1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Black, Jeremiah Sullivan

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17359721911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4 — Black, Jeremiah Sullivan

BLACK, JEREMIAH SULLIVAN (1810–1883), American lawyer and statesman, was born in Stony Creek township, Somerset county, Pennsylvania, on the 10th of January 1810. He was largely self-educated, and before he was of age was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. He gradually became one of the leading American lawyers, and in 1851–1857 was a member of the supreme court of Pennsylvania (chief-justice 1851–1854). In 1857 he entered President Buchanan’s cabinet as attorney-general of the United States. In this capacity he successfully contested the validity of the “California land claims”—claims to about 19,000 sq. m. of land, fraudulently alleged to have been granted to land-grabbers and others by the Mexican government prior to the close of the Mexican War. From the 17th of December 1860 to the 4th of March 1861 he was secretary of state. Perhaps the most influential of President Buchanan’s official advisers, he denied the constitutionality of secession, and urged that Fort Sumter be properly reinforced and defended. “For . . . the vigorous assertion at last in word and in deed that the United States is a nation,” says James Ford Rhodes, “for pointing out the way in which the authority of the Federal government might be exercised without infringing on the rights of the states, the gratitude of the American people is due to Jeremiah S. Black.” He became reporter to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1861, but after publishing the reports for the years 1861 and 1862 he resigned, and devoted himself almost exclusively to his private practice, appearing in such important cases before the Supreme Court as the one known as Ex-Parte Milligan, in which he ably defended the right of trial by jury, the McCardle case and the United States v. Blyew et al. After the Civil War he vigorously opposed the Congressional plan of reconstructing the late Confederate states, and himself drafted the message of President Johnson, vetoing the Reconstruction Act of the 2nd of March 1867. Black was also for a short time counsel for President Andrew Johnson, in his trial on the article of impeachment, before the United States Senate, and for William W. Belknap (1829–1890), secretary of war from 1869 to 1876, who in 1876 was impeached on a charge of corruption; and with others he represented Samuel J. Tilden during the contest for the presidency between Tilden and Hayes (see Electoral Commission). He died at Brockie, Pennsylvania, on the 19th of August 1883.

See Essays and Speeches of Jeremiah S. Black, with a Biographical Sketch (New York, 1885), by his son, C. F. Black.