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1007392

Stephen J. Field

 

The Lincoln appointee, the Courtʼs second-longest serving Justice,

sends a handwritten quotation from William Cullen Bryant’s The Battle-Field

Stephen Johnson Field, 1816–1899.  Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1863–1897.  Two pages, (i) Fieldʼs bold signature with holographic biographical information and (ii) unsigned Autograph Quotation, no date [May 1895].  With letter of provenance from Fieldʼs secretary.

Field sends a quotation from William Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Battle-Field” in response to a request from a student at the State Normal School at Emporia, Kansas, now Emporia State University, for a handwritten letter containing a reminiscence, a favorite sentiment, or a word of advice for one of several autograph albums to be devoted to the country’s prominent men and women.  On one of these two pieces, Field signs his signature and adds biographical information, Stephen J. Field / Justice of U.S. / Supreme Court / Commissioned March 10, 1863 / Qualified May 20, 1863.”  On the other, he pens the quotation from the poem:

Truth crushed to Earth shall rise again;

The eternal years of God are hers;

But Error wounded writhes in pain,

And dies among his worshippers.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., often used the first line of this stanza in his speeches.  It is perhaps the most famous line that Bryant (1794–1878) ever wrote. 

Field was the brother of prominent lawyer David Dudley Field II (1805–1894), whose work led to enactment of New York’s Field Code of civil procedure; financier Cyrus W. Field (1819–1892), whose Atlantic Telegraph Company laid the first transatlantic cable in 1858; and author and clergyman Henry Martyn Field (1822–1907).  He was Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court when President Abraham Lincoln appointed him to fill a new tenth seat on the United States Supreme Court.  Lincoln named Field, a Democrat, because of his strong support of the union during the Civil War.  Field served 34 years, 6 months, and 12 days—past the time that intermittent senility dictated that he should have retired.  His service eclipsed that of Chief Justice John Marshall, and he remains the second-longest serving Justice, behind William O. Douglasʼs 36 years on the Court.

Field has written the Bryant quotation on the back of the integral leaf of a piece of Supreme Court stationery.  The integral leaf has a collector’s pencil notation in the blank lower left corner, and a period printed piece identifying Justice Field is tipped to the lower left.  The front leaf with the engraved letterhead is attached, but it has paper loss at the corners from prior mounting in an album. 

Fieldʼs signature and biographical information appear to be on a similar piece of paper, but the front leaf of the letterhead has been removed.  That piece has a pencil notation dating it circa 1897 in the upper left corner, toning at the upper right, and mounting remnants on the back with slight paper loss over the lower mounting spots. 

Overall, the two pieces are in fine condition and provide nice examples of Field’s holograph.  They are accompanied by a handwritten letter dated May 29, 1895, from Fieldʼs secretary on Supreme Court stationery.

Unframed.

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