Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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NELSON, Samuel, jurist, born in Hebron, Washington County, New York, 10 November, 1792; died in Coopers-town, New York, 13 December, 1873. He was of Scotch-Irish lineage; his ancestor emigrated to this country in 1760, settling in Salem, New York Samuel was graduated at Middlebury in 1813, studied law in Salem under Chief-Justice Savage, and in 1817 was admitted to the bar of Madison, New York In trying his first suit in the court of common pleas he detected an error in practice on the part of his opponent, procured proceedings, and ultimately gained his cause. This success gave him reputation and clients. His first appearance in polities was in 1820, when he was a presidential elector. He was a delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1822, in which he advocated the excision of the property qualification of voters, was circuit judge in 1823-'31, at the latter date became associate justice of the supreme court of New York, and in 1837 was elevated to the chief justiceship, presiding for eight years. He was a member of the State constitutional convention in 1844 which made the office of judge elective, and in 1845 was appointed by President Tyler to succeed Judge Smith Thompson on the supreme bench of the United States. In this court his decisions commanded the respect of bar and bench. In the famous Dred Scott ease he concurred with the decision of Chief-Justice Taney, urging that if congress possessed power under the constitution to abolish slavery, it must necessarily possess the like power to establish it. During the civil war his conservatism as well as his life-long political affinities led him to regret what he considered the encroachments of the military on the civil power, but his relations with the administration were harmonious, and his loyalty was unquestioned. In 1871 he was appointed by President Grant to serve on the joint high commission to arbitrate the "Alabama" claims on the part of the United States. This duty required a temporary cessation of his at-ten(lance on the bench, and exposure during the meetings of the commission caused an illness that compelled his resignation in October, 1872. Judge Nelson wax of a grave and dignified appearance, slow in forming his judgments and reluctant to express them if they were unfavorable. He received the degree of LL.D. from Columbia in 1841. --His son, Rensselaer Russell, jurist, born in Cooperstown, New York, 12 May, 1826, was graduated at Yale in 1846, studied law, and in 1849 was admitted to the New York city bar. He removed to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1850, became associate justice of the supreme court of the territory in 1857, and in 1858 United States district judge of the state of Minnesota, which office he still (1888) holds. In 1875 an opinion that he delivered on the civil rights bill attracted attention from the liberality of its views.
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