Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is considered the most famous US Supreme Court Justice and an expert on the common law of the United States. He was born in 1841 and passed away on March 6, 1935. During his life, he made large contributions to the role of law in the early 20th century in America.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Facts
1. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was part of the New England aristocracy
He was the first child of a very well-known writer, poet and physician, named Oliver Wendell Holmes. His father was descended from Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan poet as well. As for his mother, Amelia Lee Jackson, she was the daughter of Charles Jackson, a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Massachusetts. According to Holmes Jr., his heritage made him proud and was greatly responsible for shaping his mind and character.
2. He went to Harvard
Oliver Wendell Holmes went to a private school and then was admitted into Harvard College, which is known today as Harvard University. After graduating in the class of 1861, he became a poet, an interesting fact about Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1864, he began to study at Harvard Law School and completed his degree in the year of 1866. However, he had first contemplated going to medical school, although his father objected. He was able to pass the bar in 1867 and immediately began working as a lawyer.
3. Oliver helped found a law firm
After Oliver Wendel Holmes Jr. graduated from Harvard, he traveled to England. When he returned, he immersed himself in his legal career and helped found Shattuck, Holmes and Munroe law firm. Holmes was so dedicated to his career that he used the free time he had after law practice to study law even more.
4. Holmes Jr. was a Civil War veteran
Once the Civil War started in the United States in 1861, he decided to enlist in the Union Army. There, he served in the 20th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers. He was nicknamed “Harvard’s Army” and suffered several injuries during the war at the battles of Ball’s Bluff, Antietam, and Chancellorsville.
5. After becoming a lawyer, he edited the magazine American Law Review
An interesting fact about Oliver Wendell Holmes is that in addition to his private practice as a lawyer, he also wrote several articles and essays about the law. Homes also served as the editor of the American Law Review between the years 1870 and 1873. In 1881, he also published a collection of his lectures and essays on the book The Common Law.
6. The Great Dissenter became his nickname in the US Supreme Court
Holmes worked as a professor at Harvard Law School, but less than a year after having started, he became an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1883. In 1899, he became the chief justice of this court, but it would only be for a short period of time. In 1902, then-President Theodore Roosevelt would nominate him to the US Supreme Court.
He was nicknamed “The Great Dissenter” in the US Supreme Court because he constantly opposed his fellow justices. Holmes served on the court for almost 30 years until January 12, 1932.
7. One of his most famous quotes is “the life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience”
In his book The Common Law, he wrote in the first paragraph “the life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” By this, he meant that the law is the result of social problems and not just a simple set of logical deductions that come from abstract theories. This book also created an interest in the United States regarding “sociological jurisprudence”. This stands for the interrelation of the law and other social institutions.
8. Holmes Jr.’s most famous opinion is “Lochner v. New York”
As part of the US Supreme Court, he argued many times about the regulation of the national economy. His most famous opinion on this subject was “Lochner v. New York”. There, he dissented when the court eliminated a law in New York that limited the hours a baker could work.
9. He had no children
After finishing law school, he engaged in courtship. During that period of time, he had been friends for a while with Fanny Bowditch Dixwell. She was the daughter of his schoolmaster. On June 17, 1872, after waiting through wartime, law studies, travels and apprenticeship, they married. They stayed together until her death in 1929 and they did not have any children together.
Despite the couple staying married for more than 50 years, Holmes Jr. also pursued other women. Throughout his life, he maintained correspondence with several women on both sides of the Atlantic. He also visited them abroad without his wife. He even went as far as displaying their photographs in his home study. Nonetheless, it is believed that he was never intimate with any other woman besides his wife and they had a happy marriage.
10. Holmes was also famous regarding the regulation of freedom of speech
After World War I took place, an interesting fact about Oliver Wendell Holmes is that he became more known because of his opinions on freedom of speech. In his writings as a Supreme Court justice, he spoke about the importance of civil liberties. To him, there was a “clear and present danger” if free speech was limited. It was also, according to him, “an experiment, as all life is an experiment.”
11. When he retired, it was considered a national event
Oliver Wendell Holmes retired from the US Supreme Court in 1932 after almost 30 years of service. It was considered a national event. He, along with John Marshall, is thought to be one of the best to have served on the Supreme Court of this country.
Even though more than 80 years have passed since Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. died, he is still considered as someone who made important contributions to the United States law. He is also remembered as one of the most eloquent and outspoken justices in court.
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