Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841 – 1935)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was a United States Supreme Court Justice from 1902 to 1932. He was born in Boston, MA on March 8, 1841 to the famous poet and physicist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and abolitionist Amelia Lee Jackson. In 1861, Ollie graduated from Harvard University and went straight into the service. He joined the 20th Massachusetts regiment in the United States Civil War, also known as “The Harvard Regiment.” While he was in the war, he was shot on 3 separate occasions; once in the chest at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, once in the neck at Antietam, and once in the heel at Chancellorsville. When he got out of the war, he decided to attend Harvard Law School. In 1867 when he graduated, he went into practice in Boston as a paralegal. He joined a small firm and married a childhood friend, Fanny Bowditch Dixwell. They never had children. He would then later become a Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

After a speech Ollie made at Harvard University on Memorial Day in 1895, later named “A Soldier’s Faith” speech, Teddy Roosevelt, who was attending the speech, was so moved by it, he elected him to the United States Supreme Court as a Justice in 1902.

His most famous role in the Supreme Court was coining the term, “Clear and Present Danger.” This was during a case known as Schenck vs. The United States, where a man by the name of Charles Schenck was publicly speaking out against the draft for WW1. The country wanted him to go to jail, but Ollie stated, ” The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. ” This pretty much means that we can’t punish this man for speaking his mind. This went against his First Amendment right. He can say what he wants unless what he says has clear intent of harm.

He stayed on the Supreme Court until 1932, and then died of pneumonia in 1935. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetary. His legal documents were sent to Harvard Law School and locked away. Since then, he has had a movie made about him, The Magnificent Yankee, and on a series of stamps known as the Prominent Americans Series, his stamp was 15 cents.