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Ethan Allen Brown

Ethan Allen Brown served in leadership positions in Ohio and Indiana, started Ohio’s canal system and helped solve Indiana’s financial difficulties. He was a Supreme Court of Ohio Justice, governor of Ohio, a U.S. Senator and an Indiana state representative.

Born July 7, 1776, in Greenwich, Conn. to Roger and Mary Smith Brown, he was the youngest of seven children. The family supported the Americans during the Revolutionary War, and as a consequence, lost much during the British invasion of Greenwich in 1779.

The Brown children were educated by tutor. Besides the usual subjects of reading, writing, mathematics and history, Brown also learned French, Greek and Latin. Throughout his life, he spoke French and maintained a correspondence in that language. As he became interested in the subject, Brown added law texts to his studies. Brown moved to New York City in 1797, where he found work in Alexander Hamilton’s law office. Hamilton guided his legal studies and soon promoted Brown to the post of assistant secretary.

In the spring of 1802, Brown was admitted to the New York bar. However, he did not remain in New York. Brown traveled to Indiana in 1803 to obtain land for his father to purchase. He found and purchased several thousand acres near the present town of Rising Sun, Ind., and, with the help of his brother, David, cleared the land. Choosing law over farming, Brown moved to Cincinnati in 1804 to practice law. Brown befriended one of Cincinnati’s prominent citizens, Judge John Cleves Symmes, who became his mentor. Brown became active in Democrat-Republican politics in Cincinnati and was rewarded when Albert Gallatin, President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury, appointed Brown to audit the books of the Cincinnati Land Office in 1807, 1808 and 1809. He went on to serve as prosecuting attorney of Hamilton County from 1809 to 1810.

Under the 1802 Ohio Constitution, the Ohio General Assembly selected three Justices to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio for seven-year terms. Brown was elected by the General Assembly on Feb. 10, 1810. His election was part of a struggle among the Ohio House of Representatives, the Ohio Senate and the Supreme Court concerning the principle of judicial review. The Supreme Court contended that the Court had the authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws, while the Ohio General Assembly believed the state constitution did not give the Supreme Court the power to overturn laws passed by the Ohio General Assembly. Impeachment charges were brought against Justices George Tod and Calvin Pease. Both men were barely acquitted. The General Assembly then passed a law that the seven-year term applied to the office, rather than the officeholder. Thus, all current terms of the Justices were to expire in 1810. The Ohio General Assembly chose Brown, Thomas Scott and William W. Irwin, who they believed would bow to their doctrine of legislative supremacy.

The rigors of traveling to each county to hold Court eventually led the Ohio General Assembly to increase the size of the court by one on Feb. 27, 1816. With the addition of one justice, the state was divided into two circuits. Brown and Justice Jessup Couch traveled together, hearing appeals of cases from the courts of common pleas and trying cases ranging from divorce to murder. The Ohio General Assembly re-elected him to the Supreme Court on Jan. 18, 1817, for another seven-year term. He served as Chief Justice in 1815.

Brown won the gubernatorial election against James Dunlap on Oct. 12, 1818 for a two-year term. Brown resigned from the Supreme Court on Dec. 11, 1818 and took the oath of office as governor before the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives on Dec. 14, 1818.

Brown’s legacy as governor was the development of a system of canals in Ohio. He envisioned an Ohio and Erie Canal that would link the Ohio River with Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Hudson River and beyond; allowing farmers and manufacturers in Ohio to ship their products throughout the eastern and southern states. Through his advocacy, the Ohio General Assembly in 1822 established a seven-member commission to supervise exploratory surveys and investigate financing for the canal system.

On Jan. 3, 1822, the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate met in joint session to elect a successor to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, which was created by the death of William A. Trimble on Dec. 13, 1821. After nine ballots, Brown was elected by one vote over Thomas Worthington to fill the remainder of Trimble’s term and resigned as governor the following day. He served in the Senate from Jan. 3, 1822, to March 3, 1825.

On Feb. 24, 1825, the bill creating Ohio’s canal system became law, providing for the construction of two canals: one between Cincinnati and Dayton and one between Cleveland and Portsmouth. Brown, Ebenezer Buckingham and Allen Trimble were appointed to the Canal Fund Commission, whose purpose was to secure loans to finance the construction of the canals. Brown and his colleagues celebrated on July 3, 1828, when the canal boat The State of Ohio made its maiden voyage on the Ohio and Erie Canal from Portage Summit near Akron to Cleveland. Brown was reappointed by the Ohio General Assembly as Canal Fund Commissioner in February 1829.

In 1828, Brown supported and worked for Andrew Jackson’s bid for the presidency of the United States. He served as Hamilton County’s presidential elector in 1828. Brown was elected to the Ohio Senate from Hamilton County in 1829, but he did not serve his term. President Andrew Jackson appointed him charge´ d’affaires to Brazil on May 26, 1830.

President Jackson appointed Brown to be commissioner of the General Land Office on July 11, 1835, where he was charged with surveying and selling public lands. When Brown assumed office on Sept. 1, 1835, he found the office’s management in disarray; the office was understaffed, the commissioner’s attention was consumed with petty details rather than oversight and there were no precautions in place to protect the records in case of fire. Brown made recommendations to reform the land office system, which were approved by the U.S. Congress in July 1836. Brown served until Oct. 31, 1836.

Brown moved to Parterre, the family estate near Rising Sun, Ind. on Nov. 1, 1836. He managed the family farm and cared for family members. Brown was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives and took office on Dec. 6, 1841. Indiana was in a state of financial emergency due to mismanagement of internal improvements and it could not pay the interest on the public debt. Brown helped reform the state’s financial management, and through his leadership, the state bank of Indiana resumed making interest payments on the state debt, which helped repair the state’s credit. He was re-elected to another one-year term in 1842.

Brown was a strong supporter of the Indiana Democratic Party. He died on Feb. 24, 1852, while serving as vice president of the Indiana State Democratic state convention in Indianapolis. He is buried at Cedar Hedge Cemetery in the family burial plot.

William Howard Taft

b. July 7, 1776

d. Feb 24, 1852

9th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio

See All Justices

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