John M. Berrien

John Macpherson Berrien
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
March 4, 1841  May 28, 1852
(temporarily resigned his seat from May 1845 to November 1845)
Preceded by Wilson Lumpkin
Succeeded by Robert M. Charlton
10th United States Attorney General
In office
March 9, 1829  June 22, 1831
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by William Wirt
Succeeded by Roger B. Taney
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
March 4, 1825  March 9, 1829
Preceded by John Elliott
Succeeded by John Forsyth
Member of the Georgia Senate
In office
Personal details
Born (1781-08-23)August 23, 1781
Rocky Hill, New Jersey
Died January 1, 1856(1856-01-01) (aged 74)
Savannah, Georgia
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Eliza Richardson Anciaux (b. September 19, 1783 at Newport, RI; d. August 27, 1828) Eliza Cecil Hunter

John Macpherson Berrien (August 23, 1781  January 1, 1856) of Georgia was a United States senator and Andrew Jackson's Attorney General.

Early Life

Born at Rocky Hill, New Jersey, to a family of Huguenot ancestry, Berrien moved with his parents to Savannah, Georgia, in 1782; was graduated from Princeton College in 1796; studied law in Savannah; was admitted to the bar at the age of 18,[1] and began practice in Louisville, Georgia, in 1799. After he returned to Savannah he was elected solicitor of the eastern judicial circuit of Georgia in 1809; judge of the same circuit from 1810 until January 30, 1821, when he resigned. He served as captain of the Georgia Hussars, a Savannah volunteer company, in the War of 1812.

Political Life

Berrien was a member of the Georgia Senate from 1822 to 1823. He was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1825. In The Antelope case of 1824,[2] he argued against the freedom of slaves captured at sea noting slavery "lay at the foundation of the Constitution" and that slaves "constitute the very foundation of your union".[3] On March 9, 1829, he resigned from the Senate to accept the position of Attorney General in the Cabinet of President Andrew Jackson. He held that post from March 9, 1829, until June 22, 1831, when he resigned. During his tenure as Attorney General, Berrien supported states' rights in the Nullification Crisis. In the case of the Negro Seamen Acts, he considered the acts to be appropriate exercises of the states' police powers, and beyond the reach of the federal government.[4] After leaving the Cabinet he resumed the practice of law until he was again elected, as a Whig, to the U.S. Senate and served from March 4, 1841, until May 1845, when he again resigned to accept an appointment to the supreme court of Georgia; again elected in 1845 to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by his second resignation; reelected in 1846 and served from November 13, 1845, until May 28, 1852, when he resigned for the third time.

Berrien's views on sectional issues hardened during his tenure in the Senate and he became aligned with the short-lived Southern Rights Party formed to oppose the Compromise of 1850 and the Wilmot Proviso.

During the 1820s, Berrien was a member of the prestigious society, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, which counted among its members former presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams and many prominent men of the day, including well-known representatives of the military, government service, medical and other professions.[5]

He served as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in the 20th, 26th and 27th Congresses. He was president of the American Party convention at Milledgeville in 1855.

He was also a slave owner. In 1830, he owned 90 slaves.[6] In 1840, he owned 8 slaves at his house in Savannah, Georgia,[7] and an additional 140 slaves in surrounding Chatham County.[8] In 1850, he owned 143 slaves.[9]

Death and Legacy

Berrien died in Savannah on January 1, 1856. He is interred in Laurel Grove Cemetery. Berrien County, Georgia, and Berrien County, Michigan (one of Michigan's Cabinet Counties, organized during his term as attorney general), are named in his honor.


  1. Ruffin, Charles L. (2013). "Georgia Legal Legend: U.S. Attorney General John Berrien". Georgia Bar Journal. 19 (1): 4. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  2. Dyer, Justin Buckley (2009). ""After the Revolution: Somerset and the Antislavery Tradition in Anglo-American Constitutional Development". Journal of Politics. 71 (4): 1430. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  3. Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction; by Allen C. Guelzo, May 18, 2012, kindle location 935
  4. Schoeppner, Michael A. (2013). "Status across Borders: Roger Taney, Black British Subjects, and a Diplomatic Antecedent to the Dred Scott Decision". Journal of American History. 100 (1): 60. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  5. William Dawson Johnson (1904). History of the Library of Congress: Volume I, 1800–1864, Volume 1. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  6. 1830 United States Census, United States Census, 1830; Cherokee Hill District, Chatham, Georgia;. Retrieved on March 6, 2016.
  7. 1840 United States Census, United States Census, 1840; Savannah, Georgia;. Retrieved on March 6, 2016.
  8. 1840 United States Census, United States Census, 1840; District 8, Chatham, Georgia;. Retrieved on March 6, 2016.
  9. "1850 United States Census,Slave Schedules", United States Census, 1850; District 13, Chatham, Georgia;.


United States Senate
Preceded by
John Elliott
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
March 4, 1825 – March 9, 1829
Served alongside: Thomas W. Cobb, Oliver H. Prince, George Troup
Succeeded by
John Forsyth
Preceded by
Wilson Lumpkin
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Georgia
March 4, 1841 May 1845
Served alongside: Alfred Cuthbert, Walter T. Colquitt
Succeeded by
John M. Berrien
Preceded by
John M. Berrien
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Georgia
November 13, 1845 – May 28, 1852
Served alongside: Walter T. Colquitt, Herschel V. Johnson, William C. Dawson
Succeeded by
Robert M. Charlton
Legal offices
Preceded by
William Wirt
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Andrew Jackson

March 9, 1829 – June 22, 1831
Succeeded by
Roger B. Taney
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