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Nathan Clifford (1846–1848) - Attorney General

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Nathan Clifford was born in 1803 in Rumney, New Hampshire. He studied the law, was admitted to the state bar in 1827, and then established a law practice in Maine. Clifford was elected as a Democrat to the Maine state legislature in 1830, where he served four one-year terms before being elected state attorney general. He remained in that post until 1838, when he was elected to the United States House of Representatives.

Clifford served two terms in Congress before being defeated in 1843. He then returned to Maine and to his law practice, but came back to Washington, D.C., in 1846 to serve as President James K. Polk’s attorney general. Clifford held that position until 1848, when Polk appointed Clifford to a special commission to establish a peace treaty between Mexico and the United States following war between the two nations. Clifford remained in Mexico as the United States minister until the end of the Polk administration in 1849.

In 1857, President James Buchanan nominated Clifford to fill a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court, and Clifford assumed his seat there in 1858. Nathan Clifford died in 1881.

For further reading: Clifford, Philip G. Nathan Clifford, Democrat (1803-1881). New York: George Putman's Sons, 1922.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

John C. Pinheiro

Professor Pinheiro is an associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College. He formerly served as a research assistant on the Correspondence of James K. Polk project at the University of Tennessee and as an assistant editor of The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia. His writings include:

Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War (Oxford University Press, forthcoming, April 2014)

"James K. Polk as War President," in Joel Silbey, ed., A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents, 1837-1861 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)

Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War (Praeger Security International, 2007)

The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, Vol. 12 (Co-Editor, University of Virginia Press, 2005)