From “American Biographical History of Eminent and Self Made Men of the State of Michigan”. 1878. Facing page 31. Western Biographical Publishing Company (Cincinnati, OH), publisher.
On this date 150 years ago, former Territorial Supreme Court Justice Henry Chipman died in Detroit at age 82. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.
Henry Chipman was born on July 25, 1784, in Tinmouth, Vermont. His father, Nathaniel Chipman, was a well-known judge, U.S. Senator, and legal writer of his day, and Henry read law with him after graduating in one of the first classes from Middlebury College. While at Middlebury, Henry and his friends founded the Philomathesian Society, a debate society that argued important subjects of the era, including the slavery debate and scenarios that would arise in the event of a Civil War. For his health, Henry moved to Jamaica, and later South Carolina, where he married and ran a law practice in Waterborough from 1809 to 1824 (with a six-month exception for military service during the War of 1812).
The family moved to Detroit in 1824 because they wanted to live in a state without slavery. A committed Whig, Chipman wrote for the Morning Herald and later founded the Detroit Daily Advertiser. In 1825, Chipman was appointed chief judge of the Wayne County (Criminal) Court. President John Quincy Adams gave Chipman a recess appointment to the territorial supreme court on July 18, 1827. Because of his Whig politics, President Andrew Jackson did not re-appoint Chipman to the Court in 1832. He returned to private practice in Detroit and served on Wayne County’s Criminal Court from 1841-1844. After he retired from law, he continued to write for newspapers.
–Compiled from the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Reference Guide, 2d edition. Purchase this book here.
The Society office will be closed on Monday, May 29, in observance of Memorial Day. It seems fitting to note that the holiday originated to honor the 750,000 soldiers killed in battle during the Civil War. Originally called “Decoration Day,” the name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day in 1967–fifty years ago. This year, the Society’s summer Coleman intern, Trent Koch, will be researching the intersection of the Michigan Supreme Court and the Civil War. Six Michigan Supreme Court Justices served in the Civil War: Copeland, Morse, Long, Cahill, Grant, and Montgomery; and from 1890-1892 four of the five justices were veterans. We’ll have more to share as the summer goes on, as well as news about the middle school and high school lesson plans that our spring Coleman intern Jackie Guzman worked on for us. Stay tuned!
The latest issue of the Society Update, our quarterly newsletter, is now available online. You can read it here, or join the Society as a member to receive the next issue delivered to your mailbox, up to one week earlier than when it is posted online.
Although February is the shortest month of the year, it is the month that has the most birthdays of historic Michigan Supreme Court justices — 12.
John McDonald was born on this date (Feb. 8) in 1865 and joined the Court by appointment at age 57. He served from March 29, 1922 through December 31, 1933, and was succeeded on the Court by George Bushnell. You can read his biography here and his memorial here.
Also born on this date was Franz Kuhn in 1872. Justice Kuhn was appointed to the Court at age 40 by Governor Chase Osborn to replace Charles Blair (son of war governor Austin Blair). Justice Kuhn served until 1919 when he resigned to become president of the Michigan Bell Telephone Company.
He died in 1926. You can read his memorial here. His biography is here.
We hope that you will consider making a contribution today to honor someone important in your life. Perhaps it was a law school professor or your first boss who inspired you to care deeply about the law. Or, maybe it was hearing the stories of the Michigan Supreme Court from the Justices themselves in our Oral History interviews. Whatever it was that inspired you, when you make a contribution to the Society, you help to support our mission of increasing public awareness of Michigan’s legal heritage. Please give!
Updated: If you use Facebook, you can make a contribution via this link, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match it, up to $1,000.00.
Tweet to us @micourthistory with who inspired you to care deeply about the law, using the hash tag #mygivingstory
On this date one year ago, the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan announced that it had acquired the papers of Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
The 1994 Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Kevorkian was featured in our Verdict of History project, which can be read on our website here and in our recent book The Michigan Supreme Court Historical Reference Guide, Second Edition, which can be purchased on Amazon or wherever books are sold.
The Bentley Historical Library maintains the papers of many former Michigan Supreme Court justices. View the full list by visiting this link.
The Society’s executive director has been attending the annual conference of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) for many years. It was one of the first things that I did when I began working here in 2008, traveling to Rochester, New York, with former executive director Angela Bergman. On that trip, we sat on the actual bus that Rosa Parks rode in — you may recall that we awarded the Dorothy Comstock Riley Legal History Award in memory of Mrs. Parks in 2006. Read more about that here.
This year, the national conference’s location is Detroit! This means that more representatives of the Society’s Board of Directors will be able to take part, joining me in sessions this evening and on Friday. I will return to our office on Monday, September 19th — just in time to prepare for the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in Grand Rapids where we will be an exhibitor. I hope to see you on my travels!
On September 8, 1890, Big Four Justice Isaac Christiancy died. He was 78 years old. He passed away just six months after fellow Big Four Justice James V. Campbell. Christiancy had resigned from the Court fifteen years earlier, upon his appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1875. He did not stay in Washington, D.C. for long. A scandal involving a woman led to his resignation, and President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him U.S. Minister to Peru in 1879. One of the more interesting lines from Justice Christiancy’s memorial, printed in the Michigan Reports of the time: “After serving as senator he entered the more difficult field of diplomacy. Appointed minister to Peru, he saw that unfortunate people forced to succumb to the superior powers of Chili.” (emphasis added for effect — it was in fact the beginning of the War of the Pacific, fought by Peru and Bolivia on one side and Chile on the other, not a problem with hearty bean stew that befell his time there). In 1881, Justice Christiancy returned to Lansing to resume the practice of law and it is there he lived until his death on this date 126 years ago.
Society members received the summer newsletter in their mailboxes this week. You can read the articles online here. But, we encourage you to join the Society to support our work of preserving the history of Michigan’s legal heritage. To start a new membership or renew the one you already have, please visit this link. As a 501(c)(3), contributions including membership dues are tax-deductible!