June 5, 1762 – Birth of Bushrod Washington, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Bushrod Washington, born on this day in history, was the son of John Augustine Washington, who was George Washington’s brother.

Bushrod Washington graduated from the College of William & Mary in 1778 and along with John Marshall studied law under George Wythe. (Wythe also taught and was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay and other men who became American leaders.)

Bushrod Washington, engraving, 1891,  Library of Congress

Bushrod Washington, engraving, 1891,
Library of Congress

Washington practiced law from 1784 to 1798, simultaneously serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. On September 29, 1798, President John Adams appointed Washington to the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court vacated by James Wilson after John Marshall had declined the appointment. Washington was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 20, 1798, and became an associate justice on February 4, 1799, at the age of 36, continuing until his death in 1829.

Serving for thirty-one years, the Federalist Washington tended to support the opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall and Justice Joseph Story. Washington favored increasing the powers of the federal government, protecting private property rights and encouraging economic development. He voted so consistently with the great Chief Justice that they were considered conjoined “as a single judge.” He only voted against Marshall on three occasions. 

Bushrod Washington

Bushrod Washington

As George Washington’s favorite nephew, Bushrod inherited Mount Vernon after Martha Washington’s death, and became executor of his uncle’s estate, including President Washington’s public and private papers. 

When Bushrod and his wife moved to Mount Vernon, he brought his slaves, but even so was unable to support the upkeep of the plantation’s mansion on the proceeds from the property and his Supreme Court salary. He sold many of his slaves to gain working capital to support the main house and property. (Somewhat in keeping with the tendency of early Americans to say one thing and do another, Washington was among the founders of the American Colonization Society (ACS), which promoted repatriation to Africa of blacks.)

Bushrod died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1829, while riding circuit. His wife died two days later while transporting his body for burial. They were both interred at Mount Vernon.


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