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SUPREME COURT HISTORY
Law, Power & Personality
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Portrait of Henry Baldwin
Portrait of Henry Baldwin.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Henry Baldwin

b. January 14, 1780, New Haven, CT
d. April 21, 1844, Philadelphia, PA


Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
(1830-1844)


The child of a New England family whose members had been part of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, Henry Baldwin graduated from Yale College in 1797 and clerked for Andrew Dallas, a Philadelphia lawyer who was reporter for the Supreme Court while it was located in Philadelphia. Baldwin subsequently moved to Pittsburgh, where he established a successful private practice and rose to social prominence.

He served in Congress from 1816 to 1822 but resigned because of poor health and financial difficulties. In 1828 he became an ardent supporter of Andrew Jackson's bid for the presidency, and after winning the election President Jackson nominated him to the Supreme Court in 1830.

Baldwin often clashed with Justice Joseph Story, who was known for his headstrong ways. Baldwin was frustrated by what he believed were unjustifiable actions by the Court to extend its powers, and he objected to the prevailing practice by which all the members resided in the same boardinghouse while the Court was in session. During the February 1831 term of the Supreme Court, the Court reporter claimed that Baldwin dissented in "at least two thirds of the cases," though the official record indicates far fewer.

Within a year of joining the Court, Baldwin sent President Jackson notice that he intended to resign. Jackson persuaded him to stay, and Baldwin remained for 14 years, during which time he sought to construct a judicial philosophy on the middle ground, rejecting both the expansive vision of national power espoused by Story and John Marshall and the extreme position of states' rights advocates. His decisions, however, did not build a convincing or coherent philosophy, and most legal scholars dismiss his legal contributions as negligible, even counterproductive.

Baldwin may have suffered from mental illness, and Justice Story wrote that "he is partially deranged." He was subject to episodes of boisterous and offensive behavior, and his relationship with the other justices was often strained. In his final years he was even violent on the bench and could not be controlled. He was so deeply in debt when he died that his friends had to take up a collection to pay for his burial.

In one respect Baldwin did have an impact on the procedures of the Court. While Marshall was chief justice the Court issued only majority opinions, but Baldwin insisted upon publishing his dissents, and this soon became the accepted practice of the Court.


Louis D. Brandeis Sandra Day O'Connor Henry Baldwin Peter Daniel James McReynolds William Douglas Stephen Field Joseph Story view all biographies