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John McKinley (1780 – 1852)
John McKinley was born in Culpeper County, Virginia on May 1, 1780. His family moved to Kentucky, he read law there, and practiced law from 1800 to 1818 in Frankfort and Louisville. In 1818 he moved his practice to Huntsville, Alabama and soon became deeply involved in Alabama politics. He was named one of the 7 trustees of the Cypress Land Co. which laid out, promoted, and sold lots in the new town of Florence. In 1820 he was elected to the Alabama Legislature. And in 1821 he moved to Florence and he was selected to serve as one of the 12 trustees on the original Board of the University of Alabama. He served until 1823.

McKinley’s involvement in politics led to numerous offices. From November 27, 1826 to March 3, 1831 he was a United States Senator from Alabama. He was defeated for re-election but regained a seat in the Alabama Legislature in 1831. Then from March 4, 1833 to March 3, 1835 he sat as a Representative in Congress from Alabama. In 1836 he again served in the Alabama Legislature. In 1837 the legislature selected him to serve again as United States Senator for the term beginning March 4, 1837. However, he resigned on April 22 of that year when he was nominated by President Martin Van Buren to become the 23rd Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the first Justice from Alabama. The Senate confirmed his nomination on September 25, 1837.

McKinley served 15 years on the Court. He was very active during the first years of his tenure and traveled extensively to fulfill his “circuit riding duties” as a member of the Court. He testified before Congress that by 1839 he had traveled over 10,000 miles. The constant travel affected McKinley’s health and he performed limited duties during his last years on the Court.

John McKinley died in Louisville, KY on July 19, 1852. At the time of his death, Chief Justice Taney remembered McKinley as “a sound lawyer, faithful and assiduous in the discharge of his duties while his health was sufficient to undergo the labor”. The Federal Courthouse in Florence, Alabama is named for Justice John McKinley.

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