Jeremiah Sullivan Black (1810-1883) was a Pennsylvania lawyer and statesman of vision who dedicated his life to public service.
Born in Pennsylvania’s Somerset County, he was admitted to the Somerset County Bar in 1831 and elevated to the bench eleven years later. He rose from local to national prominence, serving as a member of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (1851-1857) and as Chief Justice (1851-1854). President James Buchanan selected Black for his cabinet, where he served as the twenty-fourth Attorney General of the United States (1857-1860).
As Attorney General he successfully helped settle disputes with Mexico over California land grants. He also vigorously denied the constitutionality of secession, arguing that the Constitution made no provision for dissolution of the union. Especially opposed to the Congressional plan for reconstruction following the Civil War, he drafted the message of President Andrew Johnson vetoing the Reconstruction Act. President Buchanan appointed Black to the Supreme Court. However, the unpopularity of some of Black’s positions probably explains why he was not confirmed. Following two years as reporter to the Supreme Court of the United States (1861-1862), Black resigned, returning to Pennsylvania to write a biography of President Buchanan and return to private practice.
Jeremiah S. Black settled in York County, PA with his family in 1861, residing first at 124 East Market Street. He built and moved to his York mansion home, Brockie, in 1873. The writing project for Buchanan withered, so Black devoted himself to his private practice. He and his son Chauncey joined the York County Bar. Together they were involved in many prominent lawsuits – including the Vanderbilt will contest and the Milliken case. Before his death at Brockie in 1883, he helped revise the Pennsylvania constitution, engaged in written public debate with Jefferson Davis, and represented Democrat Samuel J. Tilden before the Electoral College that decided the winner in the 1876 presidential election. As a private practictioner, he appeared in important cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, notably defending the right of trial by jury.
The York County Bar Foundation is proud to recognize both individuals and firms who have shown leadership within our community with The Jerimiah Sullivan Black Award