Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/Oliver W. Holmes

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OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

 

HOLMES, OLIVER WENDELL, son of the distinguished poet and essayist of the same name, associate and chief justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts for twenty years, and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from December 4, 1902, was born in Boston, Suffolk county, Massachusetts, March 8, 1841. His first paternal ancestor in the direct line in America, John Holmes, settled at Woodstock, Connecticut, in 1686, and another ancestor, Evert Jansen Wendell, came from Emden, East Friesland, Holland, and settled in Albany, New York, about 1640. His great grandfather, Dr. David Holmes, served as captain in the Colonial army in the French and Indian war, and was a soldier in the war of the American Revolution. His maternal great grandfather, Jonathan Jackson (1743-1810), was a delegate to the Provincial Congress, 1775, to the Continental Congress, 1782; and was state treasurer. United States marshal, and a distinguished citizen of Massachusetts. His grandfather, the Reverend Abiel Holmes (1763-1837), Yale, A.B., 1783, A.M., 1786; A.M., Harvard, 1792; D.D., Edinburg, 1805; LL.D., Allegheny, 1822, was pastor of the First church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, for forty years. His grand-father, Charles Jackson (1775-1855), son of Honorable Jonathan and Hannah (Tracy) Jackson, and grandson of Edward and Dorothy (Quincy) Jackson and of Captain Patrick Tracy, was graduated at Harvard at the head of the class of 1793, became a lawyer, was judge of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1813-24, member of the State Constitutional Convention of 1820, overseer of Harvard, 1816-25, and a fellow, 1825-34. His father, was Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94), the distinguished poet and essayist, and his mother, Amelia Lee (Jackson) Holmes, was the daughter of Judge Charles Jackson, a distinguished jurist and educator of Massachusetts.

He studied first in T. R. Sullivan's and was prepared for college in E. D. Dixwell's private Latin school, Boston; he was graduated at Harvard with the class of 1861, being selected as class poet. At the time of the commencement he was serving as a volunteer soldier in the 4th Battalion of infantry at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor, and he obtained leave of absence to take part in the commencement exercises. He was appointed first lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers, Colonel William R. Lee, and in the disastrous battle of Ball's Bluff, Virginia, October 21, 1861, where Colonel Lee was captured. Lieutenant Holmes was shot in the breast. His brigade was the third. General N. J. T. Dana, in Sedgwick's division, Sumner's second corps. Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula, and took part in the Seven Days' Battle before Richmond and in the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, where he was wounded in the neck. He also took part in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and at Marye's Heights, May 3, 1862, he was wounded in the foot. He was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, but the regiment having been greatly reduced in the battle of Fredericksburg, he was not mustered in. He was appointed on the staff of General Horatio G. Wright commanding the first division, sixth army corps, as aide-de-camp with the rank of captain, and served on staff duty from January 29, to July 17, 1864, when he was mustered out and returned home. At once he took up the study of law, at the request of his father, and was graduated at Harvard law school, LL.B., 1866. He was admitted to the Suffolk bar in 1867, and practised in Boston, a member of the law firm of Shattuck, Holmes and Munroe, 1873-82. While in practice, he served as instructor in Constitutional Law at Harvard, 1870-71, and edited the “American Law Review,” 1870-73, to which, and to other legal periodicals, he contributed a number of articles before and after this time. He delivered a course of lectures on “The Common Law” before the Lowell institute in 1880, and was professorof law at Harvard law school, 1882-83. In 1882 he was elected associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,serving as an associate justice, 1882-99, and as chief justice of the court (succeeding Chief Justice Walbridge A. Field, deceased), from August, 1899, to December 4, 1902, when he was appointed by President Roosevelt associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States as successor to Associate Justice George Shiras, Jr., resigned. He was elected a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the membership of which exclusive society is limited to one hundred, and he also became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences of Boston. He received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Yale university in 1886, and from Harvard in 1895. As a youth he collected rare engravings to the extent of his limited means. He was married June 17, 1872, to Fanny Bowditch, daughter of Epes S. Dixwell of Cambridge, Massachusetts, his early instructor in Latin. He edited the twelfth edition of “Kent's Commentaries” (1873) and is the author of “The Common Law” (Lowell Institute Lectures, 1881), and of a volume of speeches.