Jeremiah Sullivan Black

Jeremiah Sullivan Black

Black, Jeremiah Sullivan, 1810-83, American cabinet officer, b. Somerset co., Pa. Admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1830, Black became a successful lawyer. As U.S. Attorney General (1857-60) under President Buchanan he hired Edwin M. Stanton, later his successor, to clear up the involved land-title cases in California. Black was less successful, however, in enforcing unpopular legislation concerning slavery. It was his opinion that although the seceding Southern states could not be coerced, federal property in the South should be protected, and measures taken to resist armed rebellion. He replaced (Dec., 1860) Lewis Cass as Secretary of State and succeeded in persuading Buchanan to send supplies to Fort Sumter; he urged that the federal government take a strong stand against secession. Buchanan appointed him to the Supreme Court in Feb., 1861, but the Senate, with both Democrats and Republicans hostile to Black, refused to confirm him.

See P. G. Auchampaugh, James Buchanan and His Cabinet on the Eve of Secession (1926); biography by W. N. Brigance (1934, repr. 1971).

Jeremiah Sullivan Black (January 10, 1810August 19, 1883) was an American statesman and lawyer. He was the son of Representative Henry Black, and the father of writer and Pennsylvania Lt. Governor Chauncey Black.

He was largely self-educated, and before he was of age was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. He gradually became one of the leading American lawyers, and from 1851 to 1857 was a member of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, serving as Chief Justice from 1851 to 1854. In 1857 he entered President James Buchanan's cabinet as Attorney General of the United States. In this capacity he successfully contested the validity of the California land claims to about 19,000 square miles (49,000 km²) of land, fraudulently alleged to have been granted to land-grabbers and others by the Mexican government prior to the close of the Mexican War. From December 17, 1860 to March 4, 1861 he was U.S. Secretary of State. Perhaps the most influential of President Buchanan's official advisers, he denied the constitutionality of secession, and urged that Fort Sumter be properly reinforced and defended. However, he also argued that a state could not be legally coerced by the federal government.

President James Buchanan nominated him for a seat on the Supreme Court, but his nomination was defeated in the Senate by a single vote on February 21, 1861. He became reporter of decisions to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1861, but after publishing the reports for the years 1861 and 1862 he resigned, and devoted himself almost exclusively to his private practice, appearing in such important cases before the Supreme Court as the one known as Ex Parte Milligan, in which he ably defended the right of trial by jury, Ex parte McCardle, United States v. Blyew, 80 U.S. 581 (1871), et al.

After the American Civil War he vigorously opposed the Congressional plan of Reconstruction and drafted President Andrew Johnson's message vetoing the Reconstruction Act of the March 2, 1867. Black was also, for a short time, counsel for President Johnson in his trial on his Article of Impeachment before the United States Senate, and for William W. Belknap, United States Secretary of War from 1869 to 1876, who in 1876 was impeached on a charge of corruption; he also represented Samuel J. Tilden during the contest for the presidency between Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes. He died at Brockie, York, Pennsylvania, in 1883 at the age of 73.

Further reading

  • Black, C. F., Essays and Speeches of Jeremiah S. Black, with a Biographical Sketch, New York: 1885.


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