McLean, John

Born: 1785-03-11 Morris County, New Jersey

Died: 1861-04-04 Cincinnati, Ohio

John McLean moved with his family to Virginia in 1789, to Kentucky in 1790, and to Ohio in 1796, where he worked on his family’s farm until the age of sixteen. With only two years of education, McLean studied law and gained admission to the bar in 1807. That same year, he married Rebecca Edwards, with whom he would have seven children. McLean moved his family to Lebanon, Ohio, where he published the Western Star in support of Thomas Jefferson and practiced law for four or five years. McLean served as examiner of the U.S. congressional land office in Cincinnati from 1811 to 1812, represented Ohio in the U.S. Congress from 1812 to 1816, and was a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court from 1816 to 1822. In 1822, President James Monroe appointed McLean as commissioner of the public land office and, in 1823, he appointed McLean postmaster general. McLean served in this capacity until President Andrew Jackson appointed him as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1829. As circuit justice for the Seventh Circuit, McLean traveled extensively throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee from 1830 to 1837, and throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois from 1837 to 1861. Rebecca McLean died in 1840, and in 1843 McLean married Sarah Bella G. Garrard, their union producing one son who died in infancy.

Although appointed by Jackson, Justice McLean favored the Whig Party and later identified with that portion of the Republican Party dominated by former Whigs. McLean wrote a number of anti-slavery opinions as justice, and he wrote a dissenting opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford. Although politically active and frequently considered as a presidential candidate, McLean remained on the Supreme Court until his death in 1861.

Richard L. Aynes, "McLean, John," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 15:142-43; Kermit Hall, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 541-42. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.