Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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McLEAN, John, jurist, born in Morris county, New Jersey, 11 March, 1785; died in Cincinnati, Ohio, 4 April, 1861. In 1789 his father, a poor man with a large family, removed to the west and settled, first at Morganstown, Virginia, subsequently at Nicholasville, Kentucky, and finally, in 1799, on a farm in Warren county, Ohio. Young McLean worked on the farm that his father had cleared till he was sixteen years old, then received private instruction in the classics for two years, and at the age of eighteen went to Cincinnati to study law, and, while acquiring his profession, supported himself by writing in the office of the clerk of the county. In the autumn of 1807 he was admitted to the bar, and began practice at Lebanon. In October, 1812, he was elected to congress from his district, which then included Cincinnati, by the Democratic party, defeating two competitors in an exciting contest, and was re-elected by the unanimous vote of the district in 1814. He supported the Madison administration, originated the law to indemnify individuals for the loss of property in the public service, and introduced an inquiry as to pensioning the widows of fallen officers and soldiers. He declined a nomination to the United States senate in 1815, and in 1816 was elected judge of the supreme court of the state, which office he held till 1822, when President Monroe appointed him commissioner of the general land-office. In July, 1823, he was appointed postmaster-general, and by his energetic administration introduced order, efficiency, and economy into that department. The salary of the office was raised from $4,000 to $6,000 by an almost unanimous vote of both houses of congress during his administration. He was continued in the office by President John Q. Adams, and was asked to remain by General Jackson in 1829, but declined, because he differed with the president on the question of official appointments and removals. President Jackson then tendered him in succession the war and the navy departments, and, on his declining both, appointed him an associate justice of the United States supreme court. He entered upon his duties in January, 1830. His charges to grand juries while on circuit were distinguished for ability and eloquence. In December, 1838, he delivered a charge in regard to aiding or favoring "unlawful military combinations by our citizens against any foreign government with whom we are at peace," with special reference to the Canadian insurrection and its American abettors. The most celebrated of his opinions was that in the Dred Scott ease, dissenting from the decision of the court as given by Chief-Justice Taney, and enunciating the doctrine that slavery was contrary to right and had its origin in power, and that in this country it was sustained only by local law. He was long identified with the party that opposed the extension of slavery, and his name was before the Free-soil convention at Buffalo in 1848 as a candidate for nomination as president. In the Republican national convention at Philadelphia in 1856 he received 196 votes for the same office to 359 for John C. Fremont. In the Republican convention at Chicago in 1860 he also received several votes. He published "Reports of the United States Circuit, Court" (6 vols., 1829-'55); a "Eulogy on James Monroe" (1831)" and several addresses.--His brother, William, member of congress, born in Morris county, New Jersey: died in Cincinnati, Ohio, 12 October, 1839, was educated in the public schools, removed to Ohio, and, after holding for some time the office of receiver of public moneys at Piqua, was elected t representative in congress, and twice re-elected, serving from 1 December, 1823, till 3 March, 1829. He was instrumental in procuring a land subsidy of 500,000 acres for the extension of the Ohio canal from Cincinnati to Cleveland. After returning to private life he engaged in mercantile business in Cincinnati.--John's son, Nathaniel Collins, soldier, born in Warren county, Ohio, 2 February, 1815, was graduated at Augusta college, Kentucky, in 1832, studied for a year or two longer at Harvard, and took his degree at the law-school there in 1838. He married a daughter of Judge Jacob Burnet the same year, and began practice in Cincinnati, where he attained success at the bar. He entered the National army on 11 January, 1862, as colonel of the 75th Ohio volunteers, being commissioned brigadier-general on 29 November, 1862, and resigned on 20 April, 1865.
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