Henry Williams Blodgett

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Henry Williams Blodgett (July 21, 1821 – February 9, 1905) was a United States federal judge.

Blodgett was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1821. He moved to Illinois with his parents in 1831. As a boy, he helped his father establish a forge in Downers Grove, Illinois and worked on the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

He spent 1838-39 studying at Amherst Academy, and then returned to Illinois where he worked as a teacher and as a land surveyor. He read law with Illinois lawyers Jonathan Y. Scaremen and Norman B. Judd in 1844 (at a time when there were only twelve lawyers in Chicago) and was admitted to the bar in 1845. He was in private practice of law in Waukegan, Illinois from 1845 to 1869. As an opponent of slavery, he became active in the Republican Party. He became the first member elected on an Anti-slavery ticket to the Illinois General Assembly in 1852, and served as an Illinois state representative from 1852 to 1854.

In 1855, Blodgett was one of the projectors of the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company and he left public life to become involved with the railway's legal department. He subsequently served as a director and as president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway.

Blodgett returned to public life as an Illinois state senator from 1858 to 1862. He attended the 1860 Republican National Convention, where he supported the nomination of Abraham Lincoln. He was the law partner of Frederick H. Winston from 1861 to 1870.

Blodgett campaigned for Ulysses S. Grant during the United States presidential election, 1868. In 1870, President Grant appointed Thomas Drummond, the sole federal judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois as the first-ever judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Blodgett was nominated by President Grant on January 10, 1870, to fill the seat vacated by Drummond. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 11, 1870, and received his commission the same day. Blodgett served as the only judge for the Northern District of Illinois for 22 years, before his retirement on December 5, 1892. Drummond's specialty had been admiralty law, but Blodgett's experience at the Chicago and Northwestern Railway left him well positioned to decide cases in a period when railroads were replacing shipping as Chicago's major mode of transporting goods. Not long after Blodgett's appointment, the Great Chicago Fire (1871) resulted in the destruction of the U.S. Court Building, along with most of the Northern District of Illinois' records.

In 1878, Blodgett was the target of the newly formed Chicago Bar Association, which organized a letter writing campaign to Rep. Carter Harrison, Sr. calling on Congress to impeach Blodgett. Blodgett was accused of improperly borrowing money from the court, of showing undue favoritism to railway corporations and other big corporations, and of appointing his friends as bankruptcy trustees and receivers. Blodgett was defended by Senator Lyman Trumbull, but the United States House Committee on the Judiciary investigated the accusations. In March 1879, the investigative committee issued a report mildly censuring Blodgett, but recommending the charges against him be tabled.

During his time at the Northern District of Illinois, Blodgett presided over several prominent cases, including a patent case in which he declared that Alexander Graham Bell was the inventor of the telephone; and a copyright case in which he found that a publisher who published Sketches New and Old by Mark Twain had not violated Twain's copyright because Twain forgot to copyright the work (he also found that Samuel Clemens did not have a trademark in the name "Mark Twain").

In 1887, McDonough County, Fulton County, and Tazewell County were added to the Northern District of Illinois, and the district was divided into two divisions: the Northern Division continued to hear cases in Chicago, while the Southern Division heard cases in Peoria.

In 1892, Blodgett left the bench to become U.S. counsel during the Bering Sea Arbitration.

He died in Waukegan, Illinois.


Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Drummond
Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
January 10, 1870 – December 5, 1892
Succeeded by
Peter Stenger Grosscup