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John McLean
Description: This image of American jurist John McLean (1785-1861) is a photographic reproduction of an engraved portrait. The engraving is based on an oil painting by artist Thomas Sully (1783-1872). The original painting is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. McLean was an attorney, political leader, and associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was born on March 11, 1785, in New Jersey. His parents moved to western Virginia in 1789 and later traveled to Kentucky. By 1797 the family was settled on a farm in Lebanon, Ohio. No free schools existed in Ohio, and McLean's family could not afford to pay his tuition for him at a private institution. A self-educated young man, McLean moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1803 and studied law with the son of former General Arthur St. Clair. He supported himself by working as a copyist in the clerk's office of Hamilton County. In 1807 the State of Ohio admitted him to the bar. Voters in Cincinnati elected McLean to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1812 and again in 1814. Before the end of his second term, the Ohio legislature appointed McLean a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. He remained on the court until 1822, when President James Monroe appointed him a commissioner of the Federal Land Office. A year later Monroe selected McLean to be Postmaster General. In 1829 President Andrew Jackson appointed McLean to the United States Supreme Court. As a Supreme Court justice, McLean's most famous case was the Dred Scott v. Sanford ruling (1857). He favored granting Dred Scott his freedom, thus disagreeing with the majority of his fellow justices. (Scott, a slave, had filed suit for his freedom because his owner had taken him to a state where slavery was illegal.) In other cases, McLean upheld slave owners' rights to reclaim their "fugitive" property in states that had outlawed slavery. He also ruled that states could not implement laws that made it impossible for the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. McLean's prominence as a justice on the Supreme Court led various political parties to consider nominating him as a presidential candidate, but McLean never became a candidate. He remained on the Supreme Court until his death on April 4, 1861. View on Ohio Memory.
Image ID: AL05834
Subjects: McLean, John, 1785-1861; United States. Supreme Court; Scott, Dred, 1809-1858--Trials, litigation, etc.; Constitutional history--United States; Slavery--United States--Legal status of slaves in free states; Sully, Thomas (1783-1872); Ohio History--State and Local Government--Law
Places: John McLean