Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

On this date in 1932, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. retired as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court at the age of 90.  Born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 8, 1841, Holmes was the son of a highly respected and prominent Boston physician.  He was raised in Boaston in a family of comfortable circumstances and high social position.  After completeing his undergraduate studies at Harvard College in 1861, Holmes volunteered for the Union army during the Civil War.  Holmes fought in and was seriously wounded at each of the battles of Balls Bluff, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  After completion of his three year enlistment, Holmes left the army in July, 1864 at the rank of Captain.  After returning to Boston, Holmes enrolled in Harvard Law School where he graduated in 1866.  After being admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, Holmes was engaged in private practice in Boston for several years while also teaching classes at Harvard College and co-editing the American Law Review.  In 1881, Holmes wrote and published The Common Law which was received with great critical and academic acclaim.  In 1882, Holmes was appointed both a professor of law at Harvard Law School and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.  Over the next decade, Holmes would write 1,000 opinions while serving on that Court and would become Chief Justice in 1899.  In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to be ab Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Horace Gray.  Holmes went on to serve 29 years on the Court.  While on the Court, Holmes was known for his eloquent decisions and a pragmatic approach to law which judged each case on its facts rather than with deliberate intention of producing a particular outcome.  Holmes was also remembered for his strong support for freedom of speech protections under the First Amendment and urged that the “free trade in ideas” was the best way to discover the truth.  Following his retirement in 1932, Holmes continued to spend winters in Washington, D.C. while spending summers in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.  Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. died at his home in Washington on March 6, 1935 just shy of his 94th birthday.  Holmes, who was a widower without children, bequeathed his entire estate to the United States, which many say symbolizes the extent of his belief in service and dedication to his country.