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David Davis (Supreme Court justice)

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Title: David Davis (Supreme Court justice)  
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Subject: United States presidential election, 1872, Robert Cooper Grier, 47th United States Congress, James Moore Wayne, Thomas F. Bayard
Collection: 1815 Births, 1886 Deaths, Illinois Independents, Illinois Lawyers, Illinois Liberal Republicans, Illinois Republicans, Independent United States Senators, Kenyon College Alumni, Members of the Illinois House of Representatives, People from Bloomington, Illinois, People from Cecil County, Maryland, People of Illinois in the American Civil War, United States Federal Judges Appointed by Abraham Lincoln, United States Presidential Candidates, 1872, United States Senators from Illinois, United States Supreme Court Justices, Yale Law School Alumni
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David Davis (Supreme Court justice)

David Davis
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
October 17, 1862[1] – March 4, 1877
Nominated by Abraham Lincoln
Preceded by John Archibald Campbell
Succeeded by John Marshall Harlan
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
October 13, 1881 – March 4, 1883
Preceded by Thomas F. Bayard
Succeeded by George F. Edmunds
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1883
Preceded by John A. Logan
Succeeded by Shelby M. Cullom
Judge of the Illinois 3rd Circuit Court
In office
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born (1815-03-09)March 9, 1815
Cecil County, Maryland
Died June 26, 1886(1886-06-26) (aged 71)
Bloomington, Illinois
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Sarah Woodruff Walker (m. 1838)
Children George Perrin Davis (b. 1842)
Sarah "Sallie" Davis
Alma mater Kenyon College
Yale University
Religion No Affiliation or Presbyterian [1]

David Davis (March 9, 1815 – June 26, 1886) was a United States Senator from Illinois and associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He also served as Abraham Lincoln's campaign manager at the 1860 Republican National Convention, along with Ward Hill Lamon, one of Lincoln's former law partners who served as the President's primary bodyguard during the Civil War. Davis and Lamon, along with another Lincoln associate, Leonard Swett, helped engineer Lincoln's nomination.

Educated at Kenyon College and Yale University, Davis settled in Bloomington, Illinois in the 1830s, where he practiced law. He served in the Illinois legislature and as a delegate to the state constitutional convention before becoming a state Judge in 1848. Lincoln practiced law in his court. After Lincoln won the presidency, Davis was appointed to the United States Supreme Court, where he served until being elected to the Senate in 1877. Known for his independence, he was elected President Pro Tem of that body, placing him in the line of presidential succession.


  • Early life 1
  • National stage 2
  • Disputed election of 1876 3
  • Senate career 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Family 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

He was born to a wealthy family in Illinois House of Representatives in 1845 and a delegate to the Illinois constitutional convention in McLean County, 1847. From 1848 to 1862, Davis presided over the court of the Illinois Eighth Circuit, the same circuit where attorney Abraham Lincoln was practicing.

Davis was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago, serving as Lincoln's campaign manager during the 1860 presidential election. After President Lincoln's assassination, Judge Davis was an administrator of his estate.[2]

National stage

On October 17, 1862, Davis received a recess appointment from President Lincoln to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court vacated by the resignation of John Archibald Campbell, who had resigned in protest of Lincoln's perceived intent to go to war with seceding Southern states. Formally nominated on December 1, 1862, Davis was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 8, 1862, and received his commission the same day.

On the Court, Davis became famous for writing one of the most profound decisions in the Supreme Court history, Ex Parte Milligan (1866). In that decision, the court set aside the death sentence imposed during the Civil War by a military commission upon a civilian, Lambdin P. Milligan. Milligan had been found guilty of inciting insurrection. The Supreme Court held that since the civil courts were operative, the trial of a civilian by a military tribunal was unconstitutional. The opinion denounced arbitrary military power, effectively becoming one of the bulwarks of held notions of American civil liberty.

In 1870 he held, with the minority of the Supreme Court, that the acts of Congress making government notes a legal tender in payment of debts were constitutional.[2] He is the only judge of the Supreme Court with no recorded affiliation to any religious sect.[3]

After refusing calls to become Chief Justice, Davis, a registered independent, was nominated for President by the Labor Reform Convention in February 1872 on a platform that declared, among other things, in favor of a national currency “based on the faith and resources of the nation,” and interchangeable with 3.65% bonds of the government, and demanded the establishment of an eight-hour law throughout the country, and the payment of the national debt “without mortgaging the property of the people to enrich capitalists.” In answer to the letter informing him of the nomination, Judge Davis said: “Be pleased to thank the convention for the unexpected honor which they have conferred upon me. The chief magistracy of the republic should neither be sought nor declined by any American citizen.”[2]

He withdrew from the presidential contest when he failed to receive the Liberal Republican Party nomination, which went to editor Horace Greeley. Greeley died after the popular election and before the return of the electoral vote. One of Greeley's electoral votes went to Davis.

Disputed election of 1876

Judge David Davis

In 1877, Davis narrowly avoided the opportunity to be the only person to ever single-handedly select the President of the United States. In the disputed Presidential election of 1876 between the Republican Rutherford Hayes and the Democrat Samuel Tilden, Congress created a special Electoral Commission to decide to whom to award a total of 20 electoral votes which were disputed from the states of Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oregon. The Commission was to be composed of 15 members: five drawn from the U.S. House of Representatives, five from the U.S. Senate, and five from the U.S. Supreme Court. The majority party in each legislative chamber would get three seats on the Commission, and the minority party would get two. Both parties agreed to this arrangement because it was understood that the Commission would have seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and Davis, who was arguably the most trusted independent in the nation.

According to one historian, "No one, perhaps not even Davis himself, knew which presidential candidate he preferred."[4] Just as the Electoral Commission Bill was passing Congress, the legislature of Illinois elected Davis to the Senate. Democrats in the Illinois Legislature believed that they had purchased Davis's support by voting for him. However, they had made a miscalculation; instead of staying on the Supreme Court so that he could serve on the Commission, he promptly resigned as a Justice on March 4, 1877, in order to take his Senate seat. Because of this, Davis was unable to assume the spot, always intended for him, as one of the Supreme Court's members of the Commission. His replacement on the Commission was Joseph Philo Bradley, a Republican, thus the Commission ended up with an 8–7 Republican majority. Each of the 20 disputed electoral votes was eventually awarded to Hayes, the Republican, by that same 8-7 majority; Hayes won the election, 185 electoral votes to 184. Had Davis been on the Commission, his would have been the deciding vote, and Tilden would have been elected president if Davis and the commission had awarded him even one electoral vote.

Senate career

Davis served only a single term as U.S. Senator from Illinois.

In 1881, Davis's renowned independence was again called upon. Upon the assassination of President James A. Garfield, Vice President Chester Arthur succeeded to the office of president. Per the terms of the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, which was still in effect, the President pro tempore of the Senate would be next in line for the presidency, should it again become vacant at any time in the 3½ years remaining in Garfield's term. As the Senate was evenly divided between the parties, this posed the risk of deadlock. However, the presence of Davis provided an answer; despite being only a freshman Senator, the Senate elected Davis as President Pro Tempore.[5] Davis was not a candidate for re-election. At the end of his term in 1883, he retired to his home in Bloomington.[2]


Upon his death in 1886, he was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois. His grave can be found in section G, lot 659.

His home in that city, the David Davis Mansion, is a state historic site. At his death, he was the largest landowner in Illinois, and his estate was worth between four and five million dollars.


David Davis's family stayed in the same neighborhood that Davis last lived in. They all built their own houses and owned the surrounding land. Many of the family members have continued to live in Bloomington to this day. Davis was a cousin of U.S. Representative

Legal offices
Preceded by
John Archibald Campbell
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
October 17, 1862 – March 4, 1877
Succeeded by
John Marshall Harlan
United States Senate
Preceded by
John A. Logan
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1883
Served alongside: Richard J. Oglesby, John A. Logan
Succeeded by
Shelby M. Cullom
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas F. Bayard, Sr.
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
October 13, 1881 – March 4, 1883
Succeeded by
George F. Edmunds

External links


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: David Davis". 2009-12-11. Retrieved 2009-12-11. 
  2. ^ a b c d e  
  3. ^ Religious Affiliation of the U.S. Supreme Court
  4. ^ Morris, Roy, Jr. (2003). Fraud Of The Century. Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden And The Stolen Election Of 1876. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  5. ^ President pro tempore, from the Senate's website; American National Biography, "David Davis"
  6. ^   Reitwiesner is a professional genealogist who has worked for the Library of Congress.
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