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Horace H. Lurton


From the personal collection of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark


Lurton directs the Supreme Court marshal to seat visitors for oral argument

Horace Harmon Lurton, 1844-1914.  Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, 1909-1914.  Rare Autographed Note Signed, Horace H. Lurton / Justice, on 1½ x 3" calling card, no place [Washington, D.C.], no date.

Because of Lurton's short tenure on the Supreme Court, his autograph material as a Justice is rare.  Our research has found only one signature and one autographed letter signed offered at auction during the past 38 years.  Lurton was 65 years old when he ascended the bench, the oldest Justice ever appointed, and he served just over four years. 

In this internal note, written on the back of a calling card, Lurton directs the Supreme Court marshal to arrange courtroom seating for his friends.  He writes, in full:  “These gentlemen are friends of mine in Indiana and must have seats."

Lurton's appointment by President William Howard Taft was something of a surprise.  Taft was a Republican, and Lurton was a Democrat.  But Taft, who had served with Lurton when both were judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit during the 1890s, made Lurton the first of his Supreme Court appointments.  Taft, who longed to be a Supreme Court Justice himself, may also have considered Lurtonʼs age and wondered whether, after Taft's first term in the White House, a vacancy might soon occur.  Taft also elevated 65-year-old Edward D. White to Chief Justice in 1910, and many think he did so for the same reason—and 11 years later Taft replaced White as Chief Justice.  Speculation aside, Taft reportedly said that appointing Lurton to the Supreme Court was "the chief pleasure of my administration."

Lurton has written this note in pencil on the back of the calling card of Capt. Allen T. Hodge, whose name is crossed out in pencil, presumably by Lurton.  The card has paperclip impressions and faint stains at the left, which touch the text but do not affect the signature, and some soiling.  Overall it is in fine condition.

Provenance:  This note comes from the personal collection of Justice Tom C. Clark, who served on the Supreme Court from 1949 until 1967. Justice Clark collected the autographs of other Supreme Court Justices dating back into the 19th Century.  We are privileged to offer a number of items from the collection.




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