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Baldwin, Henry

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Birth: January 14, 1780, New Haven, Connecticut.

Education: Hopkins Grammar School, 1793; Yale College, 1797, LL.D., 1830; attended the law lectures of Judge Tapping Reeve; clerked for Alexander James Dallas.

Official Positions: U.S. representative; chairman, Committee on Domestic Manufactures.

Supreme Court Service: Nominated associate justice by President Andrew Jackson, January 5, 1830, to replace Bushrod Washington, who had died; confirmed by the Senate, January 6, 1830, by a 41–2 vote; took judicial oath January 18, 1830; served until April 21, 1844; replaced by Robert C. Grier, nominated by President James K. Polk.

Death: April 21, 1844, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Henry Baldwin
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Henry Baldwin

Henry Baldwin was raised in rural Connecticut but returned to New Haven to attend Yale College, from which he graduated in 1797. He moved to Philadelphia to study law in the office of Alexander J. Dallas, a prominent lawyer, and was admitted to the Philadelphia bar. In 1799 he headed west and settled in the bustling town of Pittsburgh. He joined the local bar in 1801 and started a firm with two other young, ambitious lawyers. Baldwin and his partners soon held prominent places in western Pennsylvania legal and political circles, for a time owning a Republican newspaper, The Tree of Liberty.

In 1816 Baldwin won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and was reelected twice. Representing the manufacturing interests of Pittsburgh, and himself an iron and textile manufacturer, Baldwin favored a protective tariff and courted southern support by opposing conditional admission of Missouri to statehood. He also staunchly defended Gen. Andrew Jackson's prosecution of the war against the Florida Seminoles.

Baldwin resigned from the House in 1822 due to illness, but he maintained his support of Jackson and corresponded with Jackson adherents about the general's political chances in Pennsylvania. In the 1828 presidential election, Baldwin ardently campaigned for “Old Hickory.” The Jackson victory did not bring an immediate reward to Baldwin, whose candidacy for various federal appointments was opposed by Vice President John C. Calhoun. But in late 1829, when Justice Bushrod Washington died, Jackson named Baldwin to the Supreme Court.

In his early years, Baldwin was noted as an amiable, pleasant, and moderate man; Justice Joseph Story initially found the appointment of this Democrat “quite satisfactory.” But Baldwin became more contentious with the years, apparently suffering a breakdown in 1832, which prevented his attendance at the 1833 term of the Court. This absence relieved his brethren of what had become an unpredictable, argumentative presence. By 1833 Story was complaining to a federal district judge that Baldwin's “distaste for the Supreme Court and especially for [Chief Justice Marshall] is so familiarly known to us that it excites no surprise.”

By the mid-1830s, however, Baldwin had mellowed to the extent that his work on the Third Circuit had produced a volume of well-respected decisions and had raised the prestige of that circuit. He also managed to mend his relationship with the chief justice and was a frequent visitor during Marshall's last illness. According to Story, Baldwin held no one in higher “reverence or respect.”

Although Baldwin's initial dissatisfaction with service on the Court might be attributed to its Federalist flavor, Demo-cratic appointments of the 1830s should have assuaged his sense of political isolation. But Baldwin's relationship with the new justices was far from harmonious. In addition, he provoked constant arguments with Court reporter Richard Peters over the presentation of his numerous dissents. In an age when consensus (or at least the appearance of it) was the hallmark of Supreme Court decisions, Baldwin was a misfit.

Baldwin's activity on the bench falls into two major periods: a series of dissents and concurrences in 1831–1832 and a second series of concurrences in 1837. In the 1831 term, the new justice dissented seven times—probably a record for a junior justice. In Ex parte Crane (1831), Baldwin criticized the majority decision to issue a writ of mandamus as an unwarranted and dangerous extension of federal jurisdiction. His intemperate language no doubt antagonized Marshall, who had written the opinion, as well as other members of the majority.

In United States v. Arredondo (1832), Baldwin's majority opinion placed the burden of proof in public land claims on the government and annoyed President Jackson in the process. The Arredondo claim dated to a vague Spanish land grant in Florida. According to Baldwin, courts must protect even ill-defined land titles predating American possession to ensure security of landownership. The Jackson administration had vigorously opposed the Arredondo claim and now found its recent appointee to the bench issuing a stern lecture on the duties of the government.

In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832), Baldwin's usual unpredictable thinking appeared more consistent than the majority's. In the first case, Marshall's decision held that the Cherokee had no standing to bring suit under the Court's original jurisdiction because the Cherokee were a “domestic, dependent nation.” Although Baldwin did not reiterate Marshall's expression of sympathy for the plight of the Cherokee, his concurrence with the chief justice's opinion appeared to place him squarely in the Marshall camp. In the subsequent case, Baldwin dissented from the majority view (again written by Marshall) that the Cherokee were a special foreign nation and the Georgia act that violated this status was unconstitutional. According to Baldwin, the Cherokee were not a “nation” and “treaties” with them were merely agreements. Over the course of the two cases, Baldwin's consistency of outlook in the face of the majority's apparent reversal managed to irritate the other members of the Court.

The most remarkable product of Baldwin's tenure was A General View of the Origin and Nature of the Constitution … Together with Opinions in the Cases decided at January Term, 1837, which he wrote and published in pamphlet form. Baldwin had concurred with the majority in these cases of the 1837 judicial “revolution,” particularly Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, New York v. Miln, and Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, but had subsequently decided that the Court had not paid sufficient attention to constitutional precepts. To Baldwin, liberal and narrow interpreters of the Constitution continued to err in their judgments, and the 1837 cases were proof of his contention. Correct interpretation, according to Baldwin, lay somewhere between these extremes and had been most consistently delivered by “the late venerated Chief Justice” and Baldwin himself. As Marshall could no longer speak for himself, Baldwin proceeded to explain the “few and simple” principles that would provide “an easy solution” to all questions regarding the Constitution. In the process, he again disrupted the appearance of a harmonious and dignified Court. The last seven years of his tenure witnessed recurrent mental instability and very little productive activity.


Baldwin's judicial career has excited little research. The most extensive treatment is Frank Otto Gatell's essay in Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel (eds.) The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789–1969, vol. 1, 571 (1969) (hereafter cited as Friedman and Israel, Justices). G. Edward White addresses Baldwin's early judicial career in The Marshall Court and Cultural Change, 1815–1835, volume 3 of the Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court (1988); and Carl Swisher discusses Baldwin's later career in The Taney Period, 1836–1864 (1974), volume 5 of the series.

Noteworthy Opinions

Ex parte Crane, 30 U.S. 190 (1831) (Dissent)

United States v. Arredondo, 31 U.S. 691 (1832)


Document Citation
Baldwin, Henry, in Biographical Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court 7 (Melvin I. Urofsky ed., 2006),
Document ID: bioenc-427-18975-1014108
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