Facts about Oliver Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Biography
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was known as “the Great Dissenter” for his principled stands during three decades on the U.S. Supreme Court. The son of Boston physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the younger Holmes served with honor in the Civil War; he was gravely wounded in battle three separate times, once taking a bullet through the neck at the battle of Antietam. After the war he earned a law degree at Harvard and then taught law at the same school. His series of lectures on common law at the Lowell Institute in 1880 was a major success, and two years later he was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, where he served for 20 years. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1902. Holmes displayed firm convictions and a mighty intellect during his 30 years on the high court, though his positions were never easily described as liberal or conservative. He was a steadfast defender of First Amendment rights to free speech, a position which led to many of his most famous dissents; those cases laid the groundwork for First Amendment arguments later in the 20th century. But Holmes also advocated “judicial restraint,” arguing that a judge’s own opinions about good or bad laws should not prevent him from upholding the will of the elected legislative majority. Holmes retired in January of 1932, at age 91 having become the oldest member ever of the Supreme Court.
Holmes was married to the former Fannie Bowditch Dixwell from 1872 until her death in 1929… In the case of Schenck v. United States (1919), Holmes wrote his famous statement, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” In the same case he coined the phrase “clear and present danger” in describing situations when free speech could legally be suppressed… “In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched By Fire” is the title of a much-admired speech about the Civil War made by Holmes on Memorial Day of 1884… Actor Louis Calhern played Holmes in the 1950 film biography The Magnificent Yankee; Calhern later played Julius Caesar in the 1953 film Julius Caesar, and Uncle Willy in the 1956 Bing Crosby film High Society.