Justice Robert Bruce Van Valkenburgh
Former Justice Robert Van Valkenburgh was the 21st Justice of the Supreme Court and served from 1874-1888. As a youth, he participated in the Canadian Rebellion of 1838, though, unlike William Forward, he was never captured.
Instead, returning to his home state of New York, Van Valkenburgh read law, and passed the bar in 1843. He joined the Whig Party and became active in politics, becoming widely known for his oratorical skills. He won election to the New York State Assembly in 1856, then the U.S. House of Representatives in 1861, as a Republican.
Van Valkenburgh spent time during the war in recruiting volunteer regiments, raising 17 in all. He commanded one of them at the strategic Battle of Antietam in September 1862.
In late 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed Van Valkenburgh as U.S. Minister to Japan, where on one occasion, he commandeered a warship and, with 300 volunteers, rescued the Japanese prime minister from capture by rebels trying to take over the government.
In April 1871, he returned to the U.S., suffering from rheumatism, and decided to relocate to Jacksonville, Florida. There he joined with liberal Republicans and some Democrats in promoting a number of issues of Reconstruction politics.
When Governor Ossian Hart died, his Lieutenant Governor, Marcellus Stearns, took over and appointed Van Valkenburgh to the state’s high court. Together with James Westcott and Edwin Randall, he remained on the court for an extended period of time, lending some stability to the high tribunal during a period of intense political and social upheaval.
Van Valkenburgh’s rheumatism prevented him from taking a very active role in the court’s business but his expertise in criminal law was put to good use. Gradually, his health deteriorated further. Within a year of his wife’s death in 1887, Van Valkenburgh died also, while still a member of the court.
Quick facts about Justice Valkenburgh:
- Served as Justice from 1874-1888
- Born: September 4, 1821 – Prattsburg, New York
- Died: August 1, 1888 – Suwannee Springs, Florida
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