Black, Jeremiah Sullivan

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Jeremiah Sullivan Black was a prominent lawyer, judge, and U.S. attorney general, and also an unsuccessful nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Black was born January 10, 1810, in Stony Creek, Pennsylvania. He was raised in rural Pennsylvania and was largely self-educated through his own reading and study of Shakespeare, the Bible, and other works of literature. He originally planned a career in medicine, but his father arranged for him to study law with Chauncey Forward, a prominent local attorney and politician. After three years with Forward, Black was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar, in late 1830. Forward then left his practice to take a seat in the U.S. Congress and turned over his clients to Black, enabling Black to develop a lucrative law practice of his own. Black married Forward's daughter in 1836, and they had two children.

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Black soon became active in Democratic politics and was appointed deputy attorney general for his county. In 1842 he was appointed judge of the district court, and nine years later, he was elected to the state supreme court. He won reelection to the state high court in 1854, and served as chief justice for three years. While an appellate judge, Black was best known for his opinions defining and construing the meaning of corporate charters.

A longtime supporter of President JAMES BUCHANAN, Black was appointed U.S. attorney general by Buchanan in 1857. While attorney general, Black gained recognition for launching a vigorous prosecution of fraudulent land schemes in California. The investigation, headed by EDWIN M. STANTON, Black's eventual successor, resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court's reversing many district court cases involving land FRAUD. Black also enforced federal laws concerning the slave trade and the return of fugitive slaves. In addition, Black helped establish the Buchanan administration's position on secession, urging the president to maintain a strong Unionist stance.

In a shuffle of cabinet offices in December 1860, Black served for a short time as SECRETARY OF STATE. During his brief tenure, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, and Black was a key adviser to Buchanan in handling the crisis.

In January 1861, with only a few weeks left in his own term as president, Buchanan named Black to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court that had been vacant for eight months. Republican senators, anxious to give the incoming president, ABRAHAM...

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