Peter Vivian Daniel

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Peter Vivian Daniel
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
March 3, 1841 – May 31, 1860
Nominated by Martin Van Buren
Preceded by Philip Barbour
Succeeded by Samuel Miller
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
In office
April 19, 1836 – March 3, 1841
Appointed by Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Philip Barbour
Succeeded by John Mason
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Stafford County
In office
December 5, 1808 – December 3, 1810
Preceded by John T. Brooke
Succeeded by Charles Julian
Personal details
Born (1784-04-24)April 24, 1784
Stafford County, Virginia, U.S.
Died May 31, 1860(1860-05-31) (aged 76)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Lucy Randolph
(m. 1808; d. 1847)

Elizabeth Harris
(m. 1850; d. 1857)
Children 5
Education Princeton University

Peter Vivian Daniel (April 24, 1784 – May 31, 1860) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Daniel was born in Stafford County, Virginia, in 1784 to a family of old colonial heritage. He was educated at home by private tutors and entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) at the age of eighteen. After one year, he decided that it was not in his best interest, and he went back to Virginia to study law under former Attorney General of the United States Edmund Randolph in Richmond and was admitted to the bar in 1808. Shortly after returning he entered into a conflict with a Fredericksburg businessman, John Seddon. It is thought a political issue sparked the challenge to a duel. Since dueling was prohibited in Virginia, the Daniel-Seddon duel was fought in Maryland. The duel took place and Daniel wounded Seddon, who later died of his wound shortly after returning to Virginia. Daniel married Randolph's daughter, Lucy, two years later.

Daniel soon found success in politics. He joined the Richmond Junta, the ruling political party at the time, which allowed him several opportunities. In 1809, Daniel was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and in 1812 became a member of the advisory Virginia Privy Council. He remained on the Council and in 1818 was elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. During the 1830s, he was a member of the Richmond Junto, a powerful element of the Jacksonian Democrats, and a strong supporter of both Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. In 1830, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Virginia. He would retain his two previous positions until 1836 when President Andrew Jackson appointed him to the federal judiciary.

Judicial service[edit]

Eastern District of Virginia[edit]

On April 6, 1836, Daniel was nominated by President Jackson to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia vacated by the elevation of Philip Pendleton Barbour to the Supreme Court. Daniel was confirmed by the United States Senate on April 19, 1836, and received his commission the same day. Daniel sat on the District Court for nearly five years, yet he was against latitudinarian judicial constructs, or the practice of District Court Justices also riding the Circuit Court system.

Supreme Court[edit]

On February 26, 1841, Daniel was nominated by President Martin Van Buren, to be elevated to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, again to a seat vacated by Philip Barbour. At this time, there were no intermediate courts of appeal, and it was not uncommon for appointments to the Supreme Court to be drawn from the ranks of sitting District Court judges. Additionally, there was a tradition of having representation from certain geographical areas on the court, and the appointment of Daniel to succeed Barbour continued the tradition of that seat being held by a Virginian. Daniel's appointment met with dissension among the Whig party in Congress. Van Buren nominated Daniel during his last week as president, and Daniel was appointed as a Justice before his predecessor was even buried. Daniel's elevation was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 2, 1841, near the end of Van Buren's term, and his commission issued on March 3, 1841.[1] Daniel repaid Van Buren by supporting him until 1848 when Van Buren ran for the presidency again as the nominee of the Free Soil Party. Daniel, a proponent of slavery, resented his friend for abandoning the Democratic Party. Daniel remained on the court, against the urgings of his associate judges, until his death, in 1860, in Richmond, Virginia.

Daniel was the most frequent dissenter in the Taney Court with nearly two-thirds of his opinions going against the majority. Of the seventy-four opinions he wrote, fifty of them were dissents. His political views were extremely conservative and made the other justices around him seem moderate in comparison. He was a supporter of slavery, arguably the largest of the Taney Court, and he disagreed with the amount of power that was given to the National Government. He authored only one significant opinion, West River Bridge Co. v. Dix, in his eighteen years. He sided with the majority in the 1857 case Dred Scott v. Sandford by writing a concurring opinion, in which he stated that "the African negro race never have been acknowledged as belonging to the family of nations."[2] He was also in Jones v. Van Zandt, and concurred with the majority in Prigg v. Pennsylvania which affirmed the legality of the Fugitive Slave Act.[3] Justice Daniel is especially known to law students and legal scholars for having authored several prominent dissenting opinions, some prophetic of changes in the law, and some emblematic of his viewpoint on states' rights.[citation needed][dubious ]


Daniel died on May 31, 1860, in Richmond, Virginia at the age of 76. He was preceded in death by his first wife Lucy Nelson Randolph who died in November 1847. He left behind his second wife, Elizabeth Harris, and five children.

Further reading[edit]

  • John Paul Frank, Justice Daniel Dissenting: A Biography of Peter V. Daniel, 1784-1860 (Harvard University Press 1964 ISBN 0-678-08028-3).
  • Friedman, Leon, and Fred L. Israel. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789-1969, Their Lives and Major Opinions. Vol. 1. New York: Chelsea House in Association with Bowker, 1969.
  • Abraham, Henry Julian. Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Clinton. New and Rev. Ed., [4th ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999).
  • Huebner, Timothy S. The Taney Court Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2003.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Pub., 1994.


  1. ^ Smentkowski, Brian (Jan 5, 2007). "Peter Vivian Daniel". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 12, 2016. 
  2. ^ Daniel, Peter (1857). "Daniel, Peter V. (1784-1860) The opinion of Justice Peter V. Daniel of the United States Supreme Court in the famous Dred Scott case". The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved May 12, 2016. 
  3. ^ Daniel wrote: "Concurring entirely, as I do, with the majority of the court, in the conclusions they have reached relative to the effect and validity of the statute of Pennsylvania now under review, it is with unfeigned regret that I am constrained to dissent from some of the principles and reasonings which that majority, in passing to our common conclusions, have believed themselves called on to affirm."

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Philip Barbour
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
Succeeded by
John Mason
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Samuel Miller