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SUPREME COURT HISTORY
Law, Power & Personality
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Portrait of Peter Vivian Daniel
Portrait of Peter Vivian Daniel.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Peter Vivian Daniel

b. April 24, 1784, Stafford County, VA
d. May 31, 1860, Richmond, VA


Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
(1841-1860)


Born to an old and established colonial family, Peter Vivian Daniel was educated at home and attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) for one year. He then returned to Virginia to study law with Edmund Randolph, who had served under George Washington as the first Attorney General of the United States. In 1808 Daniel was admitted to the bar and married Randolph's daughter. The following year he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and in 1812 he joined the Virginia Privy Council, an advisory board to the governor, where he served for 23 years, until 1835. He was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1818 and served in this capacity as well as on the Privy Council until Andrew Jackson appointed him to the district court in Virginia in 1836. Five years later, in 1841, President Martin Van Buren nominated him to the Supreme Court.

Daniel's primary experience was as a partisan politician and political advisor, not a lawyer. He was an ardent Jacksonian, and his judicial philosophy reflected the conventional views of the agrarian South. He was ideologically opposed to corporations and banks and once remarked that if a person believed in "the constitutionality of a national bank" he would be unworthy of respect no matter what virtues he might otherwise have. Daniel strongly supported states' rights, and disapproved of anyone who fought to end slavery. He wrote only one important opinion in his entire 18 years on the Supreme Court (West River Bridge Co. v. Dix [1849] -- establishing principles of eminent domain).

Upon his appointment Daniel became part of a new majority on the Court that consisted of five justices from the South (Daniel from Virginia, Roger Taney from Maryland, James Wayne from Georgia, John Catron from Tennessee, and John Campbell from Alabama). Daniel wrote a concurring opinion in the infamous decision of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) in which he stated that "the African negro race never have been acknowledged as belonging to the family of nations." He also announced that the case was the most important the Court had ever decided, and he referred to the United States as an "American Confederacy." His statements helped fuel the flames of controversy that were tearing the nation apart.

Daniel died in 1860, six months before the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. He would almost certainly have resigned from the Court when the Southern states seceded.


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