Thomas Jefferson Boynton

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Judge Thomas Jefferson Boynton
Appointment of Judge Boynton signed by Seward and Lincoln

Thomas Jefferson Boynton (August 31, 1838 – May 2, 1871) was an American lawyer, journalist, and judge.

Boynton was born in 1838 in Amherst, Ohio, the son of John Hancock Boynton and Huldah Heath. He was called "Jefferson" by his family and friends. Jefferson grew up in Lorain County, Ohio. His father was active in both local and state politics, serving as the Sheriff of Lorain County and later the Mayor of Elyria, Ohio. Jefferson read law in 1858 and was in private practice in Saint Joseph, Missouri, from 1858 to 1861. Boynton was a correspondent for the Missouri Democrat from 1858 to 1861. He also was a newspaper editor in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Boynton served as the District Attorney for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida at Key West from 1861 to 1863. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him (by recess appointment) on October 19, 1863, to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, to the seat vacated by William Marvin. At age 25, he is the youngest federal judge in U.S. history. Nominated on January 5, 1864, he was confirmed by the Senate on January 20, 1864, and received commission on January 20, 1864. Scans of Boynton's appointment are in the holdings of PapersOfAbrahamLincoln,[clarification needed] having been obtained from a descendant of Jefferson's sister, Harriet Boynton Dake.

Judge Boynton was involved in the case of Samuel Mudd. Mudd was imprisoned in Fort Jefferson in Boynton's district. In 1868, Mudd submitted an appeal of habeas corpus in hopes of being freed. Judge Boynton denied the petition. The text of Boynton's ruling can be found reproduced in various online newspaper archives, though the actual ruling document itself appears not to have survived. Mudd's lawyers submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court, but this appeal was never heard as Mudd received a presidential pardon in 1869, making the case moot. This particular ruling has surfaced in the 1990s and early 2000s because Dr. Mudd's descendants made repeated unsuccessful efforts to clear him of association with Lincoln's assassination plot, and also because it relates to ex parte Milligan and the detention of various people at Guantanomo Bay during the Bush Administration.[1]

Many of Boynton's activities as district attorney and judge have recently been made available on as papers of the Admiralty Court for his district have been published online. There are also letters in the Library of Congress's Lincoln collection relating to his appointment.

Boynton resigned from the court on January 1, 1870 as his health declined. Boynton died in New York City in 1871, shortly after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor. He is buried in Ridgelawn Cemetery, Elyria, Ohio.


Legal offices
Preceded by
William Marvin
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Succeeded by
John McKinney