Samuel Beardsley


Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court, 1844-1847

Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, 1847

Samuel Beardsley was born in Hoosick, Rensselaer County, New York, on February 6, 1790. Educated in the common schools, he taught in Otsego County until, at the age of 18, he began his legal studies in the law office of Joshua Hathaway in Rome, NY. During the War of 1812, Samuel Beardsley served as a lieutenant and took part in the defense of Sackets Harbor.

Returning to his legal studies, Beardsley was admitted to the bar in October 1815, served as judge advocate in the New York State Militia, and practiced law in partnership with Joshua Hathaway. In 1821, he was appointed District Attorney of Oneida County and two years later, he moved to Utica, also in Oneida County, to form a law practice with his long-time friend, Greene C. Bronson. That year, Samuel Beardsley also served in the New York State Senate and was appointed by President John Quincy Adams as United States District Attorney for the Northern District of New York, a position that he held until 1830.

Elected as a Jacksonian to the Twenty-second, Twenty-third, and Twenty-fourth Congresses, he served from March 4, 1831, to March 29, 1836 and was chair of the Committee on the Judiciary during the Twenty-fourth Congress. In 1836, the New York State Legislature elected Samuel Beardsley Attorney General of the State of New York. Elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-eighth United States Congress, Beardsley served from March 4, 1843, to February 29, 1844, and again chaired the Committee on the Judiciary.

In 1844, Beardsley was appointed an Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature and, in 1847, he wrote the landmark opinion in People v. William Freeman. The case was prosecuted by John Van Buren and William Henry Seward appeared for the defense. It was the first case in the State in which the insanity defense was raised. On June 29, 1847, following judicial elections for the recently created New York Court of Appeals, Samuel Beardsley was appointed Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, the last of a line that traced back to the first Chief Judge of the State, John Jay. With Associate Justices Whittles and McKissock, he wound up the business of the old Supreme Court, and retired from the bench on December 31, 1847.

Samuel Beardsley resumed his law practice and argued many times before the New York Court of Appeals. His last appearance before the Court took place just two weeks prior to his death. He died in Utica on May 7, 1860.



Clark Bell. “Historical Sketch of the Supreme Court of New York.” 23 Medico-Legal J. 238 (1905-1906).

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Lucien Brock Proctor. The Bench and Bar of New-York, vol. 1 (1870).


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