Sunday, March 10, 2013

John McLean, born March 11, 1785

John McLean was born in Morris County, New Jersey, on March 11, 1785, the son of Fergus McLean and Sophia Blackford. After living in a succession of frontier towns in Virginia and Kentucky, in 1797 his family settled in Warren County, Ohio.   

He was born two years after the end of the Revolutionary War, and died a week before the beginning of the Civil War.

He read law and was admitted to the bar in 1807. That same year he founded The Western Star,  a weekly newspaper at Lebanon, the Warren County seat, where he practiced law. He was elected to the U.S. House, serving from March 4, 1813, until he resigned in 1816 to take a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court, to which he had been elected on February 17, 1816.

He resigned his judgeship in 1822 to take President James Monroe's appointment to be Commissioner of the General Land Office, serving until 1823, when Monroe appointed him United States Postmaster General. McLean served in that post from December 9, 1823, to March 7, 1829, under Monroe and John Quincy Adams, presiding over a massive expansion of the Post Office into the new western states and territories and the elevation of the Postmaster Generalship to a cabinet office.

McLean was appointed to the Supreme Court by Jackson on March 6, 1829.  Known as "The Politician on the Supreme Court," he associated himself with every party on the political spectrum, moving from a Jackson Democrat, to the Anti-Jackson Democrats, the Anti-Masonic Party, the Whigs, the Free Soilers, and finally the Republicans. Through the 1830s and 1840s, he was frequently discussed as a potential Whig presidential candidate. 
Dred Scott
In the 1857 decision on Dred Scott v. Sandford, his strong dissenting views are believed to have forced the hand of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney into a harsher and more polarizing opinion than he originally planned. To the argument that "a colored citizen would not be an agreeable member of society", McLean responded, "This is more a matter of taste than of law."

Because of his anti-slavery-extension positions, he was considered by the new Republican party as a candidate in 1856. Despite his efforts, the nomination went to John Fremont.  In 1860, he tried again, winning twelve votes on the first ballot at the Republican convention in Chicago;  Abraham Lincoln ultimately was nominated.

He died in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 4, 1861, at the age of 76. 

He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati.

His son, Nathaniel McLean, was a Union general in the Civil War.  

During the war, Camp John McLean, a Union Army training camp in Cincinnati, was named in his honor.

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