Albany’s Supreme Court Justice, and an Almost Justice

The first Rufus Wheeler Peckham was a noted Albany lawyer, congressman and judge who perished in the sinking of the Ville du Havre. His sons also became pretty notable.

Wheeler Hazard Peckham was born in Albany on New Year’s Day, 1833. He went to Albany Academy and Union College, and was one of the earliest students of the Albany Law School. He ventured west for a spell but returned to New York, settling in New York City in 1867. He became part of the prosecution of Boss Tweed, served as a special prosecutor and then spent a brief eight days as New York County District Attorney, resigning for reasons of health. He returned to private practice and was tapped in 1894 by President Cleveland to serve on the Supreme Court, replacing Auburn’s Samuel Blatchford (who had also been secretary to Governor William H. Seward in Albany). Unfortunately for Wheeler, he was blocked by New York Senator David Hill, who had some issues with Cleveland, and he was not confirmed. He and his wife are buried in Albany Rural Cemetery in the Peckham family plot.

629px-Rufus_Wheeler_Peckham_cph.3b30513.jpgRufus Wheeler Peckham was born in 1838 and followed the family practice of law. He attended Albany Academy and then studied law in his father’s offices, and was admitted to the bar in 1859. He became Albany County District Attorney in 1869, returned to private practice, then was named to the New York State Supreme Court in 1883. Just three years later, he rose to the Court of Appeals. (Except that he did not serve in Congress, his career path very much echoed his father’s.) Rufus was an active Democrat and rubbed shoulders with folks named Morgan, Vanderbilt and Rockefeller. Senator Hill was reportedly not as influential the next time President Cleveland got to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, and his selection of Rufus Peckham in 1895, just a year after Wheeler had failed to be confirmed, sailed through the Senate.

Rufus Peckham served until his death at age 70 in 1909. He and his wife are also, like all good Peckhams, buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

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