Supreme Court

Former justices

Timothy O. Howe (1816-1883)

Timothy O. Howe

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1851-1853)

"Judge Howe is an able debater, has a ready command of language, with all the resources of extemporaneous oratory, and appears best in the sudden exigencies of debate." - Silas U. Pinney, Sketches of the Judges of the First Supreme Court (1876)

Timothy Otis Howe was born February 24, 1816, in Livermore, Maine. He attended Readfield Seminary and studied law with local judges. In 1839, Howe was admitted to the Vermont Bar and began practicing law in Readfield.

In 1845, he was elected to the Vermont Legislature. Shortly thereafter, Howe moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and opened a law office. He was an ardent Whig and admirer of Henry Clay and took a deep interest in political issues. He launched an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Congress in 1848.

Howe was elected circuit judge for the 4th Judicial Circuit in 1850 and began serving in 1851. As a circuit judge, he also served as a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court until a separate Supreme Court was organized in 1853. He left the Supreme Court but remained a circuit judge until 1855, when he resumed his law practice.

In 1857, Howe ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. His defeat was attributed, in part, to his refusal to support state's rights, a popular position in the free north that states can disregard a federal law if they do not agree with it. The southern states later used the same doctrine when they seceded from the Union.

In 1861, Howe won election to the U.S. Senate. He supported emancipation, Black suffrage and impeaching President Andrew Johnson.

While in the Senate, President Ulysses S. Grant offered Howe the position of chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Howe declined the offer because he feared his successor to the Senate would be a Democrat. It was more important to him that the Republicans retained a seat in the Senate than for him to join the U.S. Supreme Court.

Howe lost his senatorial seat in 1877, but he continued to serve the nation as commissioner to the Paris International Monetary Conference. In 1881, he was appointed U.S. postmaster general, a position he held until his death on March 25, 1883.

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