Oliver Wendell Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 8, 1841, son of the famous doctor, academic and writer, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. In 1861, Holmes followed in his fathers footsteps by graduated from Harvard College and being elected class poet. Holmes was a fervent abolitionist, and joined the Union Army a month after graduation. He served with distinction, and was severely wounded at Balls Bluff (1861), Antietam (1862) and Fredricksburg (1863). While stationed outside Washington, D.C., Holmes was reported to have ordered a civilian off an artillery platform, later discovering that the "civilian" was actually the commander-in-chief, President Abraham Lincoln. Holmes was mustered out of the army in 1864, completing his service with the permanent rank of captain.
Upon his return to Boston, he entered Harvard Law School. After graduating in 1866, he traveled to Europe. Later in life, he would travel as a respite from his consuming commitment to work. He returned to Boston, was admitted to the bar in 1867, and practiced law for several years with his brother. In 1870, he became coeditor and a contributor to the American Law Review. In addition, he taught at Harvard College, and, through these activities, he developed his skills as a legal historian and scholar. In 1872, he married Fanny Bowdich Dixwell.
Holmes was invited to present the Lowell Lectures on law in 1880. The next year, he published his lectures as a book, The Common Law, which became something of a classic in legal literature and established his reputation as a talented scholar. In 1882, he was given a professorship in law at Harvard Law School and was appointed an associate justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In December 2, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Holmes for a seat on the US Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him with no objections two days later.
As a Justice on the Court, Holmes was an independent entity. He took a sophisticated and pragmatic view of the law, approaching each case based on its facts and writing his opinions with great eloquence. In his dissents, he was often joined by Justice Louis Brandeis. One of his most notable opinions he wrote was for Schenk v. United States (1919), in which the Court unanimously voted to protect the free speech of the individual from government interference. Holmes wrote that, unless there was a "clear and present danger" to justify government action, a "free trade in ideas" had to be promoted.
Like Justice Brandeis, Holmes chose to pay his income taxes, despite the Courts ruling to exempt federal judges. In 1932, Holmes retired from the Court. He died in his home in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 1935, and was buried next to his wife in the Arlington National Cemetery. Having had no children, Holmes willed his estate to the United States, and Congress used the money to fund the Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court.