Appointed by President James Buchanan
Jeremiah Sullivan Black was born on a farm in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, on January 10, 1810. Although he attended a variety of local schools, Black was largely self-educated. At 17, Black began the study of law with a local politico and prominent Somerset attorney, Chauncey Forward, and was admitted to the bar in 1830. Black was appointed president judge of the courts of common pleas in the 16th judicial district of Pennsylvania. He was elected to the state supreme court in 1851 and reelected in 1854, serving three years as its chief justice.
In 1857, President James Buchanan appointed Black attorney general of the United States. Black's most significant action as attorney general before the secession crisis was his successful challenge of questionable Mexican land grants in California.
Black's and Buchanan's professional relationship was based on a long-standing friendship and a sharing of essentially conservative political views. Friends for decades, Buchanan valued Black for his honesty, forthrightness, devotion, and competence. Further, both men were against any kind of radicalism, including, in their minds, free-soilism, strongly defended party discipline, and believed in legal solutions to political problems. Finally, Black had defended Buchanan's Kansas policy, and both men had warmly supported the Dred Scott decision and John Breckenridge's candidacy in 1860.
After Abraham Lincoln's election, but before any Southern state had seceded, Buchanan, on November 17, 1860, asked Black what powers the president had concerning a range of issues if a state or states were to secede. Black's response, delivered on November 20, argued that the South had no legal right to secede and so the president had a duty and right to collect duties, defend public property, and execute the laws, based on the military act of 1795. At the same time, Black believed that because there was no federal common law, Congress needed to enact new statutes for the federal government to collect revenues during the abnormal political situation. Further, Black said that although the federal government could enforce its decrees on individuals, to enforce the law against the complete opposi-