Samuel Blatchford was born and educated in New York. He enrolled in Columbia College at thirteen and graduated at the top of his class. He practiced admiralty and international law for 25 years when he was appointed a federal trial judge in 1867. Five years later, Blatchford was elevated to the U.S. Circuit Court. He was an appellate judge for 10 years when Chester A. Arthur appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1882. Blatchford was Arthur's third choice for the High Cout seat, but two other candidates refused Arthur's invitation to serve.
Blatchford was an expert in admiralty and patent law, and he was well-versed in the construction of the nation's banking laws. This wealth of knowledge made Blatchford the Court's workhorse.
Blatchford was uninterested in questions of moment; but he was supremely invested in the judicial function, dissenting less frequently than any justice since the era of John Marshall. He authored few cases calling for constitutional interpretation. One lackluster performance was Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway v. Minnesota (1890).