John Blair Jr.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
February 2, 1790 – October 25, 1795[1]
Nominated byGeorge Washington
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded bySamuel Chase
Personal details
Born(1732-04-17)April 17, 1732
Williamsburg, Virginia, British America
DiedAugust 31, 1800(1800-08-31) (aged 68)
Williamsburg, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyFederalist
EducationCollege of William and Mary (BA)
Middle Temple
Jean Balfour Blair (1736-1792)
Jean Balfour Blair (1736-1792)

John Blair Jr. (April 17, 1732 – August 31, 1800)[2] was an American politician, Founding Father, and jurist, who signed the United States Constitution.

Blair was one of the best-trained jurists of his day. A famous legal scholar, he avoided the tumult of state politics, preferring to work behind the scenes. He was devoted to the idea of a permanent union of the newly independent states, and loyally supported fellow Virginians James Madison and George Washington at the Constitutional Convention. As a judge on the Virginia court of appeals and on the U.S. Supreme Court he influenced the interpretation of the Constitution in a number of important decisions. Contemporaries praised Blair for such personal strengths as gentleness and benevolence and for his ability to penetrate immediately to the heart of a legal question.


Born in Williamsburg, Colony of Virginia, Blair was a member of a prominent Virginia family. John Blair Sr., his father, served on the Virginia Council and was for a time acting royal governor.[3] His granduncle, James Blair, was founder and first president of the College of William & Mary. Blair attended William & Mary, receiving a bachelor of arts in 1754. In 1755, he went to London to study law at the Middle Temple. Returning home to practice law, he was quickly thrust into public life, beginning his public career shortly after the close of the French and Indian War with his election to the seat reserved for the College of William and Mary in the House of Burgesses (1766–70). He went on to become clerk of the Royal Governor's Council, the upper house of the colonial legislature (1770–1775).

Blair originally joined the moderate wing of the Patriot cause. He opposed Patrick Henry's extremist resolutions in protest of the Stamp Act, but the dissolution of the House of Burgesses by Parliament profoundly altered his views. In response to a series of taxes on the colonies passed by Parliament, Blair joined George Washington and others in 1770 and again in 1774 to draft nonimportation agreements which pledged their supporters to cease importing British goods until the taxes were repealed. In 1775, he reacted to the British Parliament's passage of the Intolerable Acts by joining those calling for a Continental Congress and pledging support for the people of Boston who were suffering economic hardship because of Parliament's actions.

When the American Revolution began, Blair became deeply involved in the government of his state. He served as a member of the convention that drew up Virginia's constitution (1776) and held a number of important committee positions, including a seat on the Committee of 28 that framed the Virginia Declaration of Rights and plan of government. He served on the Privy Council, Governor Patrick Henry's major advisory group (1776–1778). The legislature elected him to a judgeship in the general court in 1778 and soon to the post of chief justice. He was also elected to Virginia's high court of chancery (1780), where his colleague was George Wythe, later a fellow delegate to the Constitutional Convention. The judicial appointments automatically made Blair a member of Virginia's first court of appeals. On the Virginia Court of Appeals, Blair participated in The Commonwealth of Virginia v. Caton et al. (1782), which set the precedent that courts can deem legislative acts unconstitutional. The decision was a precursor to the US Supreme Court decision Marbury v. Madison.[4]

In 1786, the legislature, recognizing Blair's prestige as a jurist, appointed him Thomas Jefferson's successor on a committee revising the laws of Virginia. While crossing on foot an old bridge over a flooded river en route home from the Convention, Blair and Washington narrowly escaped accident when one of the carriage horses fell through the bridge.[5] Washington nominated Blair to the Supreme Court of the United States on September 24, 1789, and the United States Senate confirmed the nomination two days later.[6] He took the prescribed judicial oath on February 2, 1790.[1] The court's caseload during Blair's tenure was light, with only 13 cases decided over six years. However, Blair participated in the court's landmark case of Chisholm v. Georgia, which is considered the first United States Supreme Court case of significance and impact.[4]

Blair resigned on October 25, 1795,[1] and died in Williamsburg in 1800, at 68. He was buried at the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church Cemetery in Williamsburg.[7] Blair was a Freemason. He was named Grand Master of Freemasons in Virginia under the newly organized Grand Lodge of Virginia in 1778. Blair Street in Madison, Wisconsin is named in his honor.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Justices 1789 to Present". Archived from the original on April 15, 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  2. ^ Supreme Court Historical Society. "John Blair, Jr., 1790-1796". Supreme Court Historical Society. Archived from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  3. ^ Van Horne, John C. "John Blair (ca. 1687–1771)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  4. ^ a b "John Blair Jr". Oyez. Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech. Archived from the original on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  5. ^ "Founders of Freedom in America", David C. Whitney, 1965
  6. ^ "U.S. Senate: Supreme Court Nominations: 1789–Present". United States Senate. Archived from the original on December 9, 2020. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  7. ^ "National Archives". Archived from the original on 2017-12-13. Retrieved 2017-12-12.
  8. ^ Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine[bare URL]

Further reading

Legal offices New seat Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1795 Succeeded bySamuel Chase