Stephen Johnson Field

Stephen Johnson Field

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Stephen Johnson Field was an American jurist
A jurist or jurisconsult is a professional who studies, develops, applies, or otherwise deals with the law. The term is widely used in American English, but in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries it has only historical and specialist usage...

. He was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are the members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States...

 of the United States Supreme Court from May 20, 1863, to December 1, 1897. Prior to this, he was the 5th Chief Justice of California.

Early life and education

Born in Haddam, Connecticut
Haddam, Connecticut
Haddam is a town in Middlesex County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 7,157 at the 2000 census. The town was also home to the now decommissioned Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Reactor.-Geography:...

, he was the sixth of the nine children of David Dudley Field I, a Congregationalist
Congregational church
Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practicing Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs....

 minister, and his wife Submit Dickinson. His family produced three other children of major prominence in 19th Century America: David Dudley Field II the prominent attorney, Cyrus Field the millionaire investor and creator of the Atlantic Cable, and Rev. Henry Martyn Field
Henry Martyn Field (minister)
Henry Martyn Field was an American author and clergyman.Brother of Cyrus West Field, David Dudley Field II, and Stephen Johnson Field, he was born at Stockbridge, Massachusetts; he graduated at Williams College in 1838, and was pastor of a Presbyterian church in St Louis, Missouri, from 1842 to...

 a prominent clergyman and travel writer. He grew up in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Stockbridge is a town in Berkshire County in Western Massachusetts. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 1,947 at the 2010 census...

, and went to Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 at thirteen with his sister and her missionary husband. He graduated from Williams College
Williams College
Williams College is a private liberal arts college located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States. It was established in 1793 with funds from the estate of Ephraim Williams. Originally a men's college, Williams became co-educational in 1970. Fraternities were also phased out during this...

, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Williamstown, Massachusetts
Williamstown is a town in Berkshire County, in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. It shares a border with Vermont to the north and New York to the west. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 7,754 at the 2010 census...

, in 1837. While attending Williams College he was one of the original Founders of Delta Upsilon
Delta Upsilon
Delta Upsilon is the sixth oldest international, all-male, college Greek-letter organization, and is the oldest non-secret fraternity in North America...

 Fraternity. After studying law in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 with his brother David Dudley II, they practiced law together until 1848 when he went west to California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 in the Gold Rush
California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands , and Latin America, who were the first to start flocking to...


Career in California politics and law

In California, Field's legal practice boomed and he was elected alcalde
Alcalde , or Alcalde ordinario, is the traditional Spanish municipal magistrate, who had both judicial and administrative functions. An alcalde was, in the absence of a corregidor, the presiding officer of the Castilian cabildo and judge of first instance of a town...

, a form of mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

 and justice of the peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

 under the old Mexican rule of law, of Marysville
Marysville, California
Marysville is the county seat of Yuba County, California, United States. The population was 12,072 at the 2010 census, down from 12,268 at the 2000 census. It is included in the Yuba City Metropolitan Statistical Area, often referred to as the Yuba-Sutter Area after the two counties, Yuba and...

 (curiously, he was elected Alcade just three days after his arrival in Marysville). Because the Gold Rush city could not afford a jail
A jail is a short-term detention facility in the United States and Canada.Jail may also refer to:In entertainment:*Jail , a 1966 Malayalam movie*Jail , a 2009 Bollywood movie...

, and it cost too much to transport prisoners to San Francisco
San Francisco, California
San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

, Field implemented the whipping post, believing that without such a brutal implement many in the rough and tumble city would be hanged for minor crimes. The voters sent him to the California State Assembly
California State Assembly
The California State Assembly is the lower house of the California State Legislature. There are 80 members in the Assembly, representing an approximately equal number of constituents, with each district having a population of at least 420,000...

 in 1850 to represent Yuba County
Yuba County, California
Yuba County is a county located in the U.S. state of California's Central Valley, north of Sacramento, along the Feather River. As of the 2010 census, its population was 72,155. The county seat is Marysville. Yuba County is part of the Greater Sacramento area.-History:Yuba County was one of the...

, but he lost a race the next year for the State Senate
California State Senate
The California State Senate is the upper house of the California State Legislature. There are 40 state senators. The state legislature meets in the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The Lieutenant Governor is the ex officio President of the Senate and may break a tied vote...

. His successful legal practice led to his election to the California Supreme Court
Supreme Court of California
The Supreme Court of California is the highest state court in California. It is headquartered in San Francisco and regularly holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.-Composition:...

 in 1857, serving six years.

During his time on the Supreme Court of California, Field had a special coat made with pockets large enough to hold two pistols so that he could shoot at his various enemies through the pockets. In 1858 he was challenged to a duel by a fellow Judge (William T. Barbour) but at the dueling ground, neither man fired his gun.

In 1859 Field replaced the former chief justice of the California Supreme Court, David S. Terry
David S. Terry
David Smith Terry was a California politician, who killed United States Senator David C. Broderick in the Broderick – Terry duel in 1859. He was then killed in 1889 by a bodyguard of United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field.-Biography:Terry was born in Christian County, Kentucky...

 because Judge Terry killed a California state senator (David Broderick) in a duel and left the state. Oddly, Field and Terry's paths crossed again 30 years later when Field, acting in his capacity as a judge of the 9th Federal Circuit Court
United States circuit court
The United States circuit courts were the original intermediate level courts of the United States federal court system. They were established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. They had trial court jurisdiction over civil suits of diversity jurisdiction and major federal crimes. They also had appellate...

, ruled against Terry in a convoluted divorce case (and had him sent to jail for contempt of court as well). Seeking revenge, Terry attempted to kill Field in 1889 near Stockton, California
Stockton, California
Stockton, California, the seat of San Joaquin County, is the fourth-largest city in the Central Valley of the U.S. state of California. With a population of 291,707 at the 2010 census, Stockton ranks as this state's 13th largest city...

 but was instead shot dead by Justice Field's bodyguard, U.S. Marshal David Neagle. Ironically, legal issues arising from the killing of Mr. Terry came before the Supreme Court in the 1890 habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

 case of In re Neagle
In re Neagle
In re Neagle, 135 U.S. 1 , was a United States Supreme Court decision that determined the question of whether the Attorney General of the United States had authority to appoint U.S. Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices.-Facts:U.S...

. To no one's
surprise, the Supreme Court ruled the Attorney General of the United States had authority to appoint U.S. Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices and Marshal Neagle had acted within the scope of his authority in shooting former Judge Terry.

U.S. Supreme Court justice

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 appointed him to the newly created tenth Supreme Court seat, to achieve both regional balance (he was a Westerner) and political balance (he was a Democrat, albeit a Unionist one). It would also give the Court someone familiar with real estate and mining issues.

"Field was one of the pioneers of the concept (beloved by many libertarian legal thinkers
Libertarian theories of law
Libertarian theories of law build upon classical liberal and individualist anarchist doctrines.The defining characteristics of libertarian legal theory are its insistence that the amount of government intervention should be kept to a minimum and the primary functions of law should be enforcement of...

) of substantive due process
Substantive due process
Substantive due process is one of the theories of law through which courts enforce limits on legislative and executive powers and authority...

 — the notion that the due process protected by the Fourteenth Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

 applied not merely to procedures but to the substance of laws as well." Field's vocal advocacy of substantive due process
Substantive due process
Substantive due process is one of the theories of law through which courts enforce limits on legislative and executive powers and authority...

 was illustrated in his dissents to the Slaughterhouse Cases
Slaughterhouse Cases
The Slaughter-House Cases, were the first United States Supreme Court interpretation of the relatively new Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution...

and Munn v. Illinois
Munn v. Illinois
Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 , was a United States Supreme Court case dealing with corporate rates and agriculture. The Munn case allowed states to regulate certain businesses within their borders, including railroads, and is commonly regarded as a milestone in the growth of federal government...

. Perhaps his most famous opinion was the majority opinion in Pennoyer v. Neff
Pennoyer v. Neff
Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 , was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court held that a court can exert personal jurisdiction over a party if that party is served with process while physically present within the state.-Factual and procedural background:Marcus Neff...

, an 8-1 decision which set the standard on personal jurisdiction for the next 100 years. His views on due process were eventually adopted by the court's majority after he left the Supreme Court. In other cases he helped end the income tax
Income tax
An income tax is a tax levied on the income of individuals or businesses . Various income tax systems exist, with varying degrees of tax incidence. Income taxation can be progressive, proportional, or regressive. When the tax is levied on the income of companies, it is often called a corporate...

 (Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company), limited anti-trust law (United States v. E.C. Knight Company), and limited the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission
Interstate Commerce Commission
The Interstate Commerce Commission was a regulatory body in the United States created by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The agency's original purpose was to regulate railroads to ensure fair rates, to eliminate rate discrimination, and to regulate other aspects of common carriers, including...


On racial issues, Justice Field is regarded to have had a generally poor record. He dissented in the landmark case Strauder v. West Virginia
Strauder v. West Virginia
Strauder v. West Virginia, , was a United States Supreme Court case about racial discrimination.-Background:At the time, West Virginia excluded African-Americans from juries. Strauder was a Black man who, at trial, had been convicted of murder by an all-white jury...

, where the majority opinion held that the exclusion of African-Americans from juries that violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause
Equal Protection Clause
The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"...

. He also joined the infamous case Plessy v. Ferguson
Plessy v. Ferguson
Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 , is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in private businesses , under the doctrine of "separate but equal".The decision was handed...

that upheld racial segregation
Racial segregation
Racial segregation is the separation of humans into racial groups in daily life. It may apply to activities such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a public toilet, attending school, going to the movies, or in the rental or purchase of a home...


Early in his career, Field wrote opinions against California's laws discriminating against the Chinese immigrants to that state. Serving as an individual jurist in district court, he notably struck down the so-called 'Pigtail Ordinance
Pigtail Ordinance
The Pigtail Ordinance was an 1873 law intended to force prisoners in San Francisco, California to have their hair cut within an inch of the scalp. While the law did not discriminate between races, it affected Han Chinese prisoners in particular, as it meant they would have their queue, a...

' in 1879, which was regarded as discriminating against Chinese, making him unpopular with the Californian public. However, as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, he penned opinions infused with racist anti-Chinese-American rhetoric, most notably in his majority opinion in The Chinese Exclusion Case, Chae Chan Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581 (1889), and in his dissent in Chew Heong v. United States, 112 U.S. 536 (1884).

Field insisted on breaking John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

's record of thirty-three years on the court, even though he was not able to handle the workload. His colleagues asked him to resign due to his being intermittently senile but he refused, staying on until 1897. He lived only two years more, dying in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, and was buried there in the Rock Creek Cemetery
Rock Creek Cemetery
Rock Creek Cemetery — also Rock Creek Church Yard and Cemetery — is an cemetery with a natural rolling landscape located at Rock Creek Church Road, NW, and Webster Street, NW, off Hawaii Avenue, NE in Washington, D.C.'s Michigan Park neighborhood, near Washington's Petworth neighborhood...


Justice Field's aspirations to become Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 went unfulfilled, as he had made many enemies both political and personal. He is the second longest serving Associate Justice. Field wrote 544 opinions, more than any other justice save for Justice Samuel Miller
Samuel Freeman Miller
Samuel Freeman Miller was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1862–1890. He was a physician and lawyer.-Early life and education:...

 (by comparison, Chief Justice Marshall wrote 508 opinions in his 34 years on the court).

Associate Justice David Josiah Brewer
David Josiah Brewer
David Josiah Brewer was an American jurist and an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for 20 years.-Early life:...

 was Justice Field's nephew.

See also

Further reading

Beatty, Jack "Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America 1865-1900." Knopf, 2007.

External links

  • Oyez Project
    The Oyez Project at the Chicago-Kent College of Law is an unofficial online multimedia archive of the Supreme Court of the United States, especially audio of oral arguments...

    , Official Supreme Court media, Stephen Johnson Field.
  • Stephen Johnson Field at PBS
    Public Broadcasting Service
    The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

  • Stephen J. Field at Supreme Court Historical Society
    Supreme Court Historical Society
    The Supreme Court Historical Society is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and communicating the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.-History:...