Lincoln was a staunch opponent of slavery and a defender of religious freedom and states’ rights. His refusal of a Supreme Court appointment lost the Jeffersonian Republicans the opportunity to gain a majority on the Court.
Born into a colonial Massachusetts family, Lincoln graduated from Harvard College in 1771 and subsequently studied law in Massachusetts. After practicing in Worcester, he served as judge of probate from 1777 to 1781. A highly successful trial lawyer, he argued against the legality of slavery in several Massachusetts cases in the 1780’s. He later served in both houses of Congress. In 1801 President Thomas Jefferson appointed him attorney general. He reviewed for Jefferson, prior to its dispatch, the famous Letter to the Danbury Baptists affirming the “wall of separation between church and state.”
After a further political career in Massachusetts, he was offered a seat on the Supreme Court by President James Madison in 1812. The appointment would have produced a majority of Jeffersonian Republicans, champions of states’ rights, on the Court, but Lincoln, citing failing eyesight, declined the honor, even after confirmation by the Senate. Thus the Republicans lost a potentially reliable judicial ally, while the man who eventually filled the vacancy, Joseph Story, surprised the Republicans by supporting Federalist views throughout his thirty-four year tenure.
Bill of Rights
Nominations to the Court
Religion, establishment of