Supreme Court

Former justices

Abram D. Smith (1811-1865)

Abram D. Smith

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1853-1859)

"He had an abiding love for and devotion to the great principles of civil liberty and natural justice; and I believe it was the strongest desire of his soul that every human being, however degraded, should enjoy his natural rights." - Justice Orsamus Cole, Smith's memorial service (1865)

Little is known about the life of Abram Daniel Smith. He came to the Wisconsin Territory from New York in 1842 and practiced law in Milwaukee. He was elected one of the three justices for the newly created 1853 Wisconsin Supreme Court and served until 1859.

Smith wrote a famous but controversial opinion in Ableman v. Booth (1854) which was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. He wrote that the federal Fugitive Slave Act violated state's rights and declared it unconstitutional.

In 1856, Smith was implicated in a major railroad scandal in Wisconsin. Smith admitted receiving $10,000 from one of the Wisconsin's major railroad promotters. Governer Coles Bashford and dozens of legislators were also implicated.

Following his term on the Supreme Court, Smith practiced law in Wisconsin until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he accepted a government appointment in South Carolina.

Smith was described as patient, kindhearted and courteous, particularly to younger members of the bar.

His died June 3, 1865.

Back to former justices