John Archibald Campbell

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John Archibald Campbell
John Archibald Campbell - Brady-Handy.jpg
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
March 23, 1853[1] – April 30, 1861
Nominated by Franklin Pierce
Preceded by John McKinley
Succeeded by David Davis
Personal details
Born (1811-06-24)June 24, 1811
Wilkes County, Georgia
Died March 12, 1889(1889-03-12) (aged 77)
Baltimore, Maryland
Resting place Green Mount Cemetery
Baltimore, Maryland
Political party Democratic
Religion Episcopalian

John Archibald Campbell (June 24, 1811 – March 12, 1889) was an American jurist. He was a successful lawyer in Georgia and Alabama, where he served in the State legislatures. Appointed by Franklin Pierce to the United States Supreme Court in 1853, he served until the outbreak of the American Civil War, when he became an official of the Confederacy. After serving six months in a military prison, he resumed a successful law practice in New Orleans, where he opposed Reconstruction.

Early life[edit]

Campbell was born near Washington, Georgia, to Col. Duncan Greene Campbell (for whom the now-defunct Campbell County, Georgia was named). Considered a child prodigy, he graduated from the University of Georgia in 1825 at the age of 14, and immediately enrolled at the United States Military Academy for three years and would have graduated in 1830, but withdrew upon the death of his father (July 1828) and returned home to Georgia.[2][3] He read law with former Georgia governor John Clark, and was admitted to the bar in 1829, at the age of 18 which required a special act of the Georgia legislature.

Eggnog Riot[edit]

While at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, on 24–25 December 1826, Campbell was involved in the Eggnog Riot also known as the "Grog Mutiny". Proceedings began on December 26, 1826, courts-martial was complete on 16 March 1827, and ended on May 3, 1827, with the President adjusting some of the verdicts and approving of the rest. Campbell was among 70 cadets that were involved but a review concluded that only 20 (one soldier) be charged. Many notable cadets such as Jefferson Davis (involved but not charged), and Robert E. Lee (not involved but testified), were involved in the incident. Nine expulsions were approved by President John Quincy Adams. There was a call for Campbell to be expelled, along with James W. M. "Weems" Berrien (remittance allowed) but this was rejected so Campbell escaped court martial.[4]


In 1830, Campbell moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he met and married Anna Esther Goldthwaite and earned a reputation as a talented lawyer specializing in Spanish land grant titles. Hailed as a war hero for his involvement in the Creek Indian War of 1836, Campbell was elected state representative for that same year’s term, firmly establishing himself as a Jacksonian Democrat in the state legislature. At the time, this meant that Campbell aligned with Jackson on national policies – supporting the bank veto and condemning nullification – although he remained a moderate proponent of states’ rights.

After his first single term in office, Campbell and his young family (which eventually expanded to include five daughters and one son) relocated to Mobile, Alabama, and Campbell later served a second term as state representative in 1842. Fortunately for Campbell’s law career, though, Mobile was a bustling port city that constantly generated commercial lawsuits and Spanish grant disputes. In one such grant case, Mayor of Mobile v. Eslava (1849), Campbell revealed his states’ rightist attitude and first articulated his doctrine of “original sovereignty” before the state supreme court. Briefly, Campbell argued that because each of the original thirteen states had retained sovereignty over the navigable waters within her borders, and because the Constitution guarantees that all new states enter the Union on equal terms with existing states, then new states like Alabama also retain sovereignty over their navigable waters. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld original sovereignty in an 1845 decision and Campbell would later reference it in his Dred Scott concurrence. Thereafter, Campbell’s star continued to rise as one of the most sought-after attorneys in Alabama, and in 1852, he even acted as an attorney for Myra Clark Gaines against Richard Relf before the Supreme Court.[5]. In most cases, Campbell represented debtors against banks, demonstrating a Jacksonian Democratic tendency to advocate for state control of corporate development and champion the individual’s economic freedom. Twice he turned down offers to sit on the Alabama Supreme Court and on several occasions, he argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

During this successful early period as a lawyer, Campbell’s political involvement also increased. From 1847 to 1851, for example, Campbell joined the national debate on slavery with the publication of four essays in the Southern Quarterly Review, in which he called for improved conditions for slaves and gradual emancipation. Here, his theories and practices diverged – Campbell owned up to fourteen slaves throughout his life, although he did free several before his Supreme Court appointment. Moreover, Campbell attended the 1850 convention of incensed southern leaders in Nashville, Tennessee, where he helped compose a series of resolutions in reaction against the Wilmot Proviso. Although he drafted several of the final thirteen resolutions in a conciliatory tone and never called for southern resistance, Campbell advocated the rights of slaveholders, condemned the free soil philosophy, and asserted the sole right of the states to regulate slavery within their borders.

Portrait of John A. Campbell

Supreme Court Appointment[edit]

In 1852 the death of John McKinley created a vacancy on the Supreme Court. President Millard Fillmore, a Whig, made three nominations to fill the vacancy, all of whom were denied confirmation by the Democratic-controlled Senate. After the election of Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, a group of sitting Supreme Court justices approached Pierce to recommend Campbell as a nominee; this is one of the few known times sitting justices have made recommendations for new nominations. Pierce, who was hoping to stave off insurrection by appeasing the South, agreed to nominate the Alabamian Campbell. The nomination was made on March 21, 1853, and even though Campbell was only forty-one years old and had no previous judicial experience, the Senate unanimously approved the appointment within three days, indicating Northerners’ hope that Campbell’s moderate tendencies would overpower his sectionalism, and launching Campbell’s brief tenure on the Court.[5]

Constitutional contributions on the Supreme Court[edit]

Under the direction of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court weighed in on a number of important economic cases at mid-century. In the 1837 case of Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, for instance, Taney wrote the majority opinion, arguing for strict construction of corporate charters and effectively restraining the implications of the Marshall Court’s 1819 ruling in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, which had recognized corporate charters as contracts under constitutional protection. But thereafter, the slight majority of Jacksonian Democrats on the bench became uneasy supporters of corporate privilege, bound to respect rights that were expressly granted in corporate charters and effectively limiting state control over intrastate internal improvements.[6] Moreover, in 1844, the Taney Court had expanded upon the Marshall Court’s 1809 decision in Bank of the United States v. Deveaux and upheld in Louisville v. Letson (1844) that regardless of where its shareholders resided, a corporation could claim citizenship in the state of its incorporation and thereby bring suit to the federal court under diversity jurisdiction. Although the Taney Court quickly reversed this precedent in Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company (1854) and ruled that corporations in fact derive their citizenship from their shareholders and not from the states themselves, diversity jurisdiction still applied to corporations.[7]

Campbell refused to accept the Taney Court’s recent precedents on these corporate issues. His opinion in Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company marked his first major dissent, in which he clearly argued, “a corporation is not a citizen. It may be an artificial person, a moral person, a judicial person, a legal entity, a faculty, an intangible, invisible being,” but, he continued, quoting John Marshall, “it certainly is not a citizen.”[8] Contesting corporate citizenship as the basis for diversity jurisdiction, Campbell further argued that corporations were not “within the contemplation of the framers of the Constitution when they delegated a jurisdiction over controversies between the citizens of different states.” [9] The Privileges and Immunities Clause (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1), in other words, should not extend citizenship to corporations. Arguably, Campbell’s argument here, as well as in the dissenting opinions of fellow southern Justices John Catron and Peter V. Daniel, implicitly defended slavery. After all, if states could confer federal citizenship on corporations, then free blacks might also claim federal citizenship under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. [10] Later in his dissent, Campbell the Jacksonian Democrat also argued that the Court had encroached upon state powers by overextending federal jurisdiction in this case and that corporations themselves threaten states’ internal powers. [11] Explicitly, Campbell wrote, “their [corporate] revenues and establishments mock at the frugal and stinted conditions of state administration; their pretensions and demands are sovereign, admitting impatiently interference by state legislative authority.”[12] If left unchecked by state legislatures and even protected by the national government, corporations threatened states’ rights. In his first important case, then, Campbell took a hard stance against corporate privilege, defended states’ rights, and arguably protected slavery.

In later cases, Campbell continued to fight corporate privilege by challenging Contract Clause protection of corporate charters. The following year, in fact, the Court heard Piqua Branch of the State Bank of Ohio v. Knoop (1854), a case which raised the question of whether a state legislature could change its taxation policy on corporations. Specifically, the Ohio General Banking Act of 1845 had provided that instead of paying taxes, each incorporated branch of the state bank would semiannually send six percent of its profits to the state. A subsequent 1851 law established a new taxing policy on banks. Ultimately, the Court ruled that the 1851 law had violated the Contract Clause because the 1845 law had constituted a contract between the state and a corporation of private shareholders.[13] Campbell, again part of the southern faction with Justices Catron and Daniel, emphatically dissented. Early in this dissent, Campbell distinguished “between the statutes which create hopes, expectations, faculties, conditions, and those which form contracts,” ultimately arguing that the 1845 statute constituted the latter.[14] Later, Campbell defended state power to legislate in the public’s best interest, explaining that this power is one “which every department of government knows that the community is interested in retaining unimpaired, and that every corporator understood its abandonment ought not to be presumed in a case in which the deliberate purpose to abandon it does not appear.” [15] State governments, according to Campbell, should be able to change their policies in order to keep pace with ever-evolving conditions; furthermore, banks and other corporations were not exempted from tax adjustments unless explicitly stated in the statute. Campbell clearly prioritized states’ rights over corporate privilege. [16]

The Court revisited this Ohio statute in two subsequent cases in the 1850s, and both times, Campbell issued thorough dissents. [17] Leading up to the final case, Dodge v. Woolsey (1855), the Ohio state legislature had amended its constitution to end tax exemptions for banks before enacting a new bank tax law in 1852. When a shareholder of the bank brought suit once again, the Court’s majority, led by Justice James M. Wayne, maintained that even though the people of Ohio had amended their constitution, the 1845 bank act still constituted an inviolable contract. [18] In his elaborate dissent, Campbell recounted the facts of the case, denied corporate citizenship yet again, and criticized the majority for expanding judicial power. Campbell warned that if a state should grant away its funds and powers to a corporation, then “the most deliberate and solemn acts of the people would not serve to redress the injustice, and the overreaching speculator upon the facility or corruption of their legislature would be protected by the powers of this Court in the profits of his bargain.” [19] In other words, this decision bound the Supreme Court to protect corrupt corporations and legislatures against the warranted state constitutional amendments proposed by the people themselves. Furthermore, this collusion between the central government and corporate entities, Campbell cautioned, will “establish on the soil of every state a caste made up of combinations of men for the most part under the most favorable conditions in society,” eventually spawning “a new element of alienation and discord between the different classes of society and the introduction of a fresh cause of disturbance in our distracted political and social system.” [20] Not only did corporations generate class conflict and threaten state sovereignty, argued the Jacksonian Democrat, but they also infringed upon individual liberties. [21] After all, corporations “display a love of power, a preference for corporate interests to moral or political principles or public duties, and an antagonism to individual freedom which have marked them as objects of jealousy in every epoch of their history.” [22] In short, Campbell did not consider a broad interpretation of the Contract Clause a sufficient justification for all of the potential evils of corporate entities. Instead, Campbell firmly believed that states should have direct control over corporate expansion.

Five years later, Campbell successfully persuaded the majority of the Court to agree with a narrower interpretation of the Contract Clause in the 1860 case of Christ’s Church Hospital v. County of Philadelphia. In 1833, the Pennsylvania legislature had granted a tax exemption to Christ’s Church Hospital, but in 1851, it enacted a tax upon all associations and corporations. [23] Campbell concisely rejected the hospital’s claim that the 1833 tax exemption was perpetual, writing, “such an interpretation is not to be favored, as the power of taxation is necessary to the existence of the State, and must be exerted according to the varying conditions of the Commonwealth.” [24] As he had been arguing since taking the bench, states need to be able to adapt to the times and therefore have the right to control corporate development within their borders.

As sectional tensions escalated in the late 1850s, the Court came to hear divisive slavery cases, including the notorious Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). Attempting to settle the issue of slavery in the territories once and for all, Chief Justice Taney’s majority opinion forcefully asserted that blacks were not citizens and condemned the Missouri Compromise, declaring unconstitutional the federal regulation of slavery in the territories. Campbell issued a comprehensive concurring opinion. Although Campbell believed that the Court could not determine Scott’s citizenship status and refused to discuss this issue, he aligned with Taney in most other claims and offered a narrow interpretation of the Constitution. Namely, Campbell agreed that Scott remained a slave under Missouri law and therefore could not sue in federal court. He then dedicated the greater part of his opinion to disproving the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, ultimately concluding that the Constitution’s Territories Clause (Article IV, Section 3) did not grant Congress the power to regulate slavery in the territories. [25] To arrive at this conclusion, Campbell first asserted that Congress could not regulate slavery within existing states. After all, he wrote, “it is a settled doctrine of this court that the Federal government can exercise no power over the subject of slavery within the States, nor control the intermigration of slaves, other than fugitives, among the States.” [26] And although the Territories Clause may grant Congress the authority to organize a government over public domain, it did not confer Congressional power to regulate municipal institutions, such as slavery, in the territories. Relying on his doctrine of original sovereignty, Campbell argued that such a clause permitting restrictive federal legislation would violate the innate sovereignty of the people in the territories, for when the people established their own state governments, these new states entered into the Union on equal footing with older states. [27] Furthermore, if the framers had really envisioned Congressional regulation of slavery in the territories, then southern delegates at the Constitutional Convention would have vehemently protested. In his own words, “the claim for Congress of supreme power in the Territories, under the grant to ‘dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting territory,’ is not supported by the historical evidence drawn from the Revolution, the Confederation, or the deliberations which preceded the ratification of the Federal Constitution.” [28] As follows, the Territories Clause “confers no power upon Congress to dissolve the relations of the master and slave on the domain of the United States, either within or without any of the States.” [29] In Dred Scott, Campbell clearly challenged what he considered to be an overextension of federal authority and advocated for territorial – and, by implication, state – self-government. [30]

Impending war[edit]

Despite his strikingly proslavery, states’ rightist concurrence in Dred Scott, Campbell upset many of his fellow southerners while presiding over the Fifth Circuit. In 1854 and 1858, he had frustrated two separate filibustering efforts to acquire Cuba and then Nicaragua, thus prioritizing national neutrality policies over southern efforts to gain more slaveholding states. Although he advocated for states’ rights over corporate privileges, then, Campbell proved that he would enforce federal law. [31]

Moreover, in March and April 1861, at the outbreak of the American Civil War, Campbell tried to serve as a mediator between three commissioners representing the Confederacy (Martin Crawford, Andre Roman, and John Forsyth, Jr.), and the Lincoln administration. The commissioners were sent to settle any disputes arising from the secession of the southern states, but President Lincoln, denying that secession was valid, refused any official contact with them.

The commissioners then turned to Campbell, who privately carried their proposals to Secretary of State William H. Seward and Secretary of War Simon Cameron. Neither Seward nor Cameron responded.

According to John G. Nicolay, one of Lincoln's private secretaries and a later biographer of him, "Failing in this direct application, they made further efforts through Mr. Justice Campbell of the Supreme Court... who came to Seward in the guise of a loyal official, though his correspondence with Jefferson Davis soon revealed a treasonable intent."[32]

Court retirement and Confederate appointment[edit]

After the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's proclamation of a state of rebellion, Campbell resigned from the Court on April 30, 1861, and returned south. He was the only southern justice to do so. [33] Effectively banished from Alabama for his initial opposition to secession, Campbell settled in New Orleans, where he was appointed Confederate Assistant Secretary of War by Confederate president Jefferson Davis in October 1862. He held that position through the end of the war.

Hampton Roads conference[edit]

Campbell was one of the three Confederate Peace Commissioners (along with Alexander H. Stephens and Robert M. T. Hunter), who met with Abraham Lincoln and William H. Seward at the Hampton Roads Conference (1865) in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate an end to the Civil War.[34]


After the fall of Richmond in 1865, Campbell was arrested and imprisoned at Fort Pulaski, in Georgia, for six months. After his release, he was reconciled and resumed his law practice in New Orleans, Louisiana. In this private practice he argued a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court including the Slaughterhouse Cases and a number of other cases designed to obstruct Radical Reconstruction in the South.

Campbell was a member of the “Committee of One Hundred” that went to Washington to persuade President Grant to end his support of what they called the “Kellogg usurpation”. Grant had sent troops to support Governor William Pitt Kellogg of Louisiana. Grant initially refused to meet them but later relented. Campbell stated the case before Grant but was refused.[35]

Judge John A. Campbell

After resurrecting his reputation as one of the reunited nation’s leading attorneys and after enjoying decades of legal contributions and national prominence, Campbell died in 1889.


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: John Archibald Campbell". 2009-12-11. Retrieved 2009-12-11. 
  2. ^ "John A. Campbell". Oyez - United States Supreme Court. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  3. ^ "John Archibald Campbell". Confederate War Department. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  4. ^ Eggnog Riot - Retrieved 2011-02-27
  5. ^ Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997), 110-111.
  6. ^ Austin Allen, Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court, 1837-1857 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).
  7. ^ William Gillette, “John A. Campbell,” in The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789-1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions, Vol. II, ed. Leon Friedman and Fred. L. Israel (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1969).
  8. ^ Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, 57 U.S. 314, 351 (1854).
  9. ^ Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, 57 U.S. 314, 351 (1854).
  10. ^ Austin Allen, Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court, 1837-1857 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).
  11. ^ Christine Jordan, “Justice John Campbell: Last of the Jacksonians,” Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook (1980): 78-88.
  12. ^ Marshall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, 57 U.S. 314, 353 (1854).
  13. ^ Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997), 118.
  14. ^ Piqua Branch of the State Bank of Ohio v. Knoop, 57 U.S. 369, 408 (1854).
  15. ^ Piqua Branch of the State Bank of Ohio v. Knoop, 57 U.S. 369, 415 (1854).
  16. ^ William Gillette, “John A. Campbell,” in The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789-1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions, Vol. II, ed. Leon Friedman and Fred. L. Israel (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1969).
  17. ^ Timothy Huebner, The Taney Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003).
  18. ^ Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997), 119.
  19. ^ Dodge v. Woolsey, 59 U.S. 331, 371 (1855).
  20. ^ Dodge v. Woolsey, 59 U.S. 331, 373 (1855).
  21. ^ Christine Jordan, “Justice John Campbell: Last of the Jacksonians,” Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook (1980): 78-88.
  22. ^ Dodge v. Woolsey, 59 U.S. 331, 374 (1855).
  23. ^ Christine Jordan, “Justice John Campbell: Last of the Jacksonians,” Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook (1980): 78-88.
  24. ^ Christ’s Church Hospital v. County of Philadelphia, 65 U.S. 300, 302 (1860).
  25. ^ Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).
  26. ^ Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, 500 (1857).
  27. ^ Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).
  28. ^ Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, 512 (1857).
  29. ^ Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, 517 (1857).
  30. ^ Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).
  31. ^ Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).
  32. ^ Nicolay, John (1903) A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln pg. 183.
  33. ^ Timothy Huebner, The Taney Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003).
  34. ^ pp. 11-17, Campbell, John A. Reminisces and Documents Relating to the Civil War During the Year 1865, Baltimore: John Murphy & Co. 1887.
  35. ^ The Ouachita Telegraph. "Death of a Great Jurist." March 12, 1889: 1.

Further reading[edit]

Abraham, Henry J. Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Clinton. Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999. Allen, Austin. Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court, 1837-1857. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006. Gillette, William. “John A. Campbell,” in The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789-1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions, Vol. II, edited by Leon Friedman and Fred. L. Israel. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1969. Huebner, Timothy. The Taney Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Jordan, Christine. “Justice John Campbell: Last of the Jacksonians.” Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook (1980): 78-88. Maltz, Earl M. Dred Scott and the Politics of Slavery. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2007. McPherson, James. “Justice John Archibald Campbell on Secession.” Alabama Review (January 1975): 48-58. Saunders, Robert. John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997. Michael A. Ross, "Obstructing Reconstruction: John A. Campbell and the Legal Campaign against Reconstruction in New Orleans, 1868-1873," Civil War History, 49(September 2003): 235-253.

Legal offices
Preceded by
John McKinley
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
March 23, 1853 – April 30, 1861
Succeeded by
David Davis