The reader of this biographical profile will probably be wondering why the famous American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., appears on the prominent Dutch American listing. Well, the answer is because his grandmother came from an impeccable Dutch American background. His paternal grandmother was Sarah Wendell, the daughter of a wealthy family. Her ancestry goes back to the first Wendell, Evert Jansen, who left Holland in 1640 and settled in Albany, New York. If you look through the phone book pages in Albany, New York today, you will find a plethora of Wendells, all distant cousins of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1902. He was nominated by another famous Dutch American, President Theodore Roosevelt, and his nomination passed the United States Senate unanimously. Holmes became one of the most widely cited United States Supreme Court justices in history. He would serve until 1932, when he was asked to resign because of his advanced age. Holmes, by that time, had reached the advance age of 90 years.
Holmes was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 8, 1841, and was the son of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and Amelia Lee Jackson, a noted abolitionist. As a young man he liked literature and graduated from Harvard University in 1861. But note that 1861 was the start of the Civil War. Holmes enlisted in the Massachusetts Militia. He rose to the rank of a first lieutenant, and saw much action in the Civil War. He was wounded at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, at Antietam and at Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Following the war, Holmes returned to Harvard and studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1866. He practiced law in Boston, and focused on admiralty law and commercial law for fifteen years. In 1870, just five years out of law school he became the editor of the “American Law Review”. Following that time period he published many papers on common law. He also published his well-regarded book, “The Common Law” in 1881.
In 1882, Holmes was appointed to a professorship at Harvard Law School. Shortly thereafter he was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, and resigned from his Harvard appointment. In 1889, Holmes was appointed to chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Holmes to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination. For the next 30 years Holmes would be a member of the Court, and would become one of the most influential American common-law judges. Holmes viewed the Bill of Rights as codifying privileges obtained over the centuries in English and American law.
During his early years as a lawyer, prior to his Supreme Court years, Holmes would often spend time in London, England, during the social season of spring and summer. While there he became associated with the “sociological” school of jurisprudence in England. This movement would, a generation later, be known as the “legal realist” school in the United States.
Following his graduation from Harvard Law School, Holmes married his childhood friend, Fanny Bowditch Dixwell. Their marriage would last until her death in 1929. Unfortunately their marriage did not produce any children. They did, however, adopt and raise an orphaned cousin, named Dorothy Upham. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., passed away on March 6, 1935, two day short of his 94th birthday. He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is recognized as one of the greatest justices of the United States Supreme Court. In his will, he also expressed his love and devotion to his country by leaving his estate to the United States government. He had stated earlier that taxes we pay to the government are a price we pay for being able to live in a civilized society.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Wendell_Holmes,_Jr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Wendell_Holmes,_Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/owholmes.htm
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