Supreme Court

Former justices

Samuel Crawford (1820-1860)

Samuel Crawford

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1853-1855)

"Judge Crawford was a most genial and accomplished gentleman, chivalrous in his disposition, and of the strictest honor and integrity. He had a heart full of warm sympathies and generous impulses, and as a man and citizen was greatly beloved." - Calvert Spensley, Crawford's portrait hanging (1904)

Samuel Crawford was born April 20, 1820, in Ballibay, Ireland. He was educated by his father and came to the United States in 1840. In 1841, he moved from New York to Galena, Illinois, where his brothers lived. He studied law at a private firm and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1844. He established a successful law practice in Galena, but soon moved to Mineral Point, Wisconsin, to form a law partnership with David W. Jones (who later became secretary of the state).

When a separate Supreme Court was created in 1853, Crawford was elected to serve as one of the three justices. The law creating the Supreme Court included a provision for selecting a chief justice and assigned a long term for one associate justice and a short term for the other. Crawford was given the shorter term which expired in June 1855.

His opinion in Ableman v. Booth (1854) is believed to have cost him re-election in 1855. The case questioned the constitutionality of the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which required states to return runaway slaves to their masters. Crawford wrote that Wisconsin had to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. His opinion was unpopular because of the strong anti-slavery sentiment in Wisconsin.

After losing the election, Crawford pursued private practice in Mineral Point. He was twice defeated in bids for public office-the first for the U.S. Congress in 1856 and the second for Wisconsin attorney general in 1859.

Crawford was married to Jane Sweet and had four children. He died February 28, 1860.

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