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Henry Billings Brown


Henry Billings Brown, American jurist.


Brown, Henry Billings was born on March 2, 1836 in S. Lee, Massachusetts, United States. Son of Billings and Mary (Tyler) Brown.


Bachelor of Arts, Yale, 1856. Studied law in private office. Attended lectures at Yale and Harvard law schools.

Doctor of Laws, University of Michigan, 1887, Yale, 1891.


Brown hired a substitute to take his place in the Union Army during the Civil War, and served as United States Attorney.

In 1891, he paid $25,000 for land at 1720 16th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C., to the Riggs family, hired architect William Henry Miller, and built a five-story, 18-room mansion for $40,000.

Justice Brown retired on 28 May 1906. On his retirement, the Bar of the Supreme Court resident in the District of Columbia gave him a public dinner at which were present President Theodore Roosevelt and Vice-President Charles Fairbanks, many judges of the Supreme Court, cabinet officers and others of public distinction. President Roosevelt made a complimentary speech, to which Justice Brown responded in a carefully prepared and able address.


  • He edited a collection of rulings and orders in important admiralty cases from inland waters, which is still used as a reference in Black's Law Dictionary.

    He also compiled a case book on admiralty law for his lectures at Georgetown University.

    Brown is well-known for the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which he wrote the majority opinion - upholding the principle and legitimacy of "separate but equal" facilities for American blacks and whites.


  • book

    • Brown's Admiralty Reports



Brown was a social Darwinist, and his views of women and minorities were at best, crabbed and at worst, racist.


Legal historian Joel Goldfarb described Brown as a Supreme Court Justice who "usually took the center position. He was neither a liberal nor a reactionary, neither an extreme nationalist nor a states' rights advocate, neither a representative of the plutocracy nor an exponent of progressivism. Brown did everything he could to prevent splits in the Court which he regarded as dangerous to its influence and dangerous to political stability . . .


a reflexive social elitist


  • Politicians

    he was a loyal Republican and a strong supporter of the Union and Abraham Lincoln


Married Caroline Pitts, July 13, 1864 (died 1901). Married second, Josephine E. Tyler, June 25, 1904.


Mary Amy

Caroline Pitts

Josephine E.