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Wolcott, Alexander

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Significance: Wolcott, a Democratic-Republican Party boss, was the first Supreme Court nominee to be rejected by the Senate because of doubts about his judicial abilities.


A Connecticut boss of the Democratic-Republican Party, Wolcott was well-known for his zealous enforcement of the Embargo (1807-1809) while serving as U.S. collector of customs. When Justice William Cushing died in September, 1810, leaving a vacancy on the Supreme Court, President James Madison nominated Levi Lincoln of Massachusetts in February of the following year. Lincoln was quickly confirmed by the Senate but declined, stating that a loss of vision prohibited him from serving on the Court. Wolcott, Madison's second choice, had a less than impressive legal practice and a reputation for partisanship. Although the Senate was controlled by the Democratic-Republican Party, Federalist senators, supported by the press, had no difficulty blocking Wolcott's nomination. The Senate soundly rejected Wolcott, twenty-four to nine, on February 13, 1811. Many historians consider Wolcott to be the first Supreme Court nominee to be rejected by the Senate primarily because of concerns regarding his qualifications to serve on the Court. Madison's next appointee, John Quincy Adams, although confirmed by the Senate, declined the position. The seat vacated by Cushing was ultimately filled by Joseph Story in November, 1811.