Portrait from Swaim's Memorial Record of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
A leading legal light in Indiana for over three decades, Hardress Nathan Swaim (or H. Nathan Swaim, as most sources list him) entered into the practice of law at age 26 and from there established himself as a prominent Democratic party member in Indianapolis, holding the office of Indianapolis City Controller. Later nominated to a vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court, Judge Swaim achieved further distinction in 1950 when he was appointed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, serving several years on the bench.
Born in Zionsville, Indiana on November 30, 1890, Hardress Nathan Swaim was a son of Charles R. and Alice Swaim and attended public schools in Zionsville. He would later enroll at the DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana and waited tables as a means of income during his time at the university. Swaim is also recorded as having "tutored other students in German" and graduated from DePauw in the class of 1913. He continued his education at the University of Chicago Law School and earned his law degree here in 1916.
Following his graduation Swaim established his law practice in Indianapolis, only to be interrupted by the beginning of American involvement in the First World War. Swaim, like many other young men of the time, joined in the war effort, undergoing training and served as an infantry lieutenant in both the 87th and 88th Infantry divisions. He left the Army in 1918 with the rank of first lieutenant and had married during his training period to Clara Lavon Kenner on July 14, 1917. The couple would later have two children, Robert (1924-1990) and Jean Swaim Sutter (born ca. 1926).
H. Nathan Swaim's senior class portrait from the 1913 DePauw "Mirage" Yearbook.
After returning home from the Army Swaim returned to the practice of law, residing in Indianapolis where he would raise his family. He established the firm Ogden and Swaim with local attorney James M. Ogden, and Mr. Ogden would remain the only law partner Swaim would have during all his years of practice. Described in his U.S. Circuit Court memorial proceeding as being "widely respected by the bench and bar", Swaim was recalled as a
"Studious, thorough, painstaking lawyer of sound judgement. His integrity was always beyond question. He was not a specialist in any field. That general experience was very valuable to him in learning to deal with the endless variety of cases which came before him on this court."H. Nathan Swaim began involvement in Hoosier state politics in 1930 when he began service as the chairman of the Marion County Democratic Committee, holding this office for four years. He would go on to serve as Indiana's 12th district Democratic chairman from 1936-38 and in 1937 began a term as Indianapolis City Comptroller (1937-38). In his last year of service as controller Swaim was elected to the Indiana State Supreme Court defeating Republican candidate Edward Blessing by a vote of 31, 177 to 20, 846. Swaim took his seat on January 1, 1939 and would serve one term on the court, being defeated for reelection in 1944.
Five years following his loss Swaim was selected by then President Harry Truman to be his nominee for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Appointed during the court recess in November 1949, Swaim was confirmed by the senate in February 1950 and took his seat that month. He would serve on the court until his death in Chicago, Illinois on July 30, 1957 at age 66, and was subsequently memorialized as:
"A simple, forthright man of high ideals, a man of gentle power, tolerant, but with the strength of his convictions. He was intellectually honest. He had the common touch. It was part of him. He never lost these qualities even while serving in high places.
Judge Swaim (pictured left) at the Columbus Day dinner celebration at Indianapolis, 1939.
Following his death Judge Swaim was interred at Indianapolis's famed Crown Hill Cemetery, and was survived by his wife Clara and two children. Clara Swaim survived her husband by twenty one years, dying in August 1978 and was interred at the same cemetery as her husband.