Matthew Birchard served one term on the Supreme Court of Ohio along with several other federal, state and county government positions.
He was the seventh of 10 children and was born in Beckett, Mass., on Jan. 19, 1804, to Nathan and Mercy Ashley Birchard. In 1812, Nathan Birchard moved his family to Windham Township in Portage County, Ohio, where Matthew was educated in the common schools. At age 20, he began studying law in the offices of Roswell Stone in Warren. Birchard was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1827 and joined David Tod, future governor of Ohio, who also was admitted to the bar that year, in private practice in the firm Birchard & Tod in Warren.
President Andrew Jackson’s first Postmaster General William T. Berry appointed Birchard as postmaster of Warren in 1829, a post he held for four years before resigning in 1833 to accept appointment as judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Trumbull County. Birchard resigned his judgeship in 1836 to accept an appointment by President Jackson as solicitor for the General Land Office. In 1837, President Martin Van Buren appointed Birchard solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Birchard held the post for four years, resigning in 1841, prior to the inauguration of President William Henry Harrison on March 4.
Birchard returned to Warren in 1841 and resumed his partnership with Tod. The two men practiced law together for about a year before the Ohio General Assembly appointed Birchard to a seat on the Supreme Court for a seven-year term starting in 1842. Birchard served as the Court’s Chief Justice when the court met en banc in Columbus in 1848 and 1849. Birchard’s published opinions are in volumes 11 through 17 of the Ohio Reports.
Birchard wrote the opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court in Charles J. Wolverton v. The State of Ohio in1848, ruling that the admission by the defendant of a prior marriage may be introduced at trial as evidence of bigamy. Birchard wrote further that the trial judge ruled properly that the defendant’s admission was admissible evidence because a jury with the advice of the court, not a trial court judge deciding alone, properly determines whether to accept or reject the accuracy of a confession that was obtained lawfully. Birchard also used his opinion to chide the prosecution for not seeking the “best evidence” of Wolverton’s prior marriage, copies of the marriage record kept in Michigan. Birchard also questioned the work of the defense attorney for not raising an objection to the prosecution’s failure to produce the “best evidence.”
Birchard, as Chief Justice, wrote for a divided court that was split 2-2, and thus rendered no decision in David R. Kemper v. The Trustees of the Lane Theological Seminary and Others in 1849. Birchard’s brief comments that followed lengthy arguments by Kemper’s and the seminary’s attorneys noted that the Court failed to reach a decision on the question of whether the individuals who donated land and money for the establishment of the Lane Theological Seminary had the ability to sue the seminary in chancery court over issues concerning the hiring of faculty, courses of instruction and expenditures on textbooks.
In October 1852, Trumbull County voters elected Birchard to a term in the Ohio House of Representatives, where he served on the Judiciary and Common School and School Land committees. Birchard resumed his law practice in Warren following his one term in the legislature and, beginning in 1862 with his establishment of the Warren Constitution, took on the duties as owner and editor. The newspaper was associated with the Democratic Party and Birchard’s involvement with the weekly publication continued until his death.
Birchard married Jane E. Weaver in Bella Vista, Va. in 1841 and the couple raised two children. Birchard died at his residence in Warren on June 16, 1876, after being confined to his home for several months. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Warren.
b. Jan. 19, 1804
d. June 18, 1876
25th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio