looking "leonine and learned enough to represent Ellenborough and Kenyon and Mansfield and Marshall all in one."
Despite increasingly bad health, in February, 1871, Nelson accepted a post on the Alabama Claims Commission. His knowledge of maritime law made his selection logical, although his conduct during the war in prize and blockade cases made this choice by a Republican administration a bit surprising. Nelson took the assignment, feeling he could not refuse if there was any chance that his participation could help resolve some of the difficulties between Britain and the United States. But by this time he was fighting unsuccessful battles with recurrent insomnia, and this and the work done for the claims commission left him greatly weakened. In November, 1872, he resigned from the Court and returned to Cooperstown where he died on December 13, 1873.
Silence can often be a form of criticism. That the historical record has relatively little to say of Nelson reflects, negatively, the fact that he did not leave a deep impression on the history of the Court. If a major thread, a guiding judicial precept, can be extracted from his career, it is that of restraint, that of a judicial branch which is conscious of its limitations and which leaves to the legislature the day-to-day task of formulating the statutory particulars which make constitutional principles operative. In that regard, Nelson was preeminently a nineteenth-century judge.
Nelson has yet to become the subject of even a scholarly article. Edwin Countryman , "Samuel Nelson," 19 Green Bag 329 ( 1907), is episodic and without central focus. Richard H. Leach, "The Rediscovery of Samuel Nelson," 34 New York History 64 ( 1953) contains a few Nelson letters.