Wayne, James Moore


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Wayne, James Moore

As an associate justice, James Moore Wayne served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1835 to 1867. Wayne rose to prominence in his native Georgia in the early 1800s, establishing himself as a local politician with cosmopolitan views. Nominated to the Court by President Andrew Jackson, he shared the president's strong federalist views, and Wayne often took an expansive view of federal power in his opinions. His Federalism was put to the test, however, because of his support of Slavery. Loyal in his support for the Union during the U.S. Civil War, he paid a dear price in the south for choosing to remain on the Court even as other southern judges quit the federal bench.

"A corporation … seems to us to be a person, though an artificial one, inhabiting and belonging to that state [of incorporation], and therefore entitled, for the purpose of suing and being sued, to be deemed a citizen of that state."
—James Moore Wayne

Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1790, Wayne was the son of aristocratic parents. In his teens, he chose to leave Georgia in order to attend Princeton University. He graduated in 1808, and two years later returned home to establish a law practice. After brief service as a captain in the War of 1812, he set out on an intermittent political career. From 1815 to 1816, he served in the Georgia House of Representatives and was then elected mayor of Savannah. His local political career soon gave way to a judicial one. In 1819 he was elected judge of the Savannah Court of Common Pleas, and in 1822 he became a judge of the superior court.

In 1828, Wayne's interest in national affairs took him to Washington. Winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives, he became a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson over the course of three terms in office. In 1834, when President Jackson needed a southerner to fill the vacancy left by the death of Associate Justice William Johnson, Jackson nominated Wayne.

On the Court Wayne's federalism expressed itself repeatedly. His specialty was admiralty law—the law of the seas—which was of great significance during the era. Admiralty issues were often volatile because they involved one of the sharpest constitutional conflicts of the day, the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce relative to state police powers. The cases heard by the Court during Wayne's tenure involved taxation, licensing, and slavery, and the Court was often divided due to its inability to agree upon the extent of power vested in the Constitution's Commerce Clause. Wayne generally voted in favor of the federal government's interests. In the so-called Passenger Cases of 1849, when the Court invalidated New York and Massachusetts laws that imposed taxes on incoming ship passengers, Wayne wrote in his concurring opinion that Congress had exclusive control over interstate commerce.

Politically, the dividing point in Wayne's federalism was the very issue that split the nation into Civil War—slavery. As a slave owner, he struggled to find justification for preserving the institution even as the federal government opposed it. He believed that Congress had no power to interfere with slavery under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, and thus concurred in Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney's opinion in dred scott v. sandford, 60 U.S. 393, 19 How. 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1857), which upheld the legality of slavery. The decision fueled animosities which led to the Civil War.

Southerners detested Wayne's decision to remain on the Court during the war. Yet even as he was denounced as a traitor and his property in Georgia was seized, he supported the cause of union. He remained on the bench until his death on July 7, 1867.

Further readings

Lawrence, Alexander A. 1970. James Moore Wayne, Southern Unionist. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

O'Connor, Sandra Day. 1991. "Supreme Court Justices from Georgia." Georgia Journal of Southern Legal History 1 (fall-winter).