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Birth:
05 Apr 1816 1
Richmond, KY 1
Death:
13 Oct 1890 1
Washington, D.C. 1
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Full Name:
Samuel Freeman Miller 1
Birth:
05 Apr 1816 1
Richmond, KY 1
Death:
13 Oct 1890 1
Washington, D.C. 1

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Samuel F. Miller, 1862-1890

SAMUEL F. MILLER was born in Richmond, Kentucky, on April 5, 1816. He studied medicine at Transylvania University and received a degree in 1838. He became a physician and practiced for twelve years in Knox County. Miller developed an interest in legal and political matters and became a Justice of the Peace and member of the Knox County Court, an administrative body, in the 1840s. Miller shared an office with an attorney and began reading law. He was admitted to the bar in 1847 and established a law practice. Miller was opposed to slavery. When the Kentucky Constitutional Convention of 1849 proved inflexible on the question of eventual modification and abolition of slavery, Miller chose to move to a free state. He freed his slaves and settled in Keokuk, Iowa, where he joined a law firm and specialized in land-title, steamboat, and commercial law. Miller also became active politically and campaigned unsuccessfully for nomination as Governor in 1861. On July 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln nominated Miller to the Supreme Court of the United States as the first Justice from west of the Mississippi River. The Senate confirmed the appointment on July 21, 1862. Miller served on the Supreme Court for twenty-eight years. He died on October 13, 1890, at the age of seventy-four.

Abraham Lincoln put Samuel Freeman Miller in the history books.Lincoln appointed Miller to the U.S. Supreme Court on July 16, 1862, during the Civil War, and Miller served with distinction as associate justice until 1890.Miller was the first high court justice to be named from west of the Mississippi River and the first to be born west of the Appalachian Mountains.The longtime Keokuk lawyer took part in more than 5,000 decisions and served as spokesman for the bench in more than 600 cases.Miller was born in Richmond, Ky., in 1816. He studied medicine at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., from 1835 to 1838, and then practiced the profession for about eight years in Barboursville, Ky.But Miller became disenchanted with medicine and decided to take up law, possibly because he was becoming active in politics. He studied law from 1845 to 1847, at which time he switched careers.Miller supported Zachary Taylor's bid for president in 1848, but found himself disagreeing with the Whig Party's stand on slavery and the need for state constitutional law on emancipation.Miller's strong feelings on the issue prompted him to move to Keokuk in 1850 to practice law. He also invested in real estate.Miller was 35 when he brought his slaves to Iowa, and freed them after arriving.Miller soon was a pioneering leader in the Republican Party. He became a law partner of a Mr. Reeves, and, when Reeves died, married the man's widow in 1857. Miller himself had been widowed in 1854.His appointment by Lincoln came after one of the longest vacancies on the high court, after the death of Justice Peter Daniel on May 31, 1860, during James Buchanan's presidency. Miller replaced Daniel after a vacancy of two years, one month and 23 days.He had been strongly supported for the appointment by the Iowa bar, governor, Legislature and congressional delegation.Miller's circuit comprised Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Minnesota. Later, Arkansas, Nebraska and Colorado were added.During his career on the bench, Miller was especially noted for his opinions related to the federal Constitution. In a 1943 retrospective, Register editorial writers said that the opinion he handed down in the landmark Slaughterhouse case in 1872 was considered "one of the ablest written by any member of the high court."In the same retrospective, Miller was described as "a fine figure of a man, tall and massive, and he looked, dressed and acted the part of a magistrate on the supreme tribunal of the nation."Miller was strong in his convictions. He never apologized to Easterners for his home on the prairie.Although Miller never became chief justice, he was said to have been considered for that post on two occasions.Vigorous at 75, Miller didn't consider retirement."I have never been more capable of work than I am now. I cannot be idle. I must be doing something, and there is nothing I can do or like to do as well as the work which my office devolves upon me. Why, then, should I retire?"Consequently, Miller served until he died in Washington, D.C., where he had set up his permanent home.The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his 2001 book "The Supreme Court," said Miller "held his last circuit court in St. Louis during the summer, and upon his return to Washington died on Oct. 13, 1890, after a short illness."In a memorial tribute, then-Chief Justice Melville Fuller said, "The loss so universally felt in the death of Mr. Justice Miller comes home in an especial degree to his brethren, participants in his toil and sharers of his intimate friendship. ... When he took his seat, the country was in the throes of internecine conflict; when his eyes closed, it was upon a happy, prosperous and united people. ... Great problems crowded for solution. ... and he dealt with him with the hand of a master."In the memorial tribute, cited by Richard, Lord Acton, and Patricia Nassif Acton in their 1995 book "To Go Free - A Treasury of Iowa's Legal Heritage," Fuller also says that while Miller "took his full share in the consideration of every subject of judicial investigation ... he chiefly distinguished himself in the treatment of grave constitutional questions," and his opinions "were marked by strength of diction, keen sense of justice, and undoubting firmness of conclusion."Rehnquist said, "To my mind, Samuel F. Miller and Stephen J. Field must rank at the very top of the associate justices who served the Court during the nineteenth century. ... (Miller's) great gift, a gift not so fully vouchsafed to some of his more learned colleagues, was that of common sense. ... He was able to emancipate himself from currently fashionable intellectual dogma, which possessed much of his profession and many of his colleagues, and thereby to establish his reputation as one of the great justices who has served upon the Court."Miller's place in history dimmed over time, and in 1940, on the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court, Rep. Sol Bloom, D-N.Y., started a national search for the graves of 32 forgotten justices, including Miller, whose gravesites had never been documented in a significant way.Special ceremonies were then held in commemoration of the court's milestone.For all his accomplishments, Miller was without riches at the end of his life, and historian and author Edward H. Stiles said: "He left no fortune, dying a poor man."He is buried at Keokuk's Oakwood Cemetery. 

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