President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Supreme Court: He Assigns New Justice Samuel Miller to the Just-Created Ninth Judicial Circuit

This is the only Supreme Court circuit assignment we have ever seen reach the market

Just deaccessioned by a major private collection, where it had remained for almost three decades

As the Civil War dawned, the Federal judiciary was divided into district circuits, which were composed of states or groups of contiguous states subject to the same Federal court. These district courts had a certain amount of...

Read More

President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Supreme Court: He Assigns New Justice Samuel Miller to the Just-Created Ninth Judicial Circuit

This is the only Supreme Court circuit assignment we have ever seen reach the market

Just deaccessioned by a major private collection, where it had remained for almost three decades

As the Civil War dawned, the Federal judiciary was divided into district circuits, which were composed of states or groups of contiguous states subject to the same Federal court. These district courts had a certain amount of autonomy, as each was subject only to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than to its fellow circuits. Each circuit was assigned to a U.S. Supreme Court justice, who was usually a resident of the circuit to which he was assigned, and that justice held court in conjunction with the Federal district judges there. This circuits system, which had remained unchanged for decades, was in a chaotic state by the end of 1861. The Southern states had seceded and their circuits were inactive, and a number of states in the West, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and California, were not assigned to any circuit.

In December 1861 Senator John Sherman, brother of General William T. Sherman, introduced a bill to reorganize the Federal judiciary. The idea was to equalize the circuits, which would involve changing some circuits and creating new ones, and filling the three vacancies on the Supreme Court by naming new justices from these circuits. But the states that would be involved in the reorganization had their own interests, and backed their own Supreme Court candidates (especially Iowa and Illinois), so it proved difficult to achieve agreement. By the spring of 1862 there was still no bill, and advocates of judicial reform were beginning to lose patience. Then President Lincoln refused to make any more Supreme Court appointments until a bill was passed. Faced with that strong position by the President, Congress at last completed passage of the Judicial Reorganization Act of 1862 on July 12, 1862, and Lincoln signed it on July 15.

The Judiciary Act as passed subscribed to three broad ideas about the structure of the federal courts.  First, it accepted the traditional notion of judicial representation that committed Supreme Court justices and district court judges to duty in the circuits.  Second, it endorsed the idea of molding the federal courts to the dominant regional interests.  Third, it adopted the traditional view, as expressed by President Lincoln, that the Supreme Court should be of “convenient size,” in order that the number of justices equal the number of circuits. The act placed Ohio and Indiana in one circuit; Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin in another; and created the new trans-Mississippi Ninth Circuit consisting of Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri. Illinois was put into a different district than Iowa, resolving that spat. All of this was accomplished by reducing the number of wholly southern circuits from five to three. Thus the Republican Congress succeeded not only in solving some important problems, but also in creating a more northern-dominated court system.

Samuel Freeman Miller earned a medical degree in 1838 and practiced medicine for a decade. He remains the only physician ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court. He was, like Lincoln, a transplanted Kentuckian; an opponent of slavery and a Whig, he had removed to Iowa to find a more congenial place from which to oppose slavery. Miller was the favorite son of Iowa for a Supreme Court seat, and President Lincoln wasted little time in rewarding Iowa for helping make the Judiciary Act happen. The day after signing the act, July 16, 1862, he appointed Miller an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Miller became the first Justice born west of the Appalachians, and the first to live west of the Mississippi. His reputation was so high that Miller was confirmed unanimously in half an hour after the Senate received notice of his nomination.

Three days later Lincoln received his formal appointment and assignment to the newly created Ninth Circuit. This is the original of that assignment, the only Supreme Court circuit assignment signed by an American president that we have ever seen, or can find, having reached the market. It has just been deaccessioned by an institution, where it had been ensconced for almost three decades.

Autograph assignment signed, Washington, July 21, 1862. “Whereas Samuel F. Miller has been appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since the last term of that Court, and no allotment has been made by said Court since his appointment and whereas there is no allotment of any Justice of said Court to the Ninth Judicial Circuit. Now therefore I Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States do hereby allot said Justice Samuel F. Miller to said Ninth Judicial Circuit with full power and authority to hold the Circuit Court in Said Circuit until another allotment shall be made. Given under my hand as President of the United States this 21st day of July A.D. 1862 Abraham Lincoln.”

As a justice, Miller’s opinions strongly favored Lincoln’s positions, and he upheld Lincoln’s wartime suspension of habeas corpus and trials by military commission. Later, Miller held that the Federal government had broad authority to act to protect black voters from violence by the Ku Klux Klan and other private groups. He also supported the use of broad Federal power under the Commerce Clause as over-riding state regulations. In 1876, he served on the electoral commission that awarded the disputed electoral votes to the Rutherford B. Hayes. Justice Miller served for 28 years and participated in some 5,000 cases. He wrote the opinions on 600 of them, more opinions than any other Supreme Court Justice, leading future Chief Justice William Rehnquist to describe him as “very likely the dominant figure” on the Court in his time.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services