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Samuel Nelson is Born

Today in Masonic History Samuel Nelson is born in 1873.

Samuel Nelson was an American jurist.

Nelson was born on November 10th, 1792 in Hebron, New York. He grew up on the family farm in Hebron. He attended the local schools and spent three years in a private school. He enrolled in Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. He graduated from the school in 1813. He decided at that point to study and law and began reading law with a firm in Salem, New York. In 1817, he was admitted to the bar and began private practice.

In 1821, Nelson was a delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention. There he argued for expanding suffrage and restructuring the state judiciary. The revised constitution was adopted and eight new circuit courts were created. In 1823, Nelson was appoint to the Sixth Circuit Court. Eight years later he would be appointed to the New York Supreme Court.

In 1845, Nelson was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate. That same year, President John Tyler would nominate him as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This was a surprise, especially after the long string of failed nominations that Tyler had. Nelson was different then Tyler's other nominees. Nelson's reputation for staying out of partisan arguments and strictly interpreting the law as it applied to a particular case won over the Senate and he was confirmed 10 days after his nomination was put forward. Nelson would be the only Supreme Court Justice appointment that Tyler would make.

Nelson would serve on the United States Supreme Court for 27 years which included the American Civil War. Nelson was a Unionist but believed that states had the right to decide on what when on in their state, not the federal government. He disagreed with President Lincoln about the Civil War, in large part due to his belief that war was never the answer.

One of Nelson's most notable cases on the Supreme Court was the Dred Scott v. Sandford. On that case Nelson was originally going to write the majority opinion, instead Chief Justice Roger B. Taney decided to write the opinion when he learned that two of the dissenting judges were writing a strongly worded dissent. This turned in to an argument on the court which was more about states rights and the political opinions of the judges. Nelson staying true to form stayed out of the politics and instead wrote a separate concurring opinion, based strictly on the interpretation of the law and how it applied to the Dred Scott case.

Nelson was so opposed to the Civil War that he worked with other Supreme Court Justices to negotiate peace between President Elect Lincoln and secessionists. Even after the fighting started, Nelson continued to work toward a peaceful solution.

In 1871, Ulysses S. Grand appointed Nelson to serve on a joint high commission to arbitrate the Alabama Claims. The Alabama claims was an attempt by the United States Government to recoup loses sustained during the American Civil War from Britain. The accusation claimed that American ships and cargo were lost when they were attacked by Confederate ships built in British shipyards.

In 1872, Nelson resigned from the Supreme Court due to health concerns.

Nelson passed away on December 13th, 1873.

Nelson was a member of Solomon's Lodge No. 5 in New York.