Howell Edmunds Jackson

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Howell Edmunds Jackson
Justice Howell Jackson2.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
February 18, 1893 – August 8, 1895
Nominated byBenjamin Harrison
Preceded byLucius Lamar
Succeeded byRufus Peckham
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
In office
June 16, 1891 – February 18, 1893
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byHorace Lurton
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit
In office
April 14, 1886 – June 16, 1891
Nominated byGrover Cleveland
Preceded byJohn Baxter
Succeeded bySeat abolished
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
March 4, 1881 – April 14, 1886
Preceded byJames Bailey
Succeeded byWashington Whitthorne
Personal details
Born(1832-04-08)April 8, 1832
Paris, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedAugust 8, 1895(1895-08-08) (aged 63)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Sophia Molloy (Deceased 1873)
Mary Elizabeth Harding
EducationUnion University (BA)
University of Virginia
Cumberland University (LLB)

Howell Edmunds Jackson (April 8, 1832 – August 8, 1895) was an American attorney, politician, and jurist. He served on the United States Supreme Court, in the U.S. Senate, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and the Tennessee House of Representatives. While on the Appeals Court, he wrote notable opinions on the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Justice Jackson was the first to bring a law school graduate with him to serve as his secretary-clerk on the Supreme Court; that secretary-clerk was James Clark McReynolds. He later also became a Supreme Court Justice.

Early life[edit]

Jackson was the first born son in Paris, Tennessee to Alexander Jackson, a doctor, and Mary (née Hurt) Jackson, the daughter of a Baptist minister and his wife; both parents were natives of Virginia. Among his siblings was William Hicks Jackson. The family moved to Jackson, Tennessee when Howell was eight. There his father was elected as a Whig to the state legislature and subsequently as Jackson's mayor.

Howell graduated from West Tennessee College in 1849, where he studied Greek and Latin. He attended the University of Virginia for two years.

Returning to Tennessee, he clerked for Judge A. W. O. Totten of the Tennessee Supreme Court, and Milton Brown, a former U.S. Representative. The next year Howell attended Cumberland School of Law in Lebanon, Tennessee and graduated in 1856. Upon admission to the bar, he practiced first in Jackson, but was unable to establish a successful practice.

He relocated to the larger city of Memphis, a thriving cotton market on the Mississippi River in the Delta. There he partnered with David M. Currin, a prominent member of the Democratic Party. In Memphis, Jackson met and married Sophia Malloy, the daughter of a local client.

Civil War[edit]

Although opposed to secession, Jackson served the Confederacy during the Civil War in a civil position as a receiver of property confiscated from Unionists. His brother William Hicks Jackson entered in the Confederate States Army, fought in several actions, and gained the rank of brigadier-general by the end of the war.

After the fall of Memphis in 1862 and occupation of Tennessee by Union forces, Jackson and his family moved to LaGrange, Georgia, where they lived during the rest of the war.

Career in Memphis[edit]

After the war, Jackson took an oath of allegiance to the Union, which allowed him to return to the practice of law in Memphis. He took a new partner, Bedford M. Estes, and their practice grew to represent prominent businesses, including banks, railroads and some northern business interests. In 1873 his wife Sophia died during a yellow fever epidemic, leaving him to care for their children.

He subsequently married Mary E. Harding, the youngest daughter of William Giles Harding of Nashville in Middle Tennessee. He owned the large Belle Meade Plantation, where he raised and raced thoroughbred horses. Howell's widowed brother, known as "Red" Jackson, had already married Harding's first daughter Selene Harding and co-managed his father-in-law's plantation with him.

Howell Jackson's advantageous marriage gave him contact with numerous prominent citizens. Mary's father gave them 2200 acres of land, which they developed as West Meade, giving them an appearance of wealth. But Howell had difficulty collecting payments from clients and sometimes struggled financially. He returned to Jackson in 1874 and served on the Court of Arbitration for West Tennessee on two occasions.

Later career[edit]

Following the Reconstruction era, Jackson was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives as a Democrat from Memphis in 1880. After he took his seat, a bitter fight ensued in the Tennessee General Assembly over the election of a U.S. Senator (in this period, senators were elected by state legislatures). Jackson was promoted as a compromise candidate and, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, succeeded on the first ballot.

Jackson took office in the US Senate on March 4, 1881 and served for five years, during which time he supported issues such as civil service reforms, creation of an Interstate Commerce Commission, and restrictions on Chinese immigration, which was primarily a West Coast issue. Despite concerns about the immigration, numerous Chinese were being recruited as workers on railroad construction, mining, and other projects.

While in the Senate, Jackson employed James Clark McReynolds as his secretary . McReynolds continued in law and later gained appointment as a US Supreme Court justice.[1]

Jackson resigned from the Senate on April 14, 1886 to accept appointment by President Grover Cleveland to the United States Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit. This was later organized as the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He served with distinction and wrote notable opinions on the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

U.S. Supreme Court[edit]

Jackson served on the Sixth Circuit until 1893, when President Benjamin Harrison, despite the difference in their respective political parties, nominated him to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States upon the death of Lucius Q. C. Lamar. His nomination was non-partisan, and was announced on February 2, 1893. He was confirmed 16 days later by a unanimous Senate vote at the age of 60.

Jackson wrote 46 opinions and four dissents. His experience in patent law served the Court well since it was clogged with patent cases at that time.

Jackson contracted tuberculosis one year after joining the Court. His brother William asked Congress to pass a retirement bill for him, but Jackson recovered sufficiently to return to the Court. His final vote was in a case brought over the constitutionality of the national income tax passed in August 1894, which levied a 2% tax on income over $4,000.

Jackson's return had attracted attention, and one reporter commented that:

He interested the crowd more than all the rest of the bench; that his life can last but a short time and that it will probably be shortened by the effort which he has made to attend the hearing.

[citation needed]

Jackson did not cast a tie-breaking vote. The Court majority held that the tax was unconstitutional, but Jackson voted with the minority. In a stinging dissent, he lambasted the Court's ruling, stating that it "was the most disastrous blow ever struck at the Constitutional power of Congress."

Three months later Jackson died in Nashville. Eighteen years later the Sixteenth Amendment was passed, giving Congress power to enact the disputed tax.

Howell Jackson is buried in Nashville's Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Legacy and honors[edit]

During World War II the Liberty ship SS Howell E. Jackson was built in Brunswick, Georgia, and named in his honor.[2]


  1. ^ "James C. McReynolds". Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  2. ^ Williams, Greg H. (25 July 2014). The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O'Brien. McFarland. ISBN 1476617546. Retrieved 9 December 2017.

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James Bailey
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Tennessee
Served alongside: Isham Harris
Succeeded by
Washington Whitthorne
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Baxter
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit
Seat abolished
New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Succeeded by
Horace Lurton
Preceded by
Lucius Lamar
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Rufus Peckham