Description

    John McLean Archive, spanning four decades (the 1820s, 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s) of the notable U.S. Supreme Court associate justice's life. The archive includes numerous letters to McLean from associates, friends, and family, as well as many letters written by the associate justice to his wife, Rebecca Edwards McLean.

    The personal and business letters are mostly from his wife, children, brothers, nephews, nieces, and in-laws, and offer fascinating insight into the life and family of Justice McLean. The legal and political letters provide glimpses into McLean's public life, as well as the legal and political life of the early nineteenth century American republic. Many topics, such as the Mexican War, the growing American empire, various early nineteenth century politicians, and the 1848 election, are broached. For example, in a July 16, 1846, letter, McLean's brother-in-law, George Hildt, writes about the upcoming presidential election: "Old Rough and Ready has brought himself into notice by his late splendid victories, and as the star of [General Winfield] Scott set[s], that [of Zachary] Taylor . . . was named for that distinguished office, in the first moments of enthusiasm. But I now think the eyes of the nation are directed to John McLean". McLean had presidential aspiration, often being named as a presidential contender from the 1840s until the election of 1860.

    Also included in the archive are numerous replies to dinner invitations written by the sociable McLeans along with three shipping documents, including one with the heading "Rules and Regulations for the Government of Pilots . . . October 29, 1852". The other two are ship licenses for two steamships on the Ohio River, both dated 1854.

    John McLean (1785-1861) was appointed by President James Monroe to be the sixth U.S. postmaster general, serving from 1823-1829. Many of these letters were written to him as postmaster general. He was later appointed by President Andrew Jackson as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, serving a long and notable career from 1830 until his death in 1861. All items in the archive are from good to fine.


    More Information:

    More specifically, the archive contains over 120 letters and documents, including approximately thirteen letters written by Justice McLean to his wife; approximately thirteen letters written to the justice by his wife Rebecca; and approximately thirty letters written to him by his children. The letters cover personal, business, religious, political, and judicial topics. Many of McLean's autograph letters signed were written while he rode his circuit, though some are written from Washington, D.C. The earliest letter in the archive (January 22, 1816) is written by McLean as a young Ohio congressman from the "house [the U. S. House of Representatives chamber] amidst a bustle and whilst members are speaking."

     

    Several letters contain general political information, such as opinions on leading politicians like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren, and William Henry Harrison. One letter written in 1836 by McLean's brother-in-law asks, "Will Mr. [Roger] Taney's nomination be confirmed?" (Taney was confirmed as Supreme Court Chief Justice that same year.) Another from 1848 predicts, "Canada, Mexico, and Cuba are more likely to become united with us at no very distant day". Many letters with political content relate more personally to Justice McLean, including one from his brother William wondering if "the chief Justiceship [would] be offered" to McLean if he were to back Martin Van Buren in the 1836 presidential race. This is then followed by, "Burn this letter forthwith." That letter was not burned, but the election of 1836, won by Van Buren, is a recurring topic in this archive.

     

    In a March 6, 1846, letter, McLean is notified that he has been selected as the president of the American Bible Society ("at a meeting of our Board of Managers yesterday you were unanimously elected as President of the American Bible Society in place of the Hon. John Cotton Smith lately deceased"). McLean responds in a letter (the original draft is included in this archive) to the Bible Society declining the office because his public duties as Supreme Court justice are "incompatible with those which appertain to the presidency of the society."

     

    Interestingly, the archive contains two letters concerning important artists: (1) a letter of introduction from Dr. John Hayward to Justice McLean for artist John Crookshanks King who had recently finished his famous "bust of Mr. [John Quincy] Adams which he has just executed to the order of Congress in its proper place in the room in which that eminent man died."; (2) a George P. A. Healy Autograph Letter Signed (June 5, 1852) concerning portraits of Mr. and Mrs. McLean.

     

    A small number of documents are included containing business, church, and judicial material; one is the invoice for Rebecca E. McLean's coffin and hearse (March 18, 1842).



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