April 9: Stephen Johnson Field (1899)

Stephen Johnson Field was the 38th justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and one of five appointed by President Abraham Lincoln. Field filled a newly created tenth Supreme Court seat, to achieve both regional balance (he was a Westerner) and political balance (he was a Democrat). The appointment would also give the Court someone familiar with real estate and mining issues. Field insisted on serving long enough to break John Marshall’s record of thirty-four years on the court. His colleagues asked him to resign due to his intermittent senility, but he refused, staying on until 1897. Field’s length of service was surpassed in the 1970’s by Justice William O. Douglas, who remains the longest serving justice to date.

Stephen J. Field was the sixth of nine children. Stephen’s younger brother was Cyrus Field, who became a millionaire investor and creator of the trans-Atlantic cable. After graduating from Williams College and studying law in Albany, Stephen headed west to California in the Gold Rush. A successful legal practice eventually gained him a seat on the California Supreme Court. It was from his position as Chief Justice that he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After serving 34 years, 266 days, Field retired and then died two years later. His funeral is recorded in Epiphany’s register. In announcing the death, A Chicago Daily front-page story states, “The services will be held at the house at 10 o’clock, and will be conducted by the Rev. Randolph McKim, D.D., rector of the Church of the Epiphany, where Judge Field held a pew.”

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