1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Field, Stephen Johnson

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FIELD, STEPHEN JOHNSON (1816–1899), American jurist, was born at Haddam, Connecticut, on the 4th of November 1816. He was the brother of David Dudley Field, Cyrus W. Field and Henry M. Field. At the age of thirteen he accompanied his sister Emilia and her husband the Rev. Josiah Brewer (the parents of the distinguished judge of the Supreme Court, David J. Brewer) to Smyrna, Turkey, for the purpose of studying Oriental languages, but after three years he returned to the United States, and in 1837 graduated at Williams College at the head of his class. He then studied law in his elder brother’s office, and in 1841 he was admitted to the New York bar. He was associated in practice there with his brother until 1848, and early in 1849 removed to California, settling soon afterward at Marysville, of which place, in 1850, he became the first alcalde or mayor. In the same year he was chosen a member of the first state legislature of California, in which he drew up and secured the enactment of two bodies of law known as the Civil and Criminal Practices Acts, based on the similar codes prepared by his brother David Dudley for New York. In the former act he embodied a provision regulating and giving authority to the peculiar customs, usages, and regulations voluntarily adopted by the miners in various districts of the state for the adjudication of disputed mining claims. This, as Judge Field truly says, “was the foundation of the jurisprudence respecting mines in the country,” having greatly influenced legislation upon this subject in other states and in the Congress of the United States. He was elected, in 1857, a justice of the California Supreme Court, of which he became chief justice in 1859, on the resignation of Judge David S. Terry to fight the duel with the United States senator David C. Broderick which ended fatally for the latter. Field held this position until 1863, when he was appointed by President Lincoln a justice of the United States Supreme Court. In this capacity he was conspicuous for fearless independence of thought and action in his opinion in the test oath case, and in his dissenting opinions in the legal tender, conscription and “slaughter house” cases, which displayed unusual legal learning, and gave powerful expression to his strict constructionist theory of the implied powers of the Federal constitution. Originally a Democrat, and always a believer in states’ rights, his strong Union sentiments caused him nevertheless to accept Lincoln’s doctrine of coercion, and that, together with his anti-slavery sympathies, led him to act with the Republican party during the period of the Civil War. He was a member of the commission which revised the California code in 1873 and of the Electoral Commission in 1877, voting in favour of Tilden. In 1880 he received sixty-five votes on the first ballot for the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention at Cincinnati. In August 1889, as a result of a ruling in the course of the Sharon-Hill litigation, a notorious conspiracy case, he was assaulted in a California railway station by Judge David S. Terry, who in turn was shot and killed by a United States deputy marshall appointed to defend Justice Field against the carrying out of Terry’s often-expressed threats. He retired from the Supreme Court on the 1st of December 1897 after a service of thirty-four years and six months, the longest in the court’s history, and died in Washington on the 9th of April 1899.

His Personal Reminiscences of Early Days in California, originally privately printed in 1878, was republished in 1893 with George C. Gorham’s Story of the Attempted Assassination of Justice Field.