Wayne, James M. (1790?-1867)

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WAYNE, JAMES M. (1790?-1867)

After service as an elected official and judge in Georgia and as a Jacksonian Democrat in Congress, James Moore Wayne served thirty-two years as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Despite this lengthy tenure he produced no significant opinions, though he consistently strove to protect national authority, corporations, and slavery. During the civil war, his nationalist outlook induced him to remain on the Court as a Unionist.

Wayne, son of a well-to-do Savannah factor and rice planter, was educated at the College of New Jersey (Princeton), read law in New Haven and in his native Savannah, and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1811. He was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1815 to 1817, mayor of Savannah from 1817 to 1819, and successively judge of a court of common pleas and of the Superior Court. He later served in two state constitutional conventions, the second time as president. In 1829, Wayne was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where he prominently supported andrew jackson. He promoted Indian removal from his native state, backed Jackson's Bank policies, and stood by the President during the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina. He was the only member of the Georgia delegation to support the force bill. In his last term, he became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Jackson nominated Wayne to take the seat of Justice william johnson of South Carolina, and he was confirmed in 1835. Justice benjamin r. curtis later called Wayne one of the "most high-toned Federalists on the bench," referring to Wayne's tenacious nationalism. This outlook was most apparent in commerce clause cases. In the passenger cases (1849), Wayne was one of a majority that held unconstitutional state statutes regulating the ingress of ship passengers on the ground that insofar as such laws "practically operated as regulations of commerce, or as restraints upon navigation," they were unconstitutional. The power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce was "exclusively vested in congress." Unlike his fellow Southerner, Chief Justice roger b. taney, he was not troubled by the implications of this position for the states' control of slavery. Wayne joined in Justice john mclean's nationalist dissent in cooley v. board of wardens (1851), arguing that Congress's control of interstate and foreign commerce was exclusive of state power.

The same nationalist spirit produced other opinions upholding federal authority. In Dobbins v. Erie County (1842) Wayne struck down a local tax on a federal officer. He was an enthusiastic proponent of federal admiralty jurisdiction, and in Waring v. Clarke (1847) he extended that jurisdiction to tidal waters of the Mississippi River well above New Orleans. In Louisville, Cincinnati, and Charleston Railroad Co. v. Letson (1844) Wayne rejected a rule, origi nally fashioned by Chief Justice john marshall, that restricted the access of corporations to federal courts by requiring that for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, all their shareholders be citizens of a state different from all parties on the other side. Wayne instead adopted the rule that a corporation's citizenship for diversity purposes is derived from the state where it was chartered and where its officers conducted business.

Wayne was sympathetic to corporate investors, as his contract clause opinions reveal. He dissented without opinion in west river bridge v. dix (1848), in which the Court permitted a state to use its eminent domain powers to destroy a corporate charter. In the Ohio Bank Tax cases, Wayne consistently voted to strike down state attempts to modify tax exemptions claimed by banks. One of these cases, dodge v. woolsey (1856), produced what was probably Wayne's most memorable opinion. Condemning the effort of Ohio Democrats to destroy a tax exemption by an amendment to the state constitution, Wayne sermonized: "moral obligations never die. If broken by states and nations, though the terms of reproach are not the same with which we are accustomed to designate the faithlessness of individuals, the violation of justice is not the less."

Wayne was himself a slaveholder and no less dedicated to his section than other southern jurists such as Taney and peter daniel. He considered slavery a vital component of southern society, beyond control of the federal government except for purposes of protection. But, unlike Taney, Wayne remained coolly assured about the constitutional security of slavery, and he was not blinded by the state-sovereignty dogmatism that warped his Chief's opinions in slavery cases. The Constitution itself, Wayne believed, incorporated express protections for slavery's security. In his concurrence in prigg v. pennsylvania (1842) Wayne went along with joseph story's assertion that states need not support enforcement of the federal Fugitive Slave Act, but only on the ground that to admit any state role at all would be to invite Northern states to interfere with the capture and rendition of fugitives.

Wayne played a mischievous role in dred scott v. sandford (1857) though his brief concurring opinion merely endorsed entirely Taney's opinion. Wayne first urged that the Chief Justice write the opinion for the Court's majority rather than Justice samuel nelson, whose opinion would evade the larger issues in the case by a narrow jurisdictional ruling, and he formally moved that the Court address itself to all issues, not just the jurisdictional ones. Scholars have suggested that Taney's opinion incorporated portions of a draft opinion that Wayne did not submit. Yet Wayne was no fanatic on the subject of slavery. On circuit, he delivered a vigorous jury charge in the trial of officers of the notorious slave ship Wanderer, upholding the power of the federal government to hang slavers.

The Civil War forced a severe test of Wayne's conflicting loyalties. After secession, he supported his son's decision to resign his commission in the United States Army and accept appointment as Georgia's adjutant general, but Wayne elected to remain on the federal bench. Georgia retaliated by confiscating his property and declaring him an enemy alien. In 1861, Wayne denied a habeas corpus petition from a soldier who claimed that abraham lincoln's call for troops was illegal. In conformity with that position, Wayne joined the five-member majority in the prize cases (1863), upholding the legality of Lincoln's action in imposing a blockade around the seceding states. He wrote for the Court in ex parte vallandigham (1864), refusing to review the conviction of an Ohio Copperhead congressman by a military commission. In ex parte milligan (1866), where the majority held that Congress could not authorize military commissions for areas outside the theater of war, Wayne joined the four-man minority who argued for congressional discretion in using military commissions. But there are indications that Wayne's Unionist views would not be extrapolated to accept all aspects of Republican reconstruction. He joined the majority in the test oath cases (1867), holding state and federal proscriptive oaths unconstitutional. He refused to hold circuit courts in his circuit in areas under military occupation. His death on July 5, 1867, ended his grief at the devastation that secession, war, and Reconstruction had brought to his beloved state.

William M. Wiecek


Gatell, Frank O. 1969 James M. Wayne. In Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel eds., The Justices of the United States Supreme Court 1789–1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.

Lawrence, Alexander A. 1943 James Moore Wayne: Southern Unionist. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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Wayne, James M. (1790?-1867)

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