Hornblower.[2] Josiah Hornblower was a prominent engineer and mine operator who served in the Continental Congress.

As a child, Joseph's health was poor, so he was educated at home. He had a "stroke of paralysis" at the age of 16 that affected his memory.[2] But he read for the law with an attorney in Newark and was admitted to the bar in 1803.[1]

Later in his life, the Princeton Law School conferred him with an honorary degree of Legum Doctor on September 30, 1841.[3]


Law and political careerEdit

He became a prominent lawyer and politically active as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. However, this was the Era of Good Feelings, and party politics were minimal.

When Hornblower was a Presidential elector for James Monroe in 1820, there was only one vote for any other candidate. He also supported other civic and religious activities. In 1816 he was one of the founders of the American Bible Society. In 1845 he aided in establishing the New Jersey Historical Society and served as its president from then until his death in 1864.

Chief JusticeEdit

In November 1832, Hornblower was named to the state's Supreme Court as its Chief Justice.[1] He was re-elected in 1839 and served until 1846.[1] When New Jersey rewrote the state's Constitution in 1844, he was an active member of the convention.[1]

In 1836, Chief Justice Hornblower wrote an unpublished opinion in New Jersey vs. Sheriff of Burlington that was later used to argue a legal precedent against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.[4] He allowed the accused Alexander Helmsley who was being held as a fugitive slave to be released. He argued the state law that the accused was being held under was unconstitutional given the New Jersey state constitution.[4]

Later careerEdit

When he stepped down from the bench, he became a professor of law at Princeton Law School in 1846 and returned to his interest in political activity.[5]

Hornblower's political interests became directed toward the nascent Republican Party. He was chairman of the New Jersey delegation and one of the vice-presidents of the 1856 Republican National Convention that nominated John C. Fremont for U.S. President.[1]

Personal lifeEdit

Hornblower had eight children, including:

He was friends with Chief Justice John Jay.[4]


Hornblower died at home in Belleville, New Jersey on June 11, 1864.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Obituary". Chicago Tribune. June 17, 1864. p. 3. Retrieved January 29, 2021 – via
  2. ^ a b c "On Our Highest Bench". The Times (Philadelphia). October 8, 1893. p. 21. Retrieved January 29, 2021 – via
  3. ^ "Princeton College". The Raleigh Register. October 8, 1841. p. 3. Retrieved January 29, 2021 – via
  4. ^ a b c Finkelstein, Paul, ed. (1997). Slavery & the Law (PDF). Madison House. p. 4. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  5. ^ "Law School of the College of New Jersy". Cherokee Advocate. October 8, 1846. p. 1. Retrieved January 29, 2021 – via
  6. ^ Jackson, John Zen (February 12, 2018). "The Hornblower Decision and Fugitive Slaves in NJ". Retrieved January 29, 2021.