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Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court During the Civil War Era

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Appointed by Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Supreme Court during the Civil War, Samuel Freeman Miller (1816--1890) served on the nation's highest tribunal for twenty-eight tumultuous years and holds a place in legal history as one of the Court's most influential justices. Michael A. Ross creates a colorful portrait of a passionate man grappling with the difficult legal issues Appointed by Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Supreme Court during the Civil War, Samuel Freeman Miller (1816--1890) served on the nation's highest tribunal for twenty-eight tumultuous years and holds a place in legal history as one of the Court's most influential justices. Michael A. Ross creates a colorful portrait of a passionate man grappling with the difficult legal issues arising from a time of wrenching social and political change. He also explores the impact President Lincoln's Supreme Court appointments made on American constitutional history. Best known for his opinions in cases dealing with race and the Fourteenth Amendment, particularly the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases, Miller has often been considered a misguided opponent of Reconstruction and racial equality. In this major reinterpretation, Ross argues that historians have failed to study the evolution of Miller's views during the war and explains how Miller, a former slaveholder, became a champion of African Americans' economic and political rights. He was also the staunchest supporter of the Court of Lincoln's controversial war measures, including the decision to suspend such civil liberties as habeas corpus. Although commonly portrayed as an agrarian folk hero, Miller in fact initially foresaw and embraced a future in which frontier and rivertown settlements would bloom into thriving metropolises. The optimistic vision grew from the free-labor ideology Miller brought to the Iowa Republican Party he helped found, one that celebrated ordinatry citizens' right to rise in station an driches. Disillusioned by the eventual failure of the boomtowns and repelled by the swelling coffers of eastern financiers, corporations, and robber barons, Miller became an insistent judicial voice for western Republicans embittered and marginalized in the Gilded Age. The first biography of Miller since 1939, this welcome volume draws on Miller's previously unavailable papers to shed new light on a man who saw his dreams for America shattered but whose essential political and social values, as well as his personal integrity, remained intact.


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Appointed by Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Supreme Court during the Civil War, Samuel Freeman Miller (1816--1890) served on the nation's highest tribunal for twenty-eight tumultuous years and holds a place in legal history as one of the Court's most influential justices. Michael A. Ross creates a colorful portrait of a passionate man grappling with the difficult legal issues Appointed by Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Supreme Court during the Civil War, Samuel Freeman Miller (1816--1890) served on the nation's highest tribunal for twenty-eight tumultuous years and holds a place in legal history as one of the Court's most influential justices. Michael A. Ross creates a colorful portrait of a passionate man grappling with the difficult legal issues arising from a time of wrenching social and political change. He also explores the impact President Lincoln's Supreme Court appointments made on American constitutional history. Best known for his opinions in cases dealing with race and the Fourteenth Amendment, particularly the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases, Miller has often been considered a misguided opponent of Reconstruction and racial equality. In this major reinterpretation, Ross argues that historians have failed to study the evolution of Miller's views during the war and explains how Miller, a former slaveholder, became a champion of African Americans' economic and political rights. He was also the staunchest supporter of the Court of Lincoln's controversial war measures, including the decision to suspend such civil liberties as habeas corpus. Although commonly portrayed as an agrarian folk hero, Miller in fact initially foresaw and embraced a future in which frontier and rivertown settlements would bloom into thriving metropolises. The optimistic vision grew from the free-labor ideology Miller brought to the Iowa Republican Party he helped found, one that celebrated ordinatry citizens' right to rise in station an driches. Disillusioned by the eventual failure of the boomtowns and repelled by the swelling coffers of eastern financiers, corporations, and robber barons, Miller became an insistent judicial voice for western Republicans embittered and marginalized in the Gilded Age. The first biography of Miller since 1939, this welcome volume draws on Miller's previously unavailable papers to shed new light on a man who saw his dreams for America shattered but whose essential political and social values, as well as his personal integrity, remained intact.

33 review for Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court During the Civil War Era

  1. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Justice Samuel Miller And A Changing America The evocatively titled "Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era" (2003) by Michael Ross is a biography of a leading American Supreme Court Justice and a legal and political history of the United States from the Civil War through Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. The author, Michael Ross, associate professor of history at Loyola University, New Orleans, received his law degree from Duke and prac Justice Samuel Miller And A Changing America The evocatively titled "Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era" (2003) by Michael Ross is a biography of a leading American Supreme Court Justice and a legal and political history of the United States from the Civil War through Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. The author, Michael Ross, associate professor of history at Loyola University, New Orleans, received his law degree from Duke and practiced corporate law briefly before changing his career direction and earning a PhD in history. His changing direction bears a resemblance to that of his subject. Samuel Miller practiced medicine for several years before studying law. Miller became a successful attorney before President Lincoln appointed him to the Supreme Court before he had even met Miller in person. As Ross points out, Miller (1816 -- 1890) and Lincoln shared similar backgrounds. Both men were born in rural country to poor families. Miller, as did Lincoln, decided early in life that he wanted to escape from a life of grinding agricultural poverty. After winning the opportunity to study medicine, Miller moved to a small Kentucky town, Barbourville, which he thought, mistakenly, had a great future ahead of it. During his Barbourville years, Miller became a lawyer. When the community became economically depressed, Miller moved with his family to another town, Keokuk, Iowa, on the Mississippi River which, again, he thought destined for large growth. Highly ambitious, Miller wanted to rise and become wealthy and respected. He accumulated property and a thriving legal practice, together with a wife after the death of his first wife, but Keokuk was a victim of an 1857 depression. Miller became active in Republican Party politics and an early supporter of Lincoln. While not an abolitionist, he opposed the entry of slavery into the territories. Miller, as did Lincoln, saw Republicanism as the party of opportunity, which allowed every individual to rise as far as ambition, talent, and work would allow. In 1862, Miller became the second of Lincoln's five appointees to the Supreme Court. He served 28 years and was still on the bench at the time of his death in 1890. Lincoln's Court appointees all were strong supporters of Union and of Lincoln's war policies. Beyond that, the Justices differed substantially. As Ross points out, Miller had certain populist strands in his thinking that might not have been Lincoln's. Other long-serving Lincoln appointees, such as Justice Stephen Field, did not share Miller's populism. Ross' book goes relatively lightly on Miller's personal life. It concentrates instead on his work on the Court and on the changes in America during Miller's long judicial service. Ross describes the course of Supreme Court jurisprudence from the Civil War, where Miller was a solid voice in support of Lincoln, through the difficulties of Reconstruction, through the growth of corporate America. Ross examines Miller's work during his early years on the Court focusing on his views on the conduct of the war and on civil liberties. The larger part of the book deals with the the impact of the Court's decisions on Southern Reconstruction and with the Court's emerging views on economic regulation and on what attorneys call substantive due process. Miller's most famous decision, still studied at length by scholars and law students, is the "Slaughter-House" case decided in 1873, which became the leading case on interpreting the scope of the 14th Amendment. Miller sustained an act by a Reconstruction-constituted local government to require that livestock be taken to a facility located outside the city of New Orleans for butchering, rather than to have the process done randomly throughout the city streets. He read the 14th Amendment narrowly to reject the claims of the butchers. There is strong language in Miller's opinion about the Amendment's role in protecting the role of the Freedpeople (as opposed to the businesses challenging the local law in the case.) But Miller's decision became known for eviscerating the 14th Amendment and for limiting its use for many years in protecting the rights of the former slaves. Ross discusses the many ambiguities in this celebrated case and in Miller's majority opinion. He also discusses several other Reconstruction-era cases and activities, including Miller's role in the disputed presidential election of 1876 which brought an end to Reconstruction. The other focus of Ross' study is economics and business. While in Iowa, Miller had taken cases against the railroads and other large creditors. He sought, usually unsuccessfully, to have municipalities such as Keokuk repudiate or readjust bond debt which could not be repaid due to economic depression. During his tenure on the Court, Miller remained highly critical of legal attempts to protect bondholders at the expense of other interests. He also became disillusioned with large-scale Eastern capitalism. Miller never abandoned the commitment to the entrepreneurial, individualistic spirit of his youth. He came to believe that the concentration of wealth in a few hands was stifling to the individual spirit. Miller wrote extensively on economic issues during his years on the Court, most of the time in dissent. For Ross, Miller is a Justice of "Shattered Dreams" because the United States when Miller died in 1890 was a far different country from the United States of 1816. While no egalitarian, Miller's dreams for Reconstruction were shattered when the Federal government withdrew from its role in protecting the Freedpeople and the state governments proved hostile to their rights. Miller's dreams for growth were shattered. He saw an America of small towns and entrepreneurs rather than an America in which the Court became the protector of conservative, corporate capitalism. According to Ross, Miller became pessimistic about his own course and about the course of the nation in the latter years of his life and judicial career. Ross has written a moving, fascinating book about Justice Miller, the Court, and American history. It is a scholarly study which demands close reading and some prior background in American history during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. The book will appeal to readers with a strong interest in American history of the Reconstruction Era. Lawyers interested in legal history will also benefit from this book. Samuel Miller was a robust, intelligent person and a great Supreme Court Justice. His accomplishments and failings are worth getting to know. Robin Friedman

  2. 4 out of 5

    Piker7977

    Justice of Shattered Dreams is much more than a biography. Like the studies of political power by Robert Caro, Ross examines the outside influences contributing to Miller's reasoning. His family, hometown, move to Iowa, witness to national events, and ascension to the Supreme Court play a role in the decisions he made later on in life. Among the more interesting side stories are Johnson's presidency, the Slaughter-House cases, and the rise and fall of Keokuk, IA during the 19th Century. Biograph Justice of Shattered Dreams is much more than a biography. Like the studies of political power by Robert Caro, Ross examines the outside influences contributing to Miller's reasoning. His family, hometown, move to Iowa, witness to national events, and ascension to the Supreme Court play a role in the decisions he made later on in life. Among the more interesting side stories are Johnson's presidency, the Slaughter-House cases, and the rise and fall of Keokuk, IA during the 19th Century. Biography, economics, finance, and business are fused together to make a wonderful study of a Supreme Court justice and how the Court functioned/s. Ross also touches on Reconstruction and how the those opposed tried to twist the 14th Amendment in order to aid segregational causes and start an eventual return to the Old Southern order. This was a very interesting read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    "'[I]t was fortunate [I] was born poor, as otherwise [I] would never have worked.'" (quoting Miller of himself, 1) "Chase's first thought upon meeting 'any man of force,' Miller believed, was 'invariably how I can use him for my Presidential aspirations.'" (quoting Miller of Chase, 93-4) "'The pretense,' Miller acerbically noted, 'is that the negro won't work without being compelled to do so, and this pretence is made in a country and by the white people, where the negro has done all the work for "'[I]t was fortunate [I] was born poor, as otherwise [I] would never have worked.'" (quoting Miller of himself, 1) "Chase's first thought upon meeting 'any man of force,' Miller believed, was 'invariably how I can use him for my Presidential aspirations.'" (quoting Miller of Chase, 93-4) "'The pretense,' Miller acerbically noted, 'is that the negro won't work without being compelled to do so, and this pretence is made in a country and by the white people, where the negro has done all the work for four generations, and where the white man makes a boast of the fact that he will not labor.'" (quoting Miller, 115) "New Orleans, Miller said, 'is delivered over to yellow fever ... and folly.'" (quoting Miller on post-Slaughterhouse developments, 210) "'Never walk when you can ride, never sit when you can lie down.'" (quoting Miller's "life motto," 211)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    Interesting take on Justice Miller and especially the Slaughterhouse Cases. But the book raises more questions than it answers about Miller's jurisprudence, which seems incoherent at the end of the day.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Johnson

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    Thom Skelly

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