Judge John McLean
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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Judge John McLean

Dallas Bogan on 27 September 2004
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's book, "The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

November 3, 1921

In 1907 I was employed by John M. Mulford to write sketches of local history for the Western Star, and I chose for the subject of my first article Judge John McLean, who was the founder of the Star and the first lawyer of Lebanon to reach eminence. Since that article was written the children of Warren county, who were then learning to read, have reached the high school, and as these sketches are written with the hope of interesting young readers in our county's early history, I have thought a new sketch of this eminent jurist may be appropriate. I have also learned some facts in McLean's life not given in the earliest article, which I desire to place on record.
Several facts make the early life of Judge McLean of interest to the youth of this county. It is believed that he was the first boy in the county who acquired a good education and the first to reach distinction. He was the first to bring a printing press to Lebanon and start the first newspaper in his county. When a young lawyer in Lebanon he assisted in establishing the first circulating library in the town and he was the first lawyer of Lebanon elected to Congress.

A Backwoods Boyhood.

He was the son of Fergus McLean and was born in Morris County, N.J., March 11, 1785. When he was a small boy his parents removed to the West and lived for a time in Kentucky. While living near Maysville, Ky., the father purchased a farm on which he afterwards laid out the town of Ridgeville, Ohio. In 1796, when John was only eleven he went with his father to their future home, cleared a piece of ground, planted it with corn and then returned to the family in Kentucky. The father and the boy sometimes walked the entire distance from Maysville to the clearing, about 75 miles, carrying their provisions with them. At this period the Indians sometimes stole the horses of the white settlers, and many pioneers used oxen because they were less likely to be stolen.
When he was seventeen John determined to attend a classical school at Cincinnati and to obtain the money to pay his tuition, he performed much hard labor. After obtaining a better education than most law students, he began the study of law at Cincinnati. He wrote an excellent hand and was a rapid writer. To support himself while a law student he entered into an agreement to write in the office of the clerk of court at Cincinnati for three years. For the first year he was to receive no pay, for the second $50.00 and a slight increase the third year.
At this time Cincinnati was a small town and without public lectures or other evening entertainments. A number of young men of talents and literary tastes formed a debating society of which young McLean became a member. His ambition to excel was so great that he always studied closely the subject on which he was to speak and on one occasion he sat up all night to prepare for a debate.

Young Editor and Lawyer.

The young law student had enterprise as well as industry and in 1806, when he became of age and before his admission to the bar, he bought in Cincinnati a second-hand printing press and established the Western Star in the new and little town of Lebanon. He was doubtless the youngest editor in the western country, and his paper was the only one in the Miami country outside of Cincinnati. In the autumn of 1807 he was admitted to the bar and opened a law office in Lebanon. In 1808 the young editor and lawyer contracted to print on his little press for the Shakers of Union Village a book of 602 pages, entitled "Christ's Second Appearing." Work on the book began June 15, 1808, and some copies were completed and bound by December 31. This was the largest book which had then been printed in Ohio.
Desiring to devote himself to his law practice, he soon turned over the management of the paper to his younger brother, Nathaniel, who had learned the printer's trade. How successful he was as a young lawyer is shown by the fact that three years after his admission to the bar he received one-half of the votes in the legislature for judge of this large circuit. On February 10, 1810, the two houses of the legislature voted for a president judge of the first circuit, which embraced Cincinnati and the western third of the state. On the first ballot Francis Dunlevy had 34 votes and John McLean 34. On the second ballot the vote was the same, and on the third Dunlevy was elected, receiving 35 votes to Mr. McLean's 33.High Offices.
In 1812 the young lawyer was first elected to office, being chosen a representative of congress from a district embracing Cincinnati, and from this time he was continuously in high office until his death. He was re- elected to congress, but resigned to become judge of the supreme court of Ohio. In 1822 President Monroe made him commissioner of the land office, and in 1823 the postmaster general. In this office he made a national reputation for efficiency and President Adams-J.Q.J.Q. Adams retained him in the same position.
President Jackson appointed him a justice of the supreme court of the United States, and in this high office he continued 32 years and until his death at Cincinnati in 1861. While on the supreme bench he aspired to the presidency and at the first republican convention he received 196 votes to 396 for Fremont.

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This page created 27 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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