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William Hanford Upson

William Hanford Upson, who experienced highly regarded judicial and congressional careers and achieved financial success in his private law practice, was most proud of helping to found the Republican Party and campaigning on behalf of President Lincoln.

Upson was born Jan. 11, 1823, in Worthington, Ohio to Daniel and Polly Wright Upson. In 1832, the family moved to Tallmadge in Summit County. Upson was first educated in Tallmadge Township schools. At 15, he entered Western Reserve College, graduated at age 19 in 1842 and began to read law in the Painesville law office of Judge Reuben Hitchcock. In 1844, Upson enrolled at Yale Law School and attended the school for one year. Returning to Ohio in 1845, Upson was admitted to the Ohio bar. He opened an Akron law office with Sidney P. Edgerton and Christopher P. Wolcott in January 1846.

Upson first held public office when serving as Summit County prosecuting attorney from 1848 to 1850. He returned to his law partnership following his two-year term. Summit County voters elected Upson to the Ohio Senate in October 1853 for the two-year term, but Upson did not seek re-election. He returned to private practice in 1856.

Upson remained interested in politics and served as a delegate to the first Republican Party Convention meeting in Pittsburgh in 1856, which nominated John C. Fremont for president. Ohio Republicans selected Upson as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Baltimore in 1864, which re-nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. In 1860 and 1864, Upson campaigned in Summit County on behalf of Lincoln. He successfully ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the 18th district of Ohio in 1864 and was re-elected in 1870, but declined to seek a third term. Upson returned briefly to politics in 1876 when Ohio Republicans chose him delegate-at large to the Republican National Convention that met in Cincinnati and nominated Rutherford B. Hayes for president.

Gov. Charles Foster appointed Upson to the Supreme Court of Ohio on March 4, 1883. Upson was sworn into office on March 14 and campaigned that fall to complete Justice William White’s term, but Selwyn Owen won the seat in the October election. Upson’s published opinions are in Volume 39 of Ohio State Reports.

The 1883 case of Sesions v. Trevitt concerned the issues of whether money and promissory notes received by a husband from his wife prior to their marriage for investment on her behalf are the sole property of the wife and are separate from the common law principle of feme covert. Upson, writing on behalf of a unanimous Supreme Court, found them to be the sole property of the wife. In his opinion, Upson also argued that husbands and wives are competent to testify concerning communications or acts done by one in the presence of another if the communication or act was done in the presence of a third party who is competent to be a witness.

After he left the Supreme Court in 1883, Upson was encouraged by his fellow Republicans to campaign again for a seat on the state’s highest court. Upson refused their entreaties and campaigned successfully instead for a seat on the newly created Circuit Court of Appeals for Summit County. By lot, Upson drew a two-year term on the newly organized Circuit Court, which by Ohio Constitutional amendment replaced the district courts, and, in 1886, won a campaign for a full six-year term. In 1891 and 1892, Upson served as the chief judge for all Ohio circuit courts. He declined to seek re-election and retired to live quietly in his comfortable home on East Market Street in Akron. In 1896, Upson’s quiet retirement was interrupted briefly when the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia invited him to attend to be recognized as one of the five surviving delegates of the party’s first national convention in 1856.

Upson married Julia Ford on May 20, 1856 and the couple raised four children. Upson served as a member of the boards of trustees of Western Reserve College, Oberlin College and the Lake Erie Female Seminary in Painesville, Ohio. He also served as the first president of the Summit County Bar Association and was a member of the Ohio State Bar Association’s executive committee. Among Upson’s hobbies were a love of bird life, bird watching, maintaining a library of books on ornithology and collecting specimen of stuffed birds.

Upson died at his home on April 13, 1910 after a month-long illness. The funeral was at the family home and burial took place in Akron’s Glendale Cemetery.

William Howard Taft

b. Jan. 11, 1823

d. April 13, 1910

58th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio

See All Justices

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