Much has been written about David H. Souter. There is more coming, no doubt, as legal scholars look back on his career as a member of the United States Supreme Court and, before that, the New Hampshire Supreme Court. According to an article in the May 2 Boston Globe, he is “the last New Englander.” I’m not sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound right to me. The same article says he is “only the second Supreme Court justice from New Hampshire, following by 145 years the appointment of Levi Woodbury.”
I don’t mean to nitpick, but that’s not right either. And I don’t like to see New Hampshire shortchanged. It’s true that Levi Woodbury was from New Hampshire. He was born in Francestown in 1789, the same year as the Constitution. Like Justice Souter, he had a distinguished public career. Woodbury was Governor at 34, went on to the United States Senate, became Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Treasury, and then returned to the Senate. When President Polk named him to the big court in 1845, he became the first person to have served as a governor and in all three branches of government.
Only one other person has accomplished that quadfecta – Salmon P. Chase. He was born in Cornish, which we considered a suburb of Claremont when I was growing up. By my reckoning that makes him “from New Hampshire.” True, after graduating from Dartmouth he moved to Ohio and later was elected to various state and federal positions from that state. Abraham Lincoln defeated him at the 1860 Republican National Convention, appointed him Secretary of the Treasury as one of the “Team of Rivals” recounted in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book of that name, and appointed him Chief Justice in 1864.
There was another justice between Woodbury and Chase, a portly fellow named Nathan Clifford. He was born in Rumney, home of the Polar Caves up in Grafton County. He practiced law in Maine and went on to become a member of Congress, Attorney General and U.S. Envoy to Mexico. President Buchanan appointed him to the Supreme Court, where he served for over 23 years.
I’m not done. The Globe also forgot about Harlan Fiske Stone, born in Chesterfield, right here in Cheshire County. President Coolidge appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1924, and President Roosevelt made him Chief Justice in 1941. He was number four.
Maybe what the Globe really meant was that Justice Souter was the second Supreme Court Justice from Hillsborough County. But that’s not quite right either. He does live in Weare, but he was born in Massachusetts.