W, Wheaton, Henry
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall
(b. Providence, R.I., 27 Nov. 1785; d. Dorchester, Mass., 11 Mar. 1848), third reporter of decisions, 1816–1827. The ablest of the early reporters, Wheaton redefined the office and greatly improved the quality of the product. His service spanned the epochal years from *Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816) to *Ogden v. Saunders (1827). Upon Wheaton’s death, a German obituary proclaimed his twelve volumes “the golden book of American national law”—owing in significant part to the reporter’s contributions.
Unlike his self-appointed predecessors, Wheaton became reporter through selection by the Supreme Court, held an office recognized by law (as of 1816), and received a modest salary. His sponsor was Justice Joseph *Story, a fellow scholar and perfectionist who valued Wheaton’s learning and determination. The two roomed together when in Washington and sought to create a comprehensive, coherent body of national law, relying where appropriate on British and continental analogues.
Wheaton attended court sessions faithfully, reported arguments and opinions accurately, and published each volume within the year, thereby enabling bench and bar to know promptly the rulings of the nation’s highest court. In addition, aided occasionally (but anonymously) by Story, Wheaton enhanced his Reports with unprecedented annotations, elucidating particular points in opinions or exploring entire areas of developing law, apropos the business of the term.
Wheaton’s career following the reportership was equally notable. He engaged in lengthy litigation with his successor, Richard *Peters, Jr., concerning Wheaton’s rights in his Reports. This case, Wheaton v. Peters (1834), established the major contours of American *copyright law. As a diplomat, Wheaton served with distinction under six presidents. As an expounder and historian of international law, he achieved renown on both sides of the Atlantic, publishing Elements of International Law (1836) and History of the Law of Nations (1845). Subsequent editions of Elements extended Wheaton’s influence on international law well into the twentieth century.
Of Wheaton’s contributions to American jurisprudence, his contemporary William Pinkney’s observation, occasioned by publication of Wheaton’s first volume of Reports, is apt: “The Profession [is] infinitely indebted to you. …”
See also reporters, supreme court.
(p. 1085) Morris L. Cohen and Sharon Hamby O’Connor, A Guide to the Early Reports of the Supreme Court of the United States (1995), pp. 35–59. Craig Joyce, “The Rise of the Supreme Court Reporter: An Institutional Perspective on Marshall Court Ascendancy,” Michigan Law Review 83 (1985): 1291–1391. Sandra Day O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law:Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice, edited by Craig Joyce (2003), chapter 4, “The Supreme Court Reports,” pp. 24–30.