Thomas Cooley

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Served from 1864 through 1885
Chief Justice: 1868, 1869, 1870, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1884, 1885


Thomas M. Cooley was born on January 6, 1824, in Attica, New York. He taught school in order to earn money to obtain his education. Cooley planned to continue his studies in Chicago, but during his travels in 1843 he ran out of funds and settled in Adrian, Michigan. While in Adrian, he finished his law studies in the firm of Tiffany and Beaman.

The fast paced characteristics of Cooley’s professional life began once he was admitted to the Bar. Initially, he worked as a Deputy County Clerk but grew restless and sought a law partnership. He worked in two law firms while editing the Adrian Watchtower, serving as Court Commissioner and Recorder for Adrian, and cultivating his 100-acre farm.

Throughout his early career, Cooley was offered a number of teaching positions at various law schools around the country, and in 1859, he accepted the position of Jay Professor of Law at the newly formed University of Michigan Law Department, a position he held until 1884.

His time with the Michigan Supreme Court began in 1858 when he served as Court Reporter. He relinquished that position when he was appointed to serve on the Court in 1864.

Another aspect of Cooley’s undertakings was his literary works. He wrote a number of law manuals, the most famous being Cooley’s Constitutional Limitations, which was published in 1868. In addition, many of Cooley’s magazine articles and addresses were printed and revered by his colleagues.

The latter part of Cooley’s career was played out on a national level. He was placed on a commission to investigate issues involving railroads. That venture led him to serve as Receiver of Wabash Railroad. In March of 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed him Commissioner to the Interstate Commerce Commission. He resigned in 1891 and continued lecturing and writing articles until his death on September 12, 1898. (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan. Chicago: Callaghan and Co., 1879–1949, Vol.

Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
October 13, 1885

Portrait Artist:
Ives, L.T.

Oil on canvas

121 x 90.2 cm (47 5/8 x 35 1/2 in.)

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
Hall of Justice – 1st Floor: Lobby

Portrait photo by:
Doug Elbinger, Lansing – June 1996