This is the book review I turned in for my Principles of Administration class. 

 Ethics is doing what’s right professionally. Morality is doing what is right according to your personal beliefs. Can the two be combined? Are they mutually exclusive? Samuel Freeman Miller believed that they can go together in his practice. The purpose of Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era by Michael A. Ross is a book to show the leadership of former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller during a turbulent time of a divided nation. This purpose was fulfilled by a narrative of a Justice’s live by showing his career change, his faith, and his Supreme Court opinions.

Justice Samuel Freeman Miller started out as a doctor in his hometown in Barbourville, Ky. While he was still at home, he became a member of the Barbourville Debating Society. He was openly opposed to imprisonment for debt, opposed to property restrictions on the right to vote, and opposed to exterminating the Seminole Indians. He said that there is no “moral justification for capital punishment”. Miller spoke against Southern censorship of anti-slavery documents petitioned by abolitionists because of the violation of the First Amendment. Back in Kentucky he followed many of Cassius Clay’s rhetoric about freeing slaves. Even though Miller was a slave owner himself through marriage, he thought slavery stifled the economy. As a lawyer in Keokuk, Miller rarely made legal decisions based on precedent. He was more concerned about reason and law. One lawyer attributed Miller’s legal view to his lack of training.

Miller’s faith could be seen in his law practice. His beliefs were based on Unitarianism which taught the Bible using logic rather than faith.  He was against capital punishment and slavery because they violated Christian humanism. Miller became one of the best known Republicans in Iowa. He also earned a place on the Republicans State Executive Committee by the summer of 1859 right before having to deal with the John Brown’s raid in Harper’s Ferry. When it came time for President Lincoln to need to fill a spot on the Supreme Court, he received an overwhelming response from those that knew Miller. Lincoln received support letters from both Democrats and Republicans. Even Judge James Love who was politically against Miller supported the nomination.

Because of the decision of Leffingwell v Warren, Miller suggested that there be two courts “sitting within the same jurisdiction, deciding upon the same rights, arising out of the same statute, yet always arriving at opposite results”. This case resulted in the holding that the “federal courts were bound to follow the most recent interpretations given to state statutes and constitutional provisions by the highest court of that state”. He supported the Leffingwell doctrine which said that the U.S. Supreme Court has to follow the state courts when dealing with cases based on state laws. Even though he was an influential member of the Supreme Court, he often found himself writing the dissenting opinions of the court. Other policies that he supported during his time on the court were the Eleventh Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifteenth Amendment, the Military Reconstruction Act, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

I haven’t read many other books on leadership besides My Grandfather’s Son A Memoir by Justice Clarence Thomas. If I were to compare the two books, I’d say they are both well written narratives about two Justices in the same political part. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is interested in politics around the time of the Civil War. It is also a good book to read to compare the precedents of current court decisions to how the judicial system makes decisions today.

In conclusion, while he was a proponent for social equality he realized that the Supreme Court could not ultimately protect Blacks and women from inequality. Most of the things that he believed in did not actually come into practice until the mid-1900s. Because of his determination of social equality, it was not uncommon for justices to have to refer to his previous work for precedents regarding current cases. He became one of the nation’s leaders for social equality.


Ross, M. A. (2003). Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: Louisian State University Press.