HomeConstitutional LawLegal HistoryLegal EthicsEvidenceProfessional ResponsibilityContact MeSearch


Supreme Court Justices

Henry Baldwin (1780 - 1844)

Henry Baldwin was born on January 14, 1780. At age 17 Baldwin received a doctor of laws degree from Yale University. He then read law with Alexander Dallas, a Philadelphia lawyer who was a reporter for the Supreme Court when it was located in Philadelphia. Baldwin moved to Pittsburgh, where he became a successful lawyer and a socially prominent person. Baldwin was elected to Congress in 1816, and resigned after six years due to ill health and failing finances. In the presidential election of 1828, Baldwin vigorously supported the candidacy of Andrew Jackson. When Bushrod Washington died the next year, Jackson rather surprisingly nominated Baldwin, possibly to infuriate the South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. Baldwin was one of several appointees by Jackson whose presence and actions marked the end of the Marshall era. During the February 1831 Term, the Supreme Court's Reporter, Richard Peters Jr., claimed that Baldwin dissented in "at least two thirds of the cases," although the official reports list nine dissents by Baldwin in the 42 cases decided by the Court that year. The procedure of the Court until then was for the Justices not to publicize their disagreements, and  Baldwin's decision to publish his dissents created a tremendous change in the relations among the members of the Court. In addition, Baldwin complained about the tradition of the members residing at the same boarding house during the Court's Term. Baldwin wrote to Jackson at the end of the 1831 Term of his intention to resign due to the Court's extension of its powers. It appears Baldwin may have begun suffering from mental illness. Joseph Story thought little of Baldwin, calling him "uncomfortable, conceited, willful, and wrongheaded" and "partially deranged."  And Baldwin missed the 1833 Term because he'd suffered a seizure the year before. This seizure affected Baldwin's personality for the remainder of his life. He was an abrasive, and, on some occasions, a violent person. In 1837, Baldwin wrote a book titled "A General View of the Origin and Nature of the Constitution and Government of the United States." Story had written his "Commentaries on the Constitution" four years earlier, and Baldwin's book was a response, albeit one that was largely incoherent, to Story's nationalism.  Baldwin supported the development of state sovereignty at the expense of federal expansion, and favored the institution of slavery. He died, a pauper, in 1844 after suffering from paralysis. 

Further reading: Robert G. Seddig, "Henry Baldwin," in The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (Kermit L. Hall ed. 1992); G. Edward White, The Marshall Court & Cultural Change, 1815-35 (pbk. abr. ed. 1991).