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John A. Corwin

John A. Corwin was a highly regarded attorney who came from a family of attorneys. He was born on Oct. 26, 1818 in Urbana to Moses B. and Margaret Corwin. His father, Moses Corwin, was the first lawyer to reside in Champaign County, practicing from 1835 to 1850. Further, both of his sons, John and Ichabod, became attorneys. John received his education in the school of W.F. Cowles. After finishing school, Corwin studied law with his father, although he had a short-lived career as a newspaper editor, when he and Decatur Talbott started a small newspaper called The Rattler around 1837.

Corwin was admitted to the bar in Ohio in December 1829, when he and his father established a law practice in Urbana. They had clients throughout the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, which consisted of Franklin, Madison, Clark, Champaign and Logan counties. Corwin quickly became a highly regarded criminal defense attorney. His contemporary, John James, recalled a story in which Corwin was late arriving at the Miami County Court of Common Pleas. As he walked in, the judge remarked, “Oh! Here is Judge Corwin. He defends the criminals.” “That is a mistake,” Corwin replied. “I don’t defend criminals, I defend innocent men accused of crime.”

Corwin was a delegate from Champaign County to the Whig state convention on May 31, 1838, but by 1840, he switched to the Democratic Party. He and his father developed a rivalry, in which father and son challenged each other in seeking election to the U.S. Congress to represent the 4th Ohio district in the 1840 election. Son challenged father to joint speaking engagements throughout the district, and both were excellent orators. Corwin lost the election to his father by a mere 200 votes. In 1854, he challenged George E. Pugh for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, but lost the party nomination and the general election.

Corwin was elected by popular vote under the 1851 Ohio Constitution in October 1851 to the Supreme Court of Ohio. To ensure staggered terms, the newly elected Justices drew lots on the opening day of the session on Feb. 9, 1852, and Corwin drew the lot for the four-year term. He served as Chief Justice from Feb. 9, 1854 to Oct. 28, 1854, when he submitted his resignation to Gov, William Medill. His opinions can be found in volumes 1 through 3 of Ohio State Reports.

After leaving the Supreme Court, Corwin moved to Urbana, where he resumed his law practice. In 1857, he moved to Cincinnati, where he established a legal practice with Robert B. Warden, also a former Supreme Court Justice, but by 1858, he returned to live in Urbana.

During the years preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, Corwin vigorously participated in the debates in the Democratic Party over slavery. He supported President James Buchanan’s attempt to have Kansas enter the Union as a slave state. When the national Democratic Party split into northern and southern wings in 1860, he supported the southern faction that nominated John C. Breckinridge. However, when the Civil War began, Corwin joined the 13th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, to serve for three months. He was appointed captain and commanding officer of Company K on April 20, 1861. Before the expiration of his service on Aug. 21, 1861, he resigned.

Corwin married Mary Vance on Oct. 26, 1841 and they had a son. After suffering from tuberculosis for six months, Corwin died at his home in Urbana on Aug. 11, 1863. The funeral was held at his home on Aug. 13, 1863.

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b. Oct. 26, 1818

d. Aug. 13, 1863

32nd Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio

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