Samuel Maxwell, 1825-1901 (Guide to Microfilm) [RG3905.AM]


RG3905.AM: Samuel Maxwell, 1825-1901

Papers: 1856-1901
Plattsmouth, Cass County, Neb.: Lawyer; judge; politician
Size: 8 rolls of microfilm


Samuel Maxwell was born in Lodi, New York, on May 20, 1825. His parents were Margaret Crosby and Robert Maxwell. Robert moved the family to Michigan in 1844 where Samuel worked on the farm and taught rural school. He also began to study law in Michigan.

In 1856 Samuel came to Nebraska Territory and purchased a land claim in Cass County. In 1857 Maxwell was defeated when he ran for a seat in the Territorial Legislature. He farmed for two years and returned to Michigan where he completed his law studies and was admitted to the bar in 1859.

After he was admitted to the bar he returned to Nebraska and continued farming. Later he became engaged in legal work and was associated for a time with Turner M. Marquett in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. In early 1867 the law firm of Maxwell & Chapman was formed in Plattsmouth. Samuel M. Chapman was a prominent lawyer, Republican Party member, and later district judge in Nebraska. (The Chapman Papers, which are held by the Nebraska State Historical Society, have also been microfilmed as part of the National Historical Publications Commission program.) Their partnership continued until 1873 when Maxwell became a member of the Nebraska Supreme Court and moved to Fremont.

Maxwell served as a Supreme Court justice from 1873 to 1894. During this period he was Chief Justice on three occasions: 1878-1882, 1886-1888, and 1892-1894. In 1893 he failed to win the nomination for the bench and, upon completion of his term of office, returned to private practice in Fremont. In addition to his judicial duties, Maxwell was a prolific writer; Practice in Justice Courts and Pleading and Practice are two books which he wrote.

Maxwell’s political career is interesting because he was a Republican for many years but by 1895 he had embraced Populism. He was a delegate to the first Republican territorial convention in 1859 and was a representative to the Territorial Legislature from Cass County in 1859, 1860, and 1865. In 1866 he was a member of the first House of Representatives and selected as one of the persons which comprised the Board of Commissioners. Their primary duties were to develop plans for a new capitol building.

Maxwell was a delegate to the National Republican Convention in Chicago in 1868. In that year he presided over the State Republican Convention in Nebraska City. In 1872 he was defeated at the Republican convention as a nominee for governor. Later, however, the convention selected him as the Party’s choice for justice of the Supreme Court. In 1871 and 1875 Maxwell was a member of the Nebraska Constitutional Conventions.

In November of 1895 Maxwell unsuccessfully attempted to regain his post as Supreme Court justice as a Populist candidate. A year later he was nominated by the People’s Independent Party for Third District Congressman. He was elected and served one term in the House of Representatives from 1897 to 1899. Maxwell spoke in favor of the coinage of silver at 16 to 1 and for the creation of postal savings banks. In 1898 he was defeated for the Congressional nomination. At the conclusion of his term of office he returned to Fremont and practiced law until his death on February 11, 1901.

Maxwell’s first wife was Amelia A. Lawrence, from Michigan. His second wife was Jenette M. McCord, Cass County, Nebraska. Children born to this union included Maggie, and one baby who died in infancy. On January 1, 1866 Maxwell married for the third time, Elizabeth A. Adams. The following children were born to the couple: Henry E., Jacob A., Andrew C., Samuel Jr., Ella E., Marilla P., Anna May, Sarah H., and Rachel who died when she was about one year old.


The Samuel Maxwell Papers were given to the Nebraska State Historical Society by his son, Henry E. Maxwell, in 1928. No other collection of Samuel Maxwell in known to exist.

The papers consist of approximately 8,000 pieces. The bulk of the materials relates to political and judicial activities in Nebraska from 1870 to 1900. The papers are significant because they provide an insight into legal and political developments of the late 19th Century. An examination of the letters reveals that Maxwell corresponded with many prominent Nebraskans. They include William V. Allen, James E. Boyd, William Jennings Bryan, David Butler, Samuel M. Chapman, Phineas W. Hitchcock, Silas Holcomb, Algernon S. Paddock, John M. Thayer, and Charles H. Van Wyck. Chapman was Maxwell’s law partner from 1867 to 1873. They were close friends and corresponded frequently until Maxwell died in 1901.

The papers, which are almost entirely letters written to Maxwell, are divided into two series. Included on Roll 1 is a partial calendar for the papers covering the periods August 1871-July 1881 and September 1887-December 1895. The first series consists of six rolls and part of the seventh roll. These are incoming letters arranged in chronological order. Letters which were in bound volumes were removed and inserted in proper sequence with other correspondence. Dated but incomplete letters were retained in chronological order. On a letter where the month and year was indicated the document was placed at the end of the particular month. Letters which had only the year of origin were inserted at the end of that year. Dates which were supplied by the project staff are enclosed in brackets.

Series two consists of undated letters, portions of letters, correspondence written by Maxwell, and miscellaneous material. This is found at the completion of roll seven and concludes on roll eight. Targets indicating “Outgoing,” “Undated,” and “Miscellaneous” material appear on the last two rolls.

Editorial comments and film targets were utilized only when it was believed advisable to use them. The placement of documents was made to coincide as much as possible as a person would view the original papers. Only one page of a document appears on a frame. There are 8,683 frames on the eight rolls of microfilm. If a letter was on two sides of a sheet of paper, two frames were used. For each additional page of letter, one more frame was needed.

An automatic numbering device is in the lower right hand corner of the frame. Every exposure was given a number. Targets noting the appropriate year were inserted in the papers and those are numbered.

Letters which are obviously torn or in some way changed from their original appearance were filmed without any target noting their condition. Correspondence which was completed or has a reply on the margin of the sheet was not intentionally retaken. On occasion Maxwell drafted the answer on the back of the letter he received. These drafts have been filmed immediately after the letter and thus are not in proper order. They have been noted by placing a small target beneath the document, “Reply to Previous Letter.”

Endorsements and enclosures are indicated by placing a target beneath the appropriate document. Endorsements were filmed before a letter and enclosures after the document to which it is attached.

This microfilm meets standards established by the National Historical Publications Commission, General Services Administration and was produced with its assistance in 1966. The microfilm is available through Interlibrary Loan.


Roll 1
1853-June 1874

The content of this roll pertains primarily to business proceedings of Maxwell’s law firm operated at Plattsmouth, Nebraska. A sparse amount of correspondence from his parents, sisters and brother is found throughout the roll. There are several letters from friends and schoolmates recalling mutual childhood experiences and also a letter certifying Maxwell to teach primary school, dated November 5, 1853. Other friends who write address themselves to the condition of his spiritual and moral life since moving to Nebraska, farming in the Great Plains region, and Nebraska’s drive for statehood in 1867.

William McCormick writes his own commentary on the Civil Was issues and the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson in a string of letters beginning in 1861. Much of the correspondence of the early 1870s relates to the political activities of Nebraska, the constitutional convention and David Butler’s nomination by the Republican Party for the governorship in 1870.

Roll 2
July 1874-June 1879

The correspondence on this roll pertains to the political activities surrounding the Nebraska senatorial race of 1875. Other letters deal with the state’s Constitutional Convention of 1875 and persons expressing support for Maxwell’s re-election to the Nebraska Supreme Court in the same year. Guy A. Brown, Clerk and Reporter for the Court, is a frequent communicant and relates to Maxwell business requiring the court’s attention. George B. Lake, Associate Justice of the Court and an intimate friend of Maxwell, writes often during this period on court business and on the state of political activities with the Republican Party. From 1876-1879, numerous requests are received by Maxwell seeking his endorsement for political offices in Nebraska and recommendations from him to the President and Congress for Federal appointments.

Roll 3
July 1879-August 1887

This roll is a continuation of correspondence from persons seeking patronage during 1879-1881. The context of the papers gradually changes to political activities within the Republican Party and Nebraska in 1881. George B. Lake, Amasa Cobb, M. B. Reese, and Guy A. Brown, Supreme Court associates of Maxwell are frequent writers. Their letters contain information about cases before the court, opinions rendered, and political issues of the day. Maxwell published the third edition of Pleading and Practice in 1881, and numerous other legal treatises which appeared in leading law journals. These encouraged a flow of correspondence to him in general review of his works and requests for additional legal information that continued to 1887.

Roll 4
September 1887-June 1893

The first part of this roll continues the requests for advice and opinions stemming from Maxwell’s many legal publications. Later, George B. Lake, in a series of letters, attempts to interest Maxwell in resigning from the Supreme Court as a protest against low salaries, and to accept a position as counsel with an Omaha bank. Samuel M. Chapman writes complaining about the influence railroad companies have in politics. In 1889 Guy A. Brown, clerk of the Supreme Court, dies and a political issue develops as to who should succeed him. Congressman George Dorsey addresses Maxwell in 1890, expressing some views on the Populists. Correspondence in 1891 and 1893 concerns the McKinley Tariff, free silver, and Nebraska politics.

Roll 5
July 1893-1895

Much of the correspondence on this roll relates to politics in Nebraska. It was proposed in 1893 that a board of commissioners be added to the State Supreme Court and this prompted numerous recommendations to Maxwell from persons seeking appointment to the positions. Attention later turns to Maxwell’s support for the Populist candidate for governor, Silas A. Holcomb, and to his own failure to regain the Republican nomination for his seat on the Supreme Court. The correspondence for the years 1894-1895, reveals Maxwell’s increased interest in the Populist Party and his candidacy for State Supreme Court Justice on the Populist ticket in 1895.

Roll 6

This roll contains correspondence pertaining to Maxwell’s candidacy and election in 1896 on the Populist-Democratic ticket as United States Congressman from Nebraska’s Third District. Also on this roll is the official tabulation of votes received by each candidate – David Brown, Charles M. Griffith, Ross L. Hammond, and Maxwell – in the Third District. Numerous persons write requesting recommendations for patronage positions. Others seek help in adjusting land and pension claims. Throughout 1896-1897 letters are received relating to party issues and attempting to influence Maxwell’s vote on various issues before Congress.

Roll 7

The concluding portion of dated correspondence consists of additional request for assistance in adjusting land and pension claims. The Spanish-American War stimulated a flow of letters to Maxwell discussing American imperialism and involvement in Cuba. Former President Benjamin Harrison writes in 1898 expressing concern about the implications of American foreign policy. Writers and publishers express their opposition to the proposed Loud Bill that would increase postal rates on printed material. W. H. Fanning and Leroy Hall contribute a series of letters in 1900 pertaining to irrigation in Crawford, Nebraska.

The last part of this roll consists of approximately 250 undated letters and portions of letters arranged alphabetically. There are a small number of letters written by Maxwell that cover the period 1857-1900. Approximately sixty miscellaneous petitions and resolutions complete the roll. Some of the petitions encourage Maxwell to seek a political office in 1895, and others pertain to the Crawford irrigation case.

Roll 8

The final roll contains miscellaneous material. There are approximately one hundred legal briefs in the papers. One of the cases relates to impeachment proceedings of Nebraska state officials in 1893. Several briefs concern irrigation litigation against the Crawford Company. In some of the cases Maxwell was an attorney, in others he was sometimes the judge. Approximately fifty pieces of miscellany complete the papers.

Revised 12-10-2008 TMM

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