Open main menu

Samuel M. Blatchford (March 9, 1820 – July 7, 1893) was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from April 3, 1882 until his death.

Samuel Blatchford
Samuel Blatchford.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
March 22, 1882 – July 7, 1893
Nominated byChester Arthur
Preceded byWard Hunt
Succeeded byEdward White
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Second Circuit
In office
March 4, 1878 – March 22, 1882
Nominated byRutherford Hayes
Preceded byAlexander Johnson
Succeeded byWilliam Wallace
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
May 3, 1867 – March 4, 1878
Nominated byAndrew Johnson
Preceded bySamuel Betts
Succeeded byWilliam Choate
Personal details
Born(1820-03-09)March 9, 1820
Auburn, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 7, 1893(1893-07-07) (aged 73)
Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Caroline Appleton
EducationColumbia University (BA)


Early lifeEdit

Samuel Blatchford was born in Auburn, New York.

His father, Richard Milford Blatchford (1798–1875), was a well known attorney and friend of Daniel Webster.[1] He served as a New York State Assemblyman in 1855, U.S. Minister to the Papal States (1862–1863),[2] and New York City Park Commissioner in 1872.[3]

His grandfather, also named Samuel Blatchford, was born in England and was the first president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The younger Samuel Blatchford was educated at Columbia College, where he joined the Philolexian Society, and graduated when he was 17 years old. In 1840, he served as the private secretary to Governor William H. Seward.

Legal careerEdit

Blatchford read law while working for the governor and then entered into the private practice of law with his father and uncle. In 1854, he moved to New York City and started a law firm, Blatchford, Seward & Griswold, now known as Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He became well known for preparing summaries of United States circuit court cases, serving for a time as reporter of decisions for the Circuit Court in New York, and developed a lucrative practice in admiralty law.

Blatchford's Supreme Court nomination

On what he thought was inside information, Blatchford sold all his shares of stock on the eve of the Battle of Fort Sumter and the decline in stock prices that took place at the onset of the American Civil War, thus preserving his personal fortune.[4]

On May 3, 1867, Blatchford received a recess appointment from President Andrew Johnson to a seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by Samuel R. Betts.[5] Formally nominated on July 13, 1867, Blatchford was confirmed by the United States Senate three days later, receiving his commission the same day.[5] On February 15, 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes promoted Blatchford to serve as Circuit Judge of the Second U.S. Judicial Circuit to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Alexander Smith Johnson.[5] Blatchford was confirmed by the Senate, and received his commission, on March 4, 1878.[5]

On March 13, 1882, Blatchford was nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Chester A. Arthur, to a seat vacated by Ward Hunt,[5] after two other candidates, Senator George F. Edmunds and former Senator Roscoe Conkling, declined. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 22, 1882 and received his commission the same day.[5] Blatchford thus became the first person to serve at all three levels of the federal judiciary—as a District Judge, a Circuit Judge, and a Supreme Court Justice. When he was nominated for the Supreme Court, it was estimated that his personal wealth exceeded $3 million (over $77 million in 2018), mostly held in real estate.[1]

Blatchford was an expert in admiralty law and patent law, and authored Blatchford and Howland's Admiralty Cases, which was considered the most complete work of its kind. During his eleven-year tenure on the High Court he wrote 430 opinions and two dissents. His most noteworthy opinions, Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Co. v. Minnesota, and Budd v. People of New York, were roundly criticized for their apparently contradictory conclusions about due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Blatchford served as a trustee of Columbia College. He married Caroline Frances Appleton in Boston in 1844. They had one son, Samuel Appleton Blatchford.

Blatchford died in 1893 in his home at Newport, Rhode Island, at age 73.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Justice Blatchford Dead: Passes Peacefully Away at His Home in Newport". The New York Times. July 8, 1893. p. 1 – via
  2. ^ "Richard Milford Blatchford". Office of the Historian: Department History. Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2013-03-13.
  3. ^ "Richard Milford Blatchford (1798–1875)". The Political Graveyard. Archived from the original on 2016-07-08.
  4. ^ Nevins, Allan (1959). The War for the Union. I, The Improvised War, 1861-1862. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 66.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Samuel M. Blatchford at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.

Further readingEdit

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court. 3d. ed. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3.
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies,1789-1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 978-1-56802-126-3.
  • Frank, John P.; Leon Friedman; Fred L. Israel, editors (1995). The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7910-1377-9.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-505835-2.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 978-0-87187-554-9.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 590. ISBN 978-0-8153-1176-8.

External linksEdit