John Pickering (judge)

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John Pickering (September 22, 1737 – April 11, 1805) served as Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court of Judicature and as Judge for the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire. He was the first federal official to have been removed from office upon conviction by impeachment.

Born in Newington, New Hampshire, Pickering studied law at Harvard College and was admitted to the bar after graduating in 1761. He was in private practice in Greenland, New Hampshire and Portsmouth, New Hampshire until, then served as a member of the New Hampshire State Legislature from 1783 to 1787. In 1787 he was elected to be a member of the New Hampshire delegation to the Constitutional Convention, but he declined to serve, instead returning to private practice of law in Portsmouth from 1788 to 1790. He was appointed in 1790 to the New Hampshire Superior Court where he eventually served as Chief Justice. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791.[1]

In 1795, an attempt to remove Pickering from the New Hampshire Superior Court due to illness became bogged down in political problems, and therefore the state convinced President George Washington to appoint him to the relatively low workload post of the Federal District Court. On February 10, 1795, Washington nominated Pickering to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire vacated by John Sullivan. The following day, Pickering was confirmed by the United States Senate and received commission. Pickering assumed the office in April 1795.

Pickering recovered from his illness. In 1800, problems emerged as he was no longer attending court as was expected. On April 25, 1801 court staff wrote to the judges of the federal First Circuit court of appeals to send a temporary replacement for Pickering on the grounds that he had gone insane. As a stop-gap measure, Circuit Judge Jeremiah Smith sat for part of the 1801 session of the court. In March 1802, Pickering returned, adjourned the Court's business to the next day and then disappeared again.

Political controversy raged in the Congress with Federalists accusing Democratic-Republicans of trying to usurp the Constitution by attempting to remove the Judge from office though he had committed neither high crimes nor misdemeanors as required by the Constitution.

On February 4, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent evidence to the U.S. House of Representatives, who voted to impeach Pickering on March 2, 1803 on charges of drunkenness and unlawful rulings. The U.S. Senate tried the impeachment, beginning January 4, 1804, and convicted Pickering of all charges presented by the House by a vote of 19 to 7 on March 12, 1804, thereby immediately removing him from office. He died the following year in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Further reading[edit]

  • Adams, Henry. "Wikisource link to II:7". History of the United States 1801-09. Wikisource.  For an account of Pickering's impeachment.


  1. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter P" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
Preceded by
John Sullivan
Judge of the District Court for the District of New Hampshire
1795 to 1804
Succeeded by
John Samuel Sherburne