Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Jeremiah S. Black (1857–1860): Attorney General

Jeremiah Sullivan Black was born in 1810 near Stony Creek, Pennsylvania. He studied the law, was admitted to the state bar in 1830, and then began serving as deputy attorney general for Somerset County.

In 1842, Black was appointed presiding judge of the court of common pleas. Nine years later, he was elected to the state Supreme Court, where he served until 1857, including three years as chief justice. President James Buchanan then tapped Black to become his attorney general, a post Black held from 1857 to 1860, when Black became Buchanan’s secretary of state following the resignation of Lewis Cass.

In February 1861, one month prior to leaving office, President Buchanan tried to nominate Black to the Supreme Court, but the Senate refused to confirm the nomination. Instead, Black became the official court reporter for the Supreme Court in 1861, during which time he wrote “Black’s Reports,” two volumes of Supreme Court opinions rendered during his time as reporter. Following the Civil War, he prepared to serve as President Andrew Johnson’s chief counsel in the President’s impeachment trial, but attorney and client differed, and Black withdrew as counsel.

Before Jeremiah Sullivan Black died in 1883, he helped revise the Pennsylvania state constitution and represented Democrat Samuel J. Tilden before the Electoral Commission that decided the winner in the 1876 presidential election.