Much of Jacob Brinkerhoff’s service in Congress and on the Supreme Court of Ohio dealt with slavery issues.
Born on Aug. 31, 1810, in Niles, N.Y. to Henry I. and Rachel Bevier Brinkerhoff, he attended public schools and the Plattsburg Academy in New York. He read law with the Bath firm of Edward and William Howell and also studied with the firm of Rogers and Neaston and with Judge Henry Wells, of Penn Yan, N.Y.
In 1836, Brinkerhoff moved with his father to Richland County, Ohio, where his parents purchased a farm. He continued to study and was admitted to the bar in 1837. He formed a partnership in Mansfield with Thomas W. Bartley, then Richland County prosecuting attorney.
Brinkerhoff served as prosecuting attorney from Oct. 15, 1839 to 1843. He was elected to the U.S. Congress and served from March 4, 1843 to March 3, 1847. During his service in Congress, he became associated with the Free Soil Party and composed the famous resolution later introduced into Congress as the Wilmot Proviso.
The Wilmot Proviso was introduced on Aug. 8, 1846 in the House of Representatives as a rider on a $2 million appropriations bill intended for the final negotiations to resolve the Mexican-American War. The intent of the proviso, submitted by Democratic Congressman David Wilmot, was to prevent the introduction of slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico. The proviso did not pass in this session or when it was reintroduced over the course of the next several years, but many consider it the first event in the long slide to civil war, which would accelerate through the 1850s.
After returning to Mansfield in 1847, Brinkerhoff returned to private practice. He entered public life again when he was elected to the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1855. He began his first term on Feb. 9, 1856 and was re-elected for two more terms, serving until Feb. 9, 1871.
His opinions are in volumes 5 through 20 of the Ohio State Reports. One opinion of note is his dissent in the trial involving the Oberlin-Wellington fugitive slave rescue of 1858. The court upheld the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 by a 3-2 split, but Brinkerhoff advanced a state’s rights argument denying Congress the authority to legislate on the fugitive issue. Brinkerhoff argued that slavery was solely a state institution with no protection at the federal level.
Brinkerhoff married Caroline Campbell on Oct. 4, 1837, but she tragically died Nov. 18, 1839. Brinkerhoff later married Marian Titus, with whom he had four children. Brinkerhoff died on July 19, 1880 in Mansfield and is buried in Mansfield Cemetery.
b. Aug. 31, 1810
d. July 19, 1880
38th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio