Justices of the Florida Supreme Court

Address:
Supreme Court of Florida
500 South Duval Street
Tallahassee Florida
32399-1925

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Justice Ossian Bingley Hart

b. Kings Ferry, Florida– January 17, 1821               d. March 18, 1874 – Jacksonville, Florida

The first native-born Floridian to serve on the Supreme Court, Ossian Hart was the eldest son of one of the founders of the city of Jacksonville.  He read law with his father and Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lancaster, and was admitted to the bar in October 1842.  Hart moved south to Fort Pierce in 1844 where he was elected to the last session of the Territorial Legislative Council before statehood.  A hurricane prompted him to move his family to Key West in 1846.  By the 1850s, Hart had become one of the most successful lawyers in the state.  In 1856, he moved to Tampa to expand his practice.  While there, he defended a slave named Adam, who was accused of murder.  Hart successfully appealed a guilty verdict that had been based solely on the prosecutor’s emotional appeal to the jury. Tragically, a white mob lynched Adam as soon as the Supreme Court order for a retrial was handed down.  The experience deeply affected Hart’s views of race relations and the value of law in an orderly society.  He never purchased a slave, though, eventually, he inherited many from his father.  He also believed very strongly in the federal union and refused to go along with secession, putting himself and his family in some danger.  At the end of the Civil War, Hart emerged as a strong supporter of Reconstruction.  Jacksonville became a center of Republican Party activity, and Hart became one of the party’s leaders. He was a delegate to the 1867 Constitutional Convention.  After the election of Harrison Reed as governor, Hart was appointed to the Supreme Court.  Greatly interested in politics, Hart maneuvered for political office, finally obtaining the Republican nomination for governor in 1873.  He won against Democrat William Bloxham, resigned his Supreme Court appointment and began putting his own reconstruction policies into place.  However, his health had suffered during the election campaign and he died of pneumonia the next year.

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