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King, Edward


Edward King was a lawyer whose 1844 nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court failed because of political animosity between Congress and the president who proposed him.

King was born January 31, 1794, in Philadelphia. He was well educated and studied law under the prominent Pennsylvania lawyer Charles Chauncey. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1816 and soon after entered politics, first as a Federalist and then as a Democrat. Before he was thirty years old, he had established himself as a leader of the democratic party in Pennsylvania.

King became clerk of the Philadelphia orphans' court in 1824. The following year, he was named president judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. He was a highly respected jurist who did more to establish Pennsylvania's equity courts than did all the other judges of the state. Equity courts provided a necessary alternative for petitioners whose claims did not fit into the strictly prescribed rules of the common-law or common-pleas courts. Litigants seeking nonmonetary damages, such as an injunction or specific performance of a contract, were without remedy before the establishment of equity jurisdiction.

About the time King was rising to national prominence on the strength of his judicial reputation, the federal government was in flux. Many southern Democrats had become disenchanted with President andrew jackson and his policies, which they claimed eroded states' rights and led to the economic depression that followed his administration. In 1840, the newly formed whig party, born of the South's alienation from Jackson, named william h. harrison and john tyler as its candidates for president and vice president, respectively. Harrison won the election; one month after his inauguration, he died, and Tyler ascended to the presidency.

Tyler, who had originally been a Democrat, lacked strong congressional support from either the Democrats or the Whigs. When he nominated King to the Supreme Court on June 5, 1844, the Senate voted to postpone consideration of the proposal. Tyler reappointed King on December 4; in January 1845, the Senate again tabled the nomination. Finally, Tyler withdrew King's nomination on February 7.

King continued as president judge in the common-pleas court until his retirement from the judiciary in 1852. Shortly afterward, he was appointed by Pennsylvania's governor to a commission to revise the state's criminal code. The revision, written mainly by King and then reported to the legislature, was adopted almost literally as prepared.

King spent the remaining years of his life traveling and studying. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society and for many years was president of the Board of Directors of Jefferson Medical College. He died in his hometown of Philadelphia on May 8, 1873.

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