Robert Trimble

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Robert Trimble
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
May 9, 1826 – August 25, 1828
Nominated byJohn Quincy Adams
Preceded byThomas Todd
Succeeded byJohn McLean
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Kentucky
In office
January 31, 1817 – May 9, 1826
Nominated byJames Madison
Preceded byHarry Innes
Succeeded byJohn Boyle
Personal details
Robert Trimble

(1776-11-17)November 17, 1776
Berkeley County, Virginia[A]
DiedAugust 25, 1828(1828-08-25) (aged 51)
Paris, Kentucky
Resting placeParis Cemetery, Paris, Kentucky
Nancy P. Timberlake
(m. 1803)
Educationread law

Robert Trimble (November 17, 1776 – August 25, 1828) was a lawyer and jurist who served as Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, as United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Kentucky and as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1826 to his death in 1828. During his brief Supreme Court tenure he authored several majority opinions, including the decision in Ogden v. Saunders, which was the only majority opinion that Chief Justice John Marshall ever dissented from during his 34 years on the Court.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Trimble was born on November 17, 1776,[3] in Berkeley County Virginia[A] to William Trimble (d.1806) and Mary McMillan. He was three years old when his family emigrated to the Cumberland Plateau region of Virginia's Kentucky County, initially to Fort Boonesborough and then to a settlement in present-day Clark County, Kentucky.[4][5]

He attended Transylvania University and read law under two attorneys,[6] first George Nicholas and then (after Nicholas' death in 1799) James Brown. He was licensed to practice law by the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1803 and began a law practice in Paris, Kentucky.[5] He established his office at Eades Tavern, which also became his home.[7]

On August 18, 1803 he married to Nancy P. Timberlake; together they had at least 10 children.[2][8] Their daughter Rebecca married Garrett Davis, who represented Kentucky in the U.S. House (1839–1847) and then in the U.S. Senate (1861–1872).[9]

Trimble was elected to represent Bourbon County in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1802.[6][10] A staunch Jeffersonian Republican, he served only one term, as he intensely disliked the tumult of politics.[11] He thereafter refused election to any public office, including two nominations to the U.S. Senate.[5][10]

In 1807, Trimble accepted an appointment to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, but resigned in 1809 for financial and family reasons;[11] he later declined an appointment to become that Court's chief justice in 1810. From 1813 to 1817 he served as United States Attorney for the District of Kentucky.[5][6] During this time, Trimble proved himself a tireless legal researcher and an energetic prosecutor.[11] Trimble was also a slave owner and owned twenty-three slaves at the time of the 1820 census.[12]

Federal judicial service[edit]

Trimble was nominated as District Judge for the U.S. District Court for Kentucky by President James Madison on January 28, 1817. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 31, 1817, he served for nine years, until his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States in May 1826.[3][13]

He was nominated as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President John Quincy Adams on April 11, 1826, following the death of Justice Thomas Todd two months earlier. He was confirmed by the Senate on May 9, 1826 (27-5), and served until his death two years later, in August 1828.[8][14]

Supreme Court jurisprudence[edit]

As a member of the court, Trimble generally agreed with the opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall.[3] In a notable departure, he wrote the majority opinion in the case of Ogden v. Saunders; Marshall wrote the dissenting opinion in the case.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

Justice Robert Trimble's grave at Paris Cemetery in Paris, Kentucky is marked by a 25-foot granite obelisk.[10][15]

Following the 1828 Supreme Court term, Trimble returned home. That summer, he became ill with a bilious fever and died on August 25[2] at the age of 52. He was one of four early Supreme Court justices to die in office before reaching the age of 60 (the others being: James Wilson, at age 56, in 1798; James Iredell, at age 48, in 1799; and Philip P. Barbour, at age 58, in 1841).[16] He was interred in Paris Cemetery.[5][15] Following Trimble's death, Chief Justice Marshall wrote to Senator Henry Clay saying,

I need not say how deeply I regret the loss of Judge Trimble. He was distinguished for sound sense, uprightness of intention and legal knowledge. His superior cannot be found. I wish we may find his equal.[2]

Justice Joseph Story, who served with Trimble, wrote,

No one was superior to Trimble in talents, in learning, in acuteness, in sagacity. All admired him for his integrity, firmness, public spirit and unconquerable industry. His judgments were remarkable for clearness, strength, vigor of reasoning and exactness of conclusion. Perhaps no man ever on the bench gained so much in so short a period of his judicial career.[2]

In December 1828, shortly after losing the 1828 presidential election to Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams nominated John J. Crittenden to replace Trimble on the Court.[17] Two months later, the Senate voted (23–17) to postpone taking action on the nomination, thus it lapsed at the end of the session of Congress. President Jackson nominated John McLean to Trimble's vacant seat two days after taking office; McLean was confirmed on March 7, 1829.[14]

Trimble County, Kentucky, established in 1837, is named for Justice Trimble.[18][19] Also, the Liberty ship SS Robert Trimble, built in Brunswick, Georgia during World War II, was named in his honor.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The county in which Trimble was born is not known for certain as some authorities name Berkeley County, Virginia while others identify Augusta County, Virginia.[1]


  1. ^ Goff, John S. (January 1960). "Mr. Justice Trimble of the United States Supreme Court". Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. 58 (1): 6–28. JSTOR 23374516.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Where in the World: One of America's 'forgotten men of history'". Winchester Sun. January 18, 2019. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d "Robert Trimble (1776-1828)". History of the Sixth Circuit. United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Archived from the original on December 27, 2010. Retrieved June 9, 2011.
  4. ^ Enoch, Harry G.; Crabb, Anne (2014-09-14). Women at Fort Boonesborough, 1775–1784. Fort Boonesborough Foundation. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-312-42827-0.
  5. ^ a b c d e Biographical Cyclopedia of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Chicago, Illinois: J.M. Gresham Company. 1896. pp. 270–271.
  6. ^ a b c "Robert Trimble, 1826-1828". Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  7. ^ "Eades Tavern". Paris, Kentucky: Hopewell Museum. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Cushman, Clare, ed. (2013). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–2012 (Third ed.). CQ Press. pp. 84–87. ISBN 978-1-60871-833-7.
  9. ^ "Garrett Davis". Paris, Kentucky: Hopewell Museum. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c "Today in Masonic History: Robert Trimble passes away in 1828". August 25, 2015. Retrieved September 15, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c Vanburkleo, Sandra F. (1993). "Trimble, Robert". Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  12. ^ Robert Trimble, United States census, 1820; North Middletown, Bourbon, Kentucky;. Retrieved on 19 September 2020.
  13. ^ "U.S. District Court for the District of Kentucky: Judges". Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  14. ^ a b McMillion, Barry J.; Rutkus, Denis Steven (July 6, 2018). "Supreme Court Nominations, 1789 to 2017: Actions by the Senate, the Judiciary Committee, and the President" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  15. ^ a b Christensen, George A. "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices". Yearbook 1983 Supreme Court Historical Society. Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court Historical Society. 1983: 17–30. Archived from the original on September 3, 2005. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  16. ^ Goldfarb, Zachary A.; DePillis, Lydia (February 13, 2016). "Why the death of a Supreme Court justice in office is unusual". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  17. ^ Trickey, Erick (March 20, 2017). "The History of "Stolen" Supreme Court Seats". Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  18. ^ "Trimble County". The Kentucky Encyclopedia. 2000. Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  19. ^ The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 1. Kentucky State Historical Society. 1903. pp. 37.
  20. ^ Williams, Greg H. (July 25, 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 978-1476617541. Retrieved December 9, 2017.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Harry Innes
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Kentucky
Succeeded by
John Boyle
Preceded by
Thomas Todd
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
John McLean