Maxwell was born in New York State just outside the town of Syracuse. Although not much is known about his childhood, when he was 19 years old he moved with his family to Michigan and became involved in a variety of pursuits. He worked in the areas of agriculture and education while beginning his studies in the field of law. After a brief hiatus in Nebraska—where he worked for a brief period as a farmer—Maxwell returned to Michigan and finished his law degree. He became a member of the bar in 1859 and quickly returned to Nebraska, where he began practicing law in the small town of Plattsmouth.
In the 1850s, Maxwell became increasingly interested in Nebraska politics and was eventually chosen as a delegate for the territory's first Republican Territorial Convention. He also went on to participate in the Territorial House of Representatives, the Territorial Constitutional Conventions, and the State Constitutional Convention. Maxwell was elected to the first Nebraska State House of Representatives in 1866 and a year later was appointed by the first state governor of Nebraska, David Butler, to the board of commissioners to assist in the development of capitol building plans and the selection of university lands. He was first elected to the Nebraska Supreme Court in 1872 but failed to win the Republican nomination for governor that same year. Maxwell later held the office of chief justice on three separate occasions and also published several books on the topics of law and politics. In the early 1890s Maxwell joined the nascent People's Party and, at the age of 72, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. While in Congress he lobbied for monetary reform such as the establishment of postal savings banks, which afforded those of lower socioeconomic status the opportunity to save their money in safe locations. Samuel Maxwell served one term before his death in 1891 at the age of 76.
Jonathan W. Olson
See also: Plains and Midwest, Populism in the
“Maxwell, Samuel.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present. Washington, DC: Congress, 1998. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000270 . Accessed January 7, 2013.
“Samuel Maxwell, 1825–1901 (Guide to Microfilm),” Nebraska State Historical Society. http://www.nebraskahistory.org/lib-arch/research/manuscripts/family/sammaxwell-microfilm.htm . Accessed January 7, 2013.