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Clifford, Nathan

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Significance: Clifford spoke for the Supreme Court in nearly four hundred cases and presided over the commission that decided the disputed 1876 presidential election. He consistently dissented from Court opinions upholding federal power to confiscate property during wartime.


Clifford studied law under Josiah Quincy and was admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1827. He served three terms in the Maine legislature and two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1846 he was appointed attorney general by President James K. Polk, and while serving as special commissioner to Mexico, he arranged the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848. After being nominated by President James Buchanan, Clifford took his seat on the Supreme Court in 1858. Clifford concurred in the first of the Legal Tender Cases, Hepburn v. Griswold (1870) but dissented in Knox v. Lee (1871), declaring Congress's issuing of treasury notes to pay earlier debts to be constitutional. In Loan Association v. Topeka (1874), Clifford stated that state legislative power was almost absolute, subject only to specific state and federal constitutional provisions. Despite his proslavery views, he generally supported the government during the Civil War. Clifford argued in nearly four hundred Court cases, with most involving maritime and commercial law and laws affecting Mexican land grants.