3 minute read

George Edmund Badger

George Edmund Badger was a lawyer, judge, and politician, and the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court confirmation battle in 1853.

The only son of a lawyer who died prematurely and a daughter of a Revolutionary War leader, Badger was born on April 17, 1795, in New Bern, North Carolina. He was first educated at a local academy and then attended Yale College. Because of poverty, he was forced to leave the college after only two years. He then returned home to North Carolina to study law. In 1814, he served for a short time as a major in a militia called out to repel a threatened British invasion. A year later, he was admitted to the North Carolina bar. He quickly built a reputation as a brilliant and persuasive trial and appellate lawyer. In 1820, after four years of representing New Bern in the state house of commons, he was elected a judge of the superior court, where he served five years before resigning to practice law in Raleigh.

Initially a strong supporter of ANDREW JACKSON, Badger became a Whig in the mid-1830s and was appointed secretary of the Navy in 1841 by President WILLIAM H. HARRISON. He served for less than a year in this position and thus had little opportunity to have a lasting effect. However, during his tenure, he did recommend a home squadron to patrol the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. He also authorized the construction of two steam vessels.

In 1846, Badger was elected to the U.S. Senate. As a senator, he strongly opposed the policies

of the Polk administration. He also proposed reform of the Supreme Court's docket and advocated salary increases for the justices. In January 1853, President MILLARD FILLMORE, who had lost the 1852 election to FRANKLIN PIERCE, nominated Badger for a vacancy on the Court. Badger's nomination was met with widespread criticism from the Democratic papers of the South. Senators from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi opposed his nomination because he resided outside the Fifth Circuit, where the vacancy on the Court arose. Even the Whig press, though it supported the proposed appointment, stated that "as a statesman, [Badger] is of no account, and as a politician detestable."

On previous occasions, the Senate had usually granted quick confirmation to a senator nominated for the Court, with little debate. But it postponed consideration of Badger's nomination until March 1853, so that Pierce could fill the vacancy with his own nominee—effectively defeating Badger's nomination. The same tactic would also be used to defeat later Supreme Court nominees.

Badger served in the Senate until 1855. After his retirement, he continued to practice law and took an active role in politics, helping to organize the Constitutional Union party in 1861. This party was made up of conservative Whigs who had been alienated by the emergence of ABRAHAM LINCOLN as the leader of the Republican party during the presidential election of 1860. In its platform, the Constitutional Union party took no stand on the issue of SLAVERY and strongly advocated preservation of the Union. Badger was elected as a Union candidate, but a convention was never held.

Though he was widely known as a nationalist, when the Civil War broke out, Badger was elected to the North Carolina secession convention. At first, he argued against secession, contending that it was unconstitutional. Instead, he offered a declaration of independence, which was rejected. As a result, he reluctantly voted for secession.

Badger continued to practice law in North Carolina until his death in 1866.


Congressional Quarterly. 1989. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

Maisel, L. Sandy, ed. 1991. Political Parties and Elections in the United States. New York: Garland.


Fillmore, Millard; Slavery.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Autopsy to Bill of Lading