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Hon. Samuel Freeman Miller


Posted By: Ken Wright (email)
Date: 10/17/2008 at 16:48:47

The Story of Iowa, William J. Petersen, Lewis Historical Publishing, Inc., 1952


Samuel Freeman Miller, the first Iowan to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court, was of Pennsylvania ancestry, but was born in Richmond, Kentucky, on April 5, 1816. Raised on a farm, the boy knew the full impact of agricultural drudgery. Later he worked in a drug store and then attended Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky, where he received a medical degree. He soon decided that medicine was not for him, began the private study of law, and was admitted to the bar in 1847. For three years he practiced in Kentucky and then his opposition to slavery developed so strongly that he became a leader in an attempt to amend the Constitution of Kentucky to prohibit slavery. When this failed, he freed his own slaves and in 1850 moved to Keokuk, Iowa, where he practiced law for fifteen years before elevation to the Federal bench. He died at Washington in 1890, still a poor man. His twenty-eight years of service on the United States Supreme Court at a time when the crushing of the Rebellion naturally enlarged the Federal authority at the expense of that formerly enjoyed by the States, was of the greatest importance. He wrote 783 opinions of which 169 were dissenting. Of his decisions, 141 related to constitutional law. Chief Justice Chase once said, I consider the opinions of Judge Miller remarkable for their logical power, force, directness, and, in point of judicial style, superior perhaps to those of any member of the Court.

Judge Miller was, in his personal attitude, the direct heir of Chief Justice Marshall, in that he held the Constitution of the United States the basis of the American government. Hence he was adamant in supporting it against all attacks by the various states. He was distinguished by a commanding presence when on duty and exhibited a superb industry in discharging his duties. Yet, when in private company, he was a good companion and a radiating center of charm. He died in his seventy-fourth year, full of honors and with an unblemished record. It was said that, had he not been a judge, he was so well known and nationally admitted that he could have been elected President following Grant.


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