John McLean served as associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court for thirty-two years, one of the longest tenures in the history of the Court.
"IN THE [DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD] ARGUMENT, IT WAS SAID THAT A COLORED CITIZEN WOULD NOT BE AN AGREEABLE MEMBER OF SOCIETY. THIS IS MORE A MATTER OF TASTE THAN LAW ? [FOR] UNDER THE LATE TREATY WITH MEXICO WE MADE CITIZENS OF ALL GRADES, COMBINATIONS, AND COLORS."
McLean was born on March 11, 1785, in New Jersey but was raised primarily near Lebanon, Ohio, where his father staked out land that later became the family farm. McLean attended a county school and later was tutored by two schoolmasters, Presbyterian ministers,
and paid them with money he earned working as a farm hand. In 1804, at the age of nineteen, he began working as an apprentice to the clerk of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas in Cincinnati and also studied law with Arthur St. Clair and John S. Gano, two distinguished Cincinnati lawyers.
In 1807 McLean was admitted to the bar, married, and returned to Lebanon to open a printing office. He began publishing the Lebanon Western Star, a partisan journal supporting the Jeffersonian party. Three years later McLean gave his newspaper and printing business to his brother to concentrate full-time on the PRACTICE OF LAW. At the same time, McLean, who had been raised Presbyterian, converted to Methodism, an experience that would have a strong impact throughout his life. He was active in church affairs and wrote articles about the Bible, and in 1849 he was named honorary president of the American Sunday School Union.
In 1812, after a year serving as examiner in the U.S. Land Office in Cincinnati, McLean was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of twenty-seven and was reelected two years later. During his two terms in the House, McLean was a staunch supporter of President JAMES MADISON and his efforts to wage the WAR OF 1812. McLean, unhappy with the salary paid to members of Congress and wanting to be closer to his wife and children, chose not to run again in 1816 and returned home. Back in Ohio, McLean easily won election to one of four judgeships on the Ohio Supreme Court, a demanding position that required him to "ride the circuit," or hear cases throughout the state.
In 1822 McLean was again drawn to politics and made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate...