Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John McLean Papers, 1828-1852

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Meg Hixon, October 2011

Summary Information
Title: John McLean papers
Creator: McLean, John, 1785-1861
Inclusive dates: 1828-1852
Bulk dates: 1844-1852
Extent: 8 items
The John McLean papers contain 8 items related to the Supreme Court justice, including five letters regarding West Point cadets in the mid-19th century.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated, D. N. Diedrich, 2009. M-4752.2.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

John McLean Papers, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically.


John McLean was born in Morris County, New Jersey, on March 3, 1785, and received little formal education in his youth. During the early 1800s, he studied law under Arthur St. Clair, Jr., and in 1807 he began a legal practice in Lebanon, Ohio. McLean won a seat in Congress in 1812 and was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1816; he served until 1822, when James Monroe appointed him commissioner of the Public Land Office and postmaster general. Andrew Jackson named McLean to the United States Supreme Court in 1829, and he served concurrently as a justice on the Seventh Circuit. McLean's most famous published decision is his dissent for Dred Scott v. Sanford . He remained politically prominent throughout his time on the Supreme Court and the Whig, Free Soil, and Republican parties all considered him for presidential nominations. McLean married his first wife, Rebecca Edwards, on March 20, 1807, and his second wife, Sarah Bella Garrard, on March 2, 1843, and had seven children. John Mclean died on April 3, 1861.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The John McLean papers contain 8 items related to the Supreme Court justice. The earliest items date to December 1858 and concern the McLean family's social engagements. These include 2 notes accepting invitations to a dinner at the McLean home, one signed by Colonel Nathan Towson, and an invitation to tea from "Mrs. Porter." In a letter dated April 24, 1844, David Gwynne referred to recent disciplinary action taken against his son Nathaniel at West Point, expressing his belief that it would prove helpful for the boy. A series of four letters from George Hildt, John McLean's brother-in-law, document their efforts to secure a place at West Point for Hildt's son, John McLean Hildt. On May 21, 1850, Hildt revealed his son's desire to attend West Point and requested assistance. Though a place was not immediately forthcoming (April 15, 1852), Secretary of War Charles Magill Conrad later informed McLean that his nephew could be admitted to the academy (July 20, 1852). The final item is a letter from Hildt to McLean confirming his son's intention to take his place at West Point and anticipating the costs of sending him there. The letter also concerns presidential politics and the possibility of McLean's nomination for president.

Subject Terms

    • United States Military Academy.
    • United States--Politics and government--1849-1853.
    • United States--Social life and customs--1783-1865.
    • Hildt, George.
    • Towson, Nathan, 1784-1854.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   : Duane Norman Diedrich Collection  
    John McLean papers,  December 15, 1828-August 15, 1852 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Clements Library holds other items written by John McLean in a multiple additional collections.


    Aynes, Richard L. "McLean, John." American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press: 2000.