Judge Benjamin Franklin Graves was born in Gates, New York on 17 October 1817 and died 3 March 1906 at his son’s home in Detroit. He began the study of law in 1837 and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1841, setting up his law practice in 1843 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
He was the last of the Michigan Supreme Court justices to have concurrent Circuit Court duties assigned to him. He served as 5th Cicruit judge from 1857 to 1866, at which time he resigned the Circuit bench. Herschel Hatch noted:
“After 1857 the Supreme Court was reorganized. Circuit judges no longer made up the bench. It was provided that four judges should be elected directly to that office. The full term was eight years. In 1867 Judge GRAVES accepted the nomination for the office of Justice of the Supreme Court. He was elected and took his seat January 1, 1868. Then began the career which made him famous.”
He served on the State Supreme Court from 1867-1883, holding the seat of Chief Justice for 5 of those years (1874-76, 1882-83). He declined renomination to that court in 1883 and returned to farming his Battle Creek homestead. This era of the Michigan Supreme Court was defining for the Court, and the justices who served on it from 1868 to 1875 (Thomas Cooley, James Campbell, Isaac Christiancy, and our subject Benjamin F Graves) became known as “The Big Four.”
Judge Graves was an occasional writer, his more polished addresses and position papers being preserved online at The Online Books Page.
- Herschel H. Hatch, In Memoriam: Benjamin F Graves (remarks before the Supreme Court, 3 Apr 1906); online: http://www.micourthistory.org/special-sessions/in-memoriam-benjamin-f-graves/
- George I. Reed, Bench and Bar of Michigan: A History and Biography (Chicago: The Century Publishing and Engraving Co., 1897).
- Hatch, op. cit.