David Davis (Supreme Court justice)

David Davis (March 9, 1815 – June 26, 1886) was a United States Senator from Illinois and associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He also served as Abraham Lincoln's campaign manager at the 1860 Republican National Convention, engineering Lincoln's nomination alongside Ward Hill Lamon and Leonard Swett.

Educated at Kenyon College and Yale University, Davis settled in Bloomington, Illinois in the 1830s, where he practiced law. He served in the Illinois legislature and as a delegate to the state constitutional convention before becoming a state judge in 1848. After Lincoln won the presidency, he appointed Davis to the United States Supreme Court, where he served until 1877. He wrote the majority opinion in Ex parte Milligan, limiting the government's power to try citizens in military courts. He pursued the Liberal Republican Party's nomination in the 1872 presidential election, but was defeated at the convention by Horace Greeley.

Davis was a pivotal figure in Congress's establishment of the Electoral Commission, which was charged with resolving the disputed 1876 presidential election. Davis was widely expected to serve as the key member of the Commission, but he resigned from the Supreme Court to accept election to the Senate and thus did not serve on the commission. Known for his independence, he served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate from 1881 to 1883, placing him first in the line of presidential succession due to a vacancy in the office of the Vice President of the United States. He did not seek re-election in 1882 and retired from public life in 1883.

David Davis
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
October 13, 1881 – March 3, 1883
Preceded byThomas F. Bayard, Sr.
Succeeded byGeorge F. Edmunds
United States Senator
from Illinois
In office
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1883
Preceded byJohn Logan
Succeeded byShelby Cullom
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
October 17, 1862 – March 4, 1877
Nominated byAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byJohn Campbell
Succeeded byJohn Harlan
Personal details
BornMarch 9, 1815
Cecil County, Maryland, U.S.
DiedJune 26, 1886 (aged 71)
Bloomington, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyWhig (Before 1854)
Republican (1854–1870)
Liberal Republican (1870–1872)
Independent (1872–1886)
Spouse(s)Sarah Woodruff Walker (1838–1879)
EducationKenyon College (BA)
Yale University (LLB)
David Davis (Supreme Court justice)'s signature

Early life

He was born to a wealthy family in Cecil County, Maryland, where he attended public school. After graduating from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 1832, he went on to study law in Massachusetts[1] and at Yale University. Upon his graduation from Yale in 1835, Davis moved to Bloomington, Illinois, to practice law. He married Sarah Woodruff Walker of Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1838. Two of their children, George and Sallie, survived to adulthood. Davis also served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives in 1845 and a delegate to the Illinois constitutional convention in McLean County, 1847. From 1848 to 1862, Davis presided over the court of the Illinois Eighth Circuit, the same circuit where his friend, attorney Abraham Lincoln, was practicing.

Davis was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago, serving as Lincoln's campaign manager during the 1860 presidential election. After President Lincoln's assassination, Judge Davis was an administrator of his estate.[1]

National stage

On October 17, 1862, Davis received a recess appointment from President Lincoln to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court vacated by the resignation of John Archibald Campbell, who had resigned in protest of Lincoln's perceived intent to go to war with seceding Southern states. Formally nominated on December 1, 1862, Davis was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 8, 1862, and received his commission the same day.

On the Court, Davis became famous for writing one of the most profound decisions in the Supreme Court history, Ex Parte Milligan (1866). In that decision, the court set aside the death sentence imposed during the Civil War by a military commission upon a civilian, Lambdin P. Milligan. Milligan had been found guilty of inciting insurrection. The Supreme Court held that since the civil courts were operative, the trial of a civilian by a military tribunal was unconstitutional. The opinion denounced arbitrary military power, effectively becoming one of the bulwarks of held notions of American civil liberty.

In 1870 he held, with the minority of the Supreme Court, that the acts of Congress making government notes a legal tender in payment of debts were constitutional.[1] He is the only judge of the Supreme Court with no recorded affiliation to any religious sect.[2]

After refusing calls to become Chief Justice, Davis, a registered independent, was nominated for President by the Labor Reform Convention in February 1872 on a platform that declared, among other things, in favor of a national currency "based on the faith and resources of the nation", and interchangeable with 3.65% bonds of the government, and demanded the establishment of an eight-hour law throughout the country, and the payment of the national debt "without mortgaging the property of the people to enrich capitalists." In answer to the letter informing him of the nomination, Judge Davis said: "Be pleased to thank the convention for the unexpected honor which they have conferred upon me. The chief magistracy of the republic should neither be sought nor declined by any American citizen."[1]

He withdrew from the presidential contest when he failed to receive the Liberal Republican Party nomination, which went to editor Horace Greeley. Greeley died after the popular election and before the return of the electoral vote. One of Greeley's electoral votes went to Davis.

Disputed election of 1876

Judge David Davis
Hon. David Davis, Ill., and Judge Grier, Supreme Court, Ill
Hon. David Davis, Ill., and Judge Grier, Supreme Court, Ill. Photo taken by Mathew Brady

In 1877, Davis narrowly avoided the opportunity to be the only person to ever single-handedly select the President of the United States. In the disputed Presidential election of 1876 between the Republican Rutherford Hayes and the Democrat Samuel Tilden, Congress created a special Electoral Commission to decide to whom to award a total of 20 electoral votes which were disputed from the states of Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oregon. The Commission was to be composed of 15 members: five drawn from the U.S. House of Representatives, five from the U.S. Senate, and five from the U.S. Supreme Court. The majority party in each legislative chamber would get three seats on the Commission, and the minority party would get two. Both parties agreed to this arrangement because it was understood that the Commission would have seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and Davis, who was arguably the most trusted independent in the nation.

According to one historian, "No one, perhaps not even Davis himself, knew which presidential candidate he preferred."[3] Just as the Electoral Commission Bill was passing Congress, the legislature of Illinois elected Davis to the Senate. Democrats in the Illinois Legislature believed that they had purchased Davis's support by voting for him. However, they had made a miscalculation; instead of staying on the Supreme Court so that he could serve on the Commission, he promptly resigned as a Justice, in order to take his Senate seat. Because of this, Davis was unable to assume the spot, always intended for him, as one of the Supreme Court's members of the Commission. His replacement on the Commission was Joseph Philo Bradley, a Republican, thus the Commission ended up with an 8–7 Republican majority. Each of the 20 disputed electoral votes was eventually awarded to Hayes, the Republican, by that same 8-7 majority; Hayes won the election, 185 electoral votes to 184. Had Davis been on the Commission, his would have been the deciding vote, and Tilden would have been elected president if Davis and the commission had awarded him even one electoral vote.

Senate career

Davis served only a single term as U.S. Senator from Illinois.

In 1881, Davis's renowned independence was again called upon. Upon the assassination of President James A. Garfield, Vice President Chester Arthur succeeded to the office of president. Per the terms of the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, which was still in effect, the President pro tempore of the Senate would be next in line for the presidency, should it again become vacant at any time in the 3½ years remaining in Garfield's term. As the Senate was evenly divided between the parties, this posed the risk of deadlock. However, the presence of Davis provided an answer; despite being only a freshman Senator, the Senate elected Davis as President Pro Tempore.[4] Davis was not a candidate for re-election. At the end of his term in 1883, he retired to his home in Bloomington.[1]


Upon his death in 1886, he was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois. His grave can be found in section G, lot 659.

His home in that city, the David Davis Mansion, is a state historic site. At his death, he was the largest landowner in Illinois, and his estate was worth between four and five million dollars.


  1. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Davis, David" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  2. ^ Religious Affiliation of the U.S. Supreme Court adherents.com
  3. ^ Morris, Roy, Jr. (2003). Fraud Of The Century. Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden And The Stolen Election Of 1876. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  4. ^ President pro tempore, from the Senate's website; American National Biography, "David Davis"

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
John Campbell
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
John Harlan
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
John Logan
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Illinois
Served alongside: Richard Oglesby, John Logan
Succeeded by
Shelby Cullom
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Bayard
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
George Edmunds
David Davis Mansion

The David Davis Mansion, also known as Clover Lawn, is a Victorian home in Bloomington, Illinois that was the residence of David Davis, Supreme Court justice (1862–1877) and Senator from Illinois. The mansion has been a state museum since 1960. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975..

In celebration of the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial, David Davis Mansion was selected as one of the Illinois 200 Great Places by the American Institute of Architects Illinois component (AIA Illinois).

Set in a residential neighborhood on Bloomington's near-south-side, the three-story yellow brick mansion comprises 36 rooms in an Italianate villa style.

The mansion's lot includes an 1872 wood house, a barn and stable, privies, a foaling shed, carriage barn, and a flower and ornamental cutting garden. "Sarah's Garden", the Victorian cut flower garden, with original heirloom roses and perennials began restoration in 2001.

Justice Davis

Justice Davis may refer to:

Alton Davis (born c. 1946-47), an Associate Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court

Charles Davis (Vermont judge), an Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court

Charles H. Davis (judge) (1906-1976), a Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court

David Davis (Supreme Court justice) (1815–1886), Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

Fred Henry Davis, an Associate Justice of the Florida Supreme Court

Henry Hague Davis (1885–1944), Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada

Horace S. Davis, an Associate Justice of the Montana Supreme Court

Joseph J. Davis (1828–1892), Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court

Michael K. Davis, Associate Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Noah Davis, a justice of the New York Supreme Court, and ex officio a judge of the New York Court of Appeals

Robert E. Davis (1939–2010), Associate Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court

Robert Grimes Davis, the Second Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawaii, under the Kingdom of Hawaii

Robin Davis, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

Stephen B. Davis, Jr., an Associate Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court

William Z. Davis, an Associate Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court

Woodbury Davis, an Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court

Sarah Woodruff Walker

Sarah Woodruff Walker Davis (September 4, 1814 – November 9, 1879) was born in Lenox, Massachusetts to William Perrin Walker and Lucy Adam Walker. She was a fairly educated woman for her time, attending Hartford Female Seminary in Connecticut, where she studied under the tutelage of Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. While she dropped out of school and returned to her hometown, Sarah remained an intellectual woman for her entire life. Back in Lenox, Sarah met David Davis, a young lawyer who was practicing in Bloomington, Illinois. They married in 1838 and had a long and loving marriage, evidenced by the many letters they sent each other while Judge Davis was working in Washington, DC and Sarah was at home in Bloomington. They built their dream home, Clover Lawn, now known as the David Davis Mansion, in Bloomington from 1870–1872. Two of their children, George and Sallie, lived to adulthood.

Sarah was renowned in her community for her generosity and willingness to help those in need. She employed a domestic staff of mostly young Irish immigrants and thought of them as a sort of family when her children were grown and her husband was away. She was politically informed, seeing that Abraham Lincoln was a close friend of the Davis family and her husband served as his campaign manager and a Supreme Court justice. Still, despite her knowledge, Sarah preferred not to get involved in what she saw as the affairs of men. She was fairly independent, since the judge was often away in Washington, and raised hogs as her own means of income and also traveled extensively. It was on one of these trips, to visit her sister's home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, that Sarah died at the age of 65. A funeral took place in Stockbridge before Sarah's body was returned to Bloomington, where a second funeral took place at the mansion. There were estimated to be 1,500 mourners in attendance, including such figures as Adlai Stevenson I and Robert Todd Lincoln.

Prescott Bush ancestors
Samuel P. Bush and Flora Sheldon
Prescott Bush (1895–1972) and
Dorothy Wear Walker (1901–1992)
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Jonathan Bush (b. 1931)
George W. Bush (b. 1946)
Jeb Bush (b. 1953)
Neil Bush (b. 1955)
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