William Burnham Woods

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For other people named William Woods, see William Woods (disambiguation).
William Woods
William Burnham Woods.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
December 21, 1880 – May 14, 1887
Nominated by Rutherford Hayes
Preceded by William Strong
Succeeded by Lucius Lamar
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Fifth Circuit
In office
December 22, 1869 – December 21, 1880
Nominated by Ulysses Grant
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Don Pardee
Personal details
Born (1824-08-03)August 3, 1824
Newark, Ohio, U.S.
Died May 14, 1887(1887-05-14) (aged 62)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic (Before 1863)
Republican (1863–1887)
Alma mater Case Western Reserve University
Yale University

William Burnham Woods (August 3, 1824 – May 14, 1887) was a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as an Ohio politician and soldier in the Civil War.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Woods was born on August 3, 1824, in Newark, Ohio. He was the older brother of Charles R. Woods, another future Civil War general. He attended college at both Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Hudson, Ohio, before transferring to Yale University, from which he graduated in 1845 with honors.[1]

After graduating he returned home to Newark, Ohio, and studied law by clerking for S. D. King, a prominent local lawyer and was admitted to the bar in 1847. Woods ended up partnering with his mentor, King, and entered into a legal practice together.

Political career[edit]

Ohio politics[edit]

Woods, a loyal Democrat, was elected mayor of Newark in 1856, and to the Ohio General Assembly in 1858, being named Speaker of the House shortly thereafter.

Military service[edit]

Although Woods opposed the Civil War, because he opposed slavery, he came to accept a Union victory as a necessity. Thus in 1862 he left the Ohio state house to join the Union Army.

He was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which served in the Western Theater. He fought at the battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg, and was promoted to brigadier general. Woods commanded a brigade under William T. Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign and a division during Sherman's March to the Sea. During the Carolinas Campaign, he fought with distinction at the Battle of Bentonville. He was appointed a brevet major general in early 1865.

He left the Army in February 1866.

Postbellum career[edit]

Woods's Supreme Court nomination

At the end of the war, Woods stayed in the South, settling in Bentonville, Alabama, where he reopened his law practice and began farming cotton.

Judicial career[edit]

Federal court[edit]

President Ulysses S. Grant nominated him to serve as a circuit judge for the Fifth Circuit in 1869.

He then served on the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for 11 years until his nomination to the nation's highest court in 1880.

The Slaughter-House Cases, which "tested the issue of the reach and breadth of the 14th Amendment", were the most important cases he adjudicated on in the lower courts. He found that a state act that created a monopoly in the slaughterhouse business violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the new 14th Amendment and therefore was void", but three years later a majority of the Supreme Court reversed his decision in the Slaughter-House Cases. At this point (relatively early in his career), Woods was willing to read the provisions of the 14th Amendment broadly.[1]

U.S. Supreme Court[edit]

President Rutherford B. Hayes named Woods to the U.S. Supreme Court on December 21, 1880. He "easily received Senate approval" by a vote of 39 to 8 and took the oath of office on January 5, 1881. Although he was the first person to be named to the Supreme Court from a Confederate state since 1853, but this anomaly was lessened because he was originally a northerner and, by that time, a Republican, so he was palatable to the U.S. Senate's Republican majority.[2]

Woods was not a major contributor to the Court and spent only six years on the bench. He remained on the Court until his death in 1887.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "William Burnham Woods (Aug. 3, 1824 - May 14, 1887)". The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  2. ^ "William Burnham Woods". Arnold E. Shaheen, Jr. Attorney At Law. Arnold E. Shaheen, Jr. Attorney At Law. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
Legal offices
New seat Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Fifth Circuit
Succeeded by
Don Pardee
Preceded by
William Strong
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Lucius Lamar