Notes for Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

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Educated: Harvard College, A.B., 1861; LL.B., 1866
Married: June 17, 1872, Fanny Bowdich Dixwell
Supreme Court Nomination: Dec. 2, 1902, by President Theodore Roosevelt
Commissioned: Dec. 4, 1902
Dates of Service: Dec. 8, 1902 to Jan. 12, 1932
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was named after his father who was a poet, essayist, novelist, and professor of anatomy. Young Holmes received his undergraduate education at Harvard, graduating as class poet in 1861. He served as an officer in the Massachusetts Twentieth Volunteers during the Civil War, and then returned to Harvard to study law. He was a practicing attorney in Boston for 15 years while teaching law at his alma mater. In 1881, a series of lectures prepared by Holmes was published in a volume titled The Common Law. He was (1882) professor of law at Harvard and several months later was appointed to the Massachusetts supreme judicial court. There he served for 20 years, becoming chief justice in 1899. He was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. The canons of Holmes's judicial faith were strict and demanding. He preached “judicial restraint” and firmly believed that popular majorities through their elected representatives should not have their will thwarted capriciously; when his colleagues on the court nullified social legislation—e.g., minimum wage and hour laws—as unconstitutional, Holmes vigorously objected. From his eloquent opinions in these cases he came to be regarded as the Great Dissenter. In cases dealing with free speech, however, Holmes felt it necessary for the judge to loose the bonds of restraint and prevent legislatures from assuming censorious powers. In defense of the First Amendment, he developed the “clear and present danger” rule, which allows for restrictions only when the public interest is faced with immediate threat. Set forth in the Abrams and Gitlow cases in dissenting opinions, the rule was generally accepted by the Supreme Court. Holmes's published works include The Common Law (1881), Speeches (1891, 1913), and Collected Legal Papers (1920).

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Holmes married Fanny Dixwell in 1872. They had known each other since Holmes was about ten years old, as she was the daughter of the proprietor of the private school he attended. Their marriage was to be childless, and endured until her death in 1929.

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