Frederick Grimke served on the Supreme Court of Ohio for six years and advocated the popular election of judges for specific terms.
Frederick Grimke was born Sept. 1, 1791, in Charleston, S.C. to Judge John Faucheraud and Mary Smith Grimke. His father was a distinguished justice and author who served on the Supreme Court of South Carolina from 1799 to 1819. The family plantation, staffed with slaves, grew rice and indigo. Grimke’s brother, Thomas, was a successful lawyer in Charleston, helped establish the South Carolina Bar Association and also advocated for childhood education, temperance and peace. His two sisters, Sarah and Angelina, were forced to leave South Carolina because of their abolitionist views.
Grimke attended Yale University, graduating in 1810 with a bachelor’s degree. He returned to South Carolina where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in South Carolina. In 1818, he moved to Columbus and later to Chillicothe, where he established a legal practice.
On July 7, 1819, Gov. Ethan Allen Brown appointed Grimke as president judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, filling out the term of Orris Parish, who resigned. The same day, Gov. Brown also appointed him to be aide-de-camp to the commander in chief of the Militia of the State of Ohio. Grimke served as president judge until the Ohio General Assembly appointed John A. McDowell on Feb. 23, 1820 and then he returned to his legal practice in Chillicothe.
On July 9, 1829, Grimke again was appointed to the Sixth Judicial Circuit, this time by Gov. Allen Trimble. He completed the term of Gustavus Swan, who joined the Supreme Court. Grimke was elected by the legislature on Feb. 1, 1830 for a full seven-year term. He began his term on Feb. 24, 1830.
On January 30, 1836, Grimke was chosen by the legislature for a place on the Supreme Court of Ohio for a seven-year term. He submitted his resignation as president judge to Gov. Robert Lucas on Feb. 8, 1836. Two days later, Gov. Lucas commissioned him to the Supreme Court. His opinions are in volumes 7 through 11 of Ohio Reports. The Supreme Court was an arduous career in the 1830s, with the Justices required to travel the state on horseback to hear cases in less than ideal conditions. Grimke submitted his resignation to Gov. Thomas Corwin on March 2, 1842.
After he left the Court, Grimke devoted himself to his philosophical studies, especially political theory. He became a virtual recluse, devoting his time to writing. In 1848, he published the first edition of Considerations upon the Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions, a lengthy discussion of the American political system as contrasted with ancient, European and Asian political systems. Long considered a significant contribution to American political thought, it was reprinted as recently as 1968. Grimke also wrote the pamphlet An Essay on the Ancients and Moderns, and left $2,000 in his will to defray the cost of publishing The Works of Frederick Grimke, which was published in 1871.
Maxwell Bloomfield, in his article Frederick Grimke and American Civilization: A Jacksonian Jurist’s Appraisal, wrote that Grimke believed a judiciary independent of private control safeguarded the work of democratic institutions. He advocated for the popular election of judges for specific terms, which Grimke believed would make them better representatives of the public. Indirect appointment of judges and life tenure for judges, Grimke thought, encouraged political play and perpetuated in office many “partisan hacks and time-servers.”
Grimke never owned a home, for many years staying in the Chillicothe hotel owned by Col. John Madiera. When it burned in 1852, he moved to the Valley House, where he boarded until his death on March 8, 1863. The Rev. Mr. Brittoe of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church performed the funeral service on March 11, 1863 at Grandview Cemetery in Chillicothe.
The preface to The Works of Frederick Grimke described his character as:
“Modest even to diffidence, and never obtruding his opinions upon any one, he was nevertheless ready to express and defend them; because he firmly believed them to be true, and considered the defense of truth a paramount duty. Averse to the coarse strife of party, and never seeking office, he yet made the philosophy of politics the chief study of his life; and though eminent as a lawyer, a judge, and a scholar, his title to intellectual distinction mainly rests on the powers of observation and thought displayed in the “Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions.”
b. Sept. 1, 1791
d. March 8, 1863
24th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio