Justice Nathan Clifford

Justice Nathan Clifford joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 21, 1858, replacing Justice Benjamin Curtis. Clifford was born on August 18, 1803 in Rumney, New Hampshire. He attended Haverhill Academy and the New Hampton School (then known by a different name) before studying law. After he was admitted to the bar, Clifford entered private practice in Maine.

During the 1830s, Clifford served in the Maine state legislature and as Attorney General of Maine. He then was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served two terms from 1839 to 1843. Three years later, Clifford became U.S. Attorney General under the administration of President James K. Polk. In 1848, he left this position for a diplomatic role in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. As a commissioner representing the U.S. government, Clifford helped finalize the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This resulted in Mexico ceding modern-day California, Arizona, and New Mexico (as well as other territory) to the U.S. After serving as a diplomat, Clifford returned to private practice for several years.

On December 9, 1857, President James Buchanan nominated Clifford to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on January 12, 1858 in a 26-23 vote, and he took the judicial oath nine days later. Clifford spent over two decades on the Court, spanning the Civil War and Reconstruction. He wrote opinions on few issues of lasting significance.

Clifford served as the president of the electoral commission that Congress formed to resolve the disputed 1876 presidential election. The commission consisted of 15 members, five each from the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. Tasked with assigning 20 electoral votes from four states, the commission voted along party lines to award the votes to Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes. This left Democrat candidate Samuel J. Tilden one vote short of the Presidency. Clifford was disappointed with this outcome, since he had voted as a Democrat to award the votes to Tilden.

Clifford died on July 25, 1881 in southern Maine and was buried there. Justice Horace Gray replaced him on the Court.