Henry Baldwin was a New Englander whose family had been active in the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the new Congress. Baldwin clerked for a Philadephia lawyer following graduation from Yale College. He began his own legal practice in Pittsburgh.
Baldwin served in Congress for six years where he was known as an economic nationalist. Later, he supported Andrew Jackson's bid for the presidency. Jackson nominated Baldwin to the Supreme Court despite the objections of Vice President John Calhoun who had given his support to another candidate.
Baldwin found himself at odds with the dominant personalities on the Court he joined, especially Joseph Story. Within a year of his appointment, Baldwin expressed the wish to resign. He missed an entire Term due to illness; and, a mental condition progressively disabled him. He attempted to carve out a constitutional philosophy between extreme states' rights and the broad nationalism of Marshall and Story. His effort was largely a failure.
Baldwin wrote almost nothing of interest for the Court on the Constitution and there is little evidence of a coherent constitutional vision in the totality of his work. In the words of one scholar, "His influence on American law was negligible and his presence on the Supreme Court was probably counterproductive."
He appeared to suffer from occasional bouts of mental illness that made him obstreperous and even offensive to others. He did not get along with his fellow justices; and he was violent and ungovernable on the bench in his last years. When he died, his friends had to take up a collection to bury him because he was so deeply in debt.