: This photograph is a formal bust portrait of Joseph Rockwell Swan, 36th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio (1855-1859). When this portrait was taken, Swan was in his late forties or early fifties. His gray hair is thinning, and his mutton-chop sideburns are white.
Joseph R. Swan (1802-1884) was born in Westernville, New York, and began to study law in Aurora, New York. He moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1824 and completed his legal studies under the guidance of his uncle, Judge Gustavus Swan, a justice of the state supreme court. Swan was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1824.
In 1830 the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas appointed him prosecuting attorney. Three years later he was elected to the same post under newly enacted legislation that provided for the election of prosecuting attorneys by general vote. In 1834 the Ohio General Assembly elected him president judge of the Court of Common Pleas of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. He served a seven-year term and was re-elected in 1841.
Swan left the common pleas court in 1848 to enter private practice with John W. Andrews. He was a delegate to the Ohio state constitutional convention from Franklin County, 1850-51. In 1854 the newly formed Republican Party nominated him to a position on the Supreme Court of Ohio. He won the election and began serving on the court in February 1855. He served as chief justice from February 9, 1859, to his resignation on October 18, 1859.
The court case that led to his resignation was "Ex Parte Bushnell" (1859), which challenged the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Despite his personal opposition to slavery, Swan wrote the majority opinion, which upheld the constitutionality of the 1850 law. Soon after this decision, Swan sought re-election to another term on the Supreme Court, but delegates to the Republican Convention denied him the nomination because of their opposition to the Bushnell ruling. Swan submitted his resignation to Governor Salmon P. Chase on October 18, 1859.
During the remainder of his career, Swan worked as a solicitor for two railroad companies. He retired in 1879 and died in Columbus, Ohio, in 1884.
Swan's greatest legacy to the law was as an author of legal reference books and of legislation.
View on Ohio Memory.
: AL05989 Subjects
: Ohio History--Presidents and Politics; Supreme Court justices; Ohio. Supreme Court; Swan, Joseph R. (Joseph Rockwell), 1802-1884 Places
: Joseph R. Swan photograph