Field, Stephen J.


Good content 1875 LS while Associate Justice, seemingly currying favor with San Francisco financier-businessman Wm. Ralston, on rooms on his property for the federal judiciary in San Francisco


Autograph ID: 6437
Condition: Very good, 2 mail folds
Description: “(1816-1899) Associate Justice 1863-1897. Brother of David Dudley Field and Cyrus Field, uncle of Justice David J. Brewer. To California 1848, 5th Chief Justice of California Supreme Court 1857-63. Lincoln appointed him to newly created 10th Supreme Court seat to achieve regional balance (Westerner), political balance (Unionist Democrat) and to give the Court someone familiar with real estate and mining issues. Proponent of substantive due process that protected property rights from regulation under the 14th Amendment, as illustrated in his dissents to “The Slaughterhouse Cases” and Munn v. Illinois. Helped end the income tax (Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company), limited anti-trust law (US v. E.C. Knight Company), and the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission. In California, he wrote opinions against California laws discriminating against Chinese immigrants; however, he dissented in Strauder v. West Virginia, which held that excluding African-Americans from a jury that convicted an African-American of murder violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. He joined the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson which upheld racial segregation. He served on 1877 Electoral Commission to settle the 1876 presidential election, voting with Democrats on all issues.

LS, 8 1/4 x 5 1/4, 4pp (1st & 3rd pps of 2 folded sheets), Washington, January 21, 1875, to William C. Ralston. Justice Field informs him that Judge (Lorenzo) Sawyer (US 9th circuit court of appeals judge) as written Field that Ralston and Mr. Sharon (future Nevada US Senator Wm. T.) intend to construct a large building behind the Palace Hotel (owned by Sharon) in San Francisco and that Ralston would be willing to fit “…suitable rooms for the Courts of the United States and their officers.” It was expected that such rooms would be prepared in the new Appraisers Building, under construction near the Post Office, not likely to be completed for 3 years, also uncertain if rooms would be furnished for the courts, and construction of am exclusive building for the courts in the city is not expected for many years. Field opines that the best location would be where the California Theatre now is, but next best location would be in the Palace Hotel (owned by Ralston) neighborhood. He has spoken with the Attorney General (Geo. H. Williams) who while not wishing to commit himself, suggests that Judge Sawyer “…send to you a plan of the rooms desired and get your terms for them for two years, with the privilege of a third year”, noting that current rent for rooms now used is $1,000/ month. Field has written Judge Sawyer to see Ralston on the subject and ends by congratulating Ralston on his election to the US Senate, hopes to see him in Washington. Closing in Field’s hand.

WILLIAM C. RALSTON (1826-1875) Ohio-born San Francisco businessman and financier, founder of the Bank of California. With riches derived from Nevada’s Comstock Lode, he became one of the richest and most powerful men in California. He built Ralston Hall in Belmont, California and the California Theatre on San Francisco’s Bush Street which opened Jan. 18, 1869. His dream was the construction of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, spending $5M on its construction, draining his banking empire in the process. It opened on Oct. 2, 1875 with early elevators and electric call buttons in the rooms. The hotel survived the 1906 earthquake, but was destroyed in the ensuing fire, reopening in 1909. In 1871, following a severe drought in California, he initiated work on surveying for an irrigation scheme in the San Joaquin Valley; his lobbying succeeded in securing 1873 congressional passage of an Act to set up a Water Commission to advise on irrigation of California. In 1875, his financial empire collapsed as a result of the expense of building the Palace Hotel, the failure of his attempt to buy and resell the Spring Valley Water Co., the after-effects of the Panic of 1873, and a crash in the stock value of the Bank of California weeks before the opening of the Palace Hotel. The day after the collapse, his body was found in the San Francisco Bay, the victim of either a stroke during his regular swim or suicide. His partner, Senator William Sharon, acquired many of his assets, including the Palace Hotel and Ralston Hall. Streets in Belmont, Cal. and Reno, Nev., were named for him. The town of Modesto was to be named for Ralston; he declined, however, and it was called Modesto. He was portrayed by Ronald Reagan in a 1965 episode of “Death Valley Days.” WILLIAM T. SHARON (1821-1885) Ohio-born Nevada US Senator who profited from the Comstock Lode. He moved to Californiain 1849, moved to San Francisco in 1850, where he dealt in real estate. He moved to Virginia City, Nev. in 1864 as manager of the branch of the Bank of California and became interested in silver mining. Sharon was a business partner of William C. Ralston, and was Nevada agent for the Bank of California. He and Ralston profited greatly from loaning money to mining operations then foreclosing on them when the owners defaulted. Sharon acquired many of Ralston’s assets in 1875 when Ralston’s financial empire collapsed and he died. He was thought by some contemporaries to have actually aided the collapse and was the main beneficiary of Ralston’s assets which included the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and Ralston Hall in Belmont, Cal. He was US Senator (R) for Nevada 1875-81, chairman of the Committee on Mines and Mining in the 45th Congress. His final years saw a legal battle, the juiciest scandal of its time. Senator Sharon allegedly remarried Sarah Althea Hill, and he sued to have this alleged marriage cancelled. Judgment (in his favor) was rendered after his death, but consequent legal proceedings included: a Bowie knife fight in the Circuit Court for the Northern District of California, the Aug. 14, 1889 physical beating of Justice Field by David S. Terry, and the fatal shooting of Terry by a US Marshal, both in a California railroad hotel, which culminated in the 1890 landmark US Supreme Court decision, In Re Neagle on the supremacy of federal law over state law. LORENZO SAWYER (1820-1891) New York-born California lawyer, appointed to the Supreme Court of California in 1860, Chief Justice 1868-70. He was a judge for the US Circuit Court for the Ninth Circuit from 1870 and later served as the 1st judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit June 1891 until his death that September. He left a lucrative law practice in Wisconsin for the California Gold Rush, arriving in California mid-July 1850. After working in the mines for a short time, he went to Sacramento and then to Nevada City, entering law practice but in autumn 1853, he returned to San Francisco where he was elected City Attorney. Sawyer went to Virginia City Jan. 1862 to open a law office. In June, he became a Judge of the Twelfth Judicial District, embracing San Mateo city and county. On the reorganization of the State courts under the amended constitution, Judge Sawyer was in 1863 elected a justice of the state Supreme Court for a 6-year term, the last 2 years he was Chief Justice. During his term, he was noted for the thoroughness and elaborateness of his decisions and was held in high regard. In 1869, Congress passed an act to amend the US judicial system, reorganizing the US Circuit Courts and providing the appointment of a circuit judge for each of the 9 circuits. In Dec. 1869, President Grant nominated him to the US circuit court for the Ninth Circuit (later the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit). Confirmed in 1870, he handed down what became known as “the Sawyer Decision” in Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Co. in 1884 which abruptly ended hydraulic mining in California’s gold country.”

Type: Letter

Product Search

Product categories

Quick Links