Judge William Cranch

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Judge William Cranch

Birthplace: Weymouth, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
Death: September 01, 1855 (86)
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Place of Burial: Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Richard Cranch and Mary Smith
Husband of Nancy Cranch
Father of Elizabeth Eliot Dawes; John Cranch; Edward Pope Cranch; Christopher Pearse Cranch; Abigail Adams Eliot and 6 others
Brother of Elizabeth Cranch; Joseph Cranch and Lucy Cranch

Occupation: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia
Managed by: Marcia Tugendhat
Last Updated:

About Judge William Cranch

Wikipedia Biographical Summary:

Cranch, William (1769-1855) — of District of Columbia. Born in Weymouth, Norfolk County, Mass., July 17, 1769. Nephew by marriage of John Adams; first cousin of John Quincy Adams. Judge of U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, 1801, 1806. Died September 1, 1855 in Washington, District of Columbia. Interment at Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Parents: Richard Cranch, Mary Smith

Spouse: Anna Greenleaf

Born: 3 Jun 1772 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts

Died: 16 Sep 1842 in Washington, District Of Columbia

Marriage: 6 Apr 1795 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts

Children ,Sex ,Birth

William Greenleaf Cranch M 11 Jan 1796

Richard Cranch M 26 Jun 1797

Anne Allen Cranch F 28 Apr 1799

Mary Cranch F 26 Sep 1801

Elizabeth Eliot Cranch F 8 Feb 1805 Edit

John Cranch M 2 Feb 1807 in Washington D.C.

Edward Pope Cranch M 29 May 1809 Edit

Christopher Pearse Cranch M 8 Mar 1813 in Alexandria, Virginia

Virginia Cranch F Jan 1815 Edit

Abigail Adams Cranch F 20 Feb 1817 in Alexandria, Virginia

Margaret Dawes Cranch F 15 Apr 1819

William Cranch was an American judge and the second reporter of decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, he was a nephew of Abigail Adams. His father was Richard Cranch, an English-born clockmaker and Massachusetts legislator and his mother was Mary Smith, the elder sister of Abigail Smith Adams. His uncle by marriage was John Adams, the second President of the United States. His first cousin was John Quincy Adams, the sixth President. William Cranch graduated from Harvard College with honors in 1787 and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1790. From 1791 to 1800, Cranch worked as a legal agent for a real estate firm in Washington.

When land speculation bankrupted him, his uncle John Adams rescued him by appointing him to be Inspector of Public Buildings in 1800. Then, in 1801, Cranch was selected as one of the two associate justices for the District of Columbia Circuit Court. The nomination was put forth on February 28, 1801, and Cranch was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 3, 1801, receiving his commission the same day.

In 1805, Cranch became a member of the first board of Trustees for Public Schools and served on that board for 7 years.

On February 21, 1806, President Thomas Jefferson elevated Cranch to Chief Judge of the Circuit Court, that seat having been vacated by William Kilty. Cranch's elevation was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 24, 1806. In this role he swore in two Presidents of the United States, John Tyler (in 1841) and Millard Fillmore (in 1850), each of whom assumed the presidency upon the death of his predecessor. Cranch would hold the position of Chief Judge in the District until his death in 1855.

While serving as a Circuit judge, Cranch also served as the second reporter of the Supreme Court from 1801 to 1815. At the time, the reporter was an unofficial post and he used his own funds to produce the reports. Cranch took on the responsibility because of his respect for precedent.[citation needed] He was slow in producing his reports of cases and their accuracy was questioned.

During his tenure on the court, Cranch published a biography about Adams and edited his own volume of reports on civil and criminal cases from the District. On February 3, 1826, the Columbian College board of trustees elected Cranch and William Thomas Carroll, Esq., as the first law professors. On June 13 of the same year, with President John Quincy Adams in attendance, Professor Cranch delivered the first law lecture in the court room of the City Hall.

Cranch died in Washington, DC on September 1, 1855. He was buried at Congressional Cemetery.

In 1871, the Cranch Public School Building, named in his honor, opened at the southwest corner of 12th and G, SE in Washington, DC. It was demolished in 1949.

Cranch was elected an Associated Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1809 and a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1813. During the 1820s, Cranch was a member of the prestigious society, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, who counted among their members former presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams and many prominent men of the day, including well-known representatives of the military, government service, medical and other professions.

Cranch is also known for several decisions that set a precedent for jury nullification (allowing a jury to nullify an "unjust" law and refuse to convict), including:

United States v. Fenwick, 25 F. Cas. 1062; 4 Cranch C.C. 675 (1836): Right to make legal argument to jury. Stettinius v. United States, 22 F. Cas. 1322; 5 Cranch C.C. 573 (1839): Right to make legal argument to jury. Cranch also handed down important precedent in a variety of topics, for example in a criminal law case regarding the mens rea of intoxication, Cranch wrote:

“ It often happens that the prisoner seeks to palliate his crime by the pleas of intoxication; as if the voluntary abandonment of reason...were not, of itself, an offense sufficient to make him responsible for all of its consequences. ” Cranch died in Washington, D.C., aged 86.

William Cranch's daughter Abigail Adams Cranch married William Greenleaf Eliot. William Eliot and Abigail Cranch were the parents of Henry Ware Eliot and the grandparents of T. S. Eliot. Cranch had four sons; of these three, Christopher, Edward, and John, all became painters.

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Judge William Cranch's Timeline

July 17, 1769
Weymouth, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
Age 17
Harvard University, with honors
January 11, 1796
June 26, 1797
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
April 28, 1799
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
September 26, 1801
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
February 8, 1805
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
February 2, 1807
Washington DC
May 29, 1809
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States