Thomas Todd

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Thomas Todd
Thomas Todd SCOTUS.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
May 4, 1807 – February 7, 1826
Nominated byThomas Jefferson
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byRobert Trimble
Chief Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals
In office
December 13, 1806 – March 3, 1807
Preceded byGeorge Muter
Succeeded byFelix Grundy
Associate Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals
In office
December 19, 1801 – December 13, 1806
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byRobert Trimble
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates for Lincoln County
In office
October 17, 1791 – December 20, 1791
Serving with John Logan
Preceded byBaker Ewing
Succeeded byposition abolished
Personal details
Born(1765-01-23)January 23, 1765
King and Queen County, Virginia, British America
DiedFebruary 7, 1826(1826-02-07) (aged 61)
Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting placeFrankfort Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Harris
Lucy Payne (1812–1826)
EducationWashington and Lee University (BA)

Thomas Todd (January 23, 1765 – February 7, 1826) was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1807 to 1826. Raised in the Colony of Virginia, he studied law and later participated in the founding of Kentucky, where he served as a clerk, judge, and justice. He was married twice and had a total of eight children. Todd joined the U.S. Supreme Court in 1807 and his handful of legal opinions there mostly concerned land claims.

Early life and education[edit]

Todd was born to the former Elizabeth Richards and her husband, Richard Todd in King and Queen County, Virginia, on January 23, 1765.[1][2] He was the youngest of five children, all orphaned when Thomas was a boy. He was raised Presbyterian, but because Virginia lacked public schools at the time, had difficulty obtaining an education.[3]

At the age of 16, Todd joined the Continental Army as a private with a company of cavalry from Manchester, Virginia in final months of the American Revolutionary War. Upon returning home, he attended Liberty Hall Academy (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and graduated in 1783.[1]

Todd then became a tutor at Liberty Hall Academy (which later became Washington & Lee University) in exchange for room and board, and graduated at age 18, in 1783. Todd lived with the family of his cousin, Judge Harry Innes in Bedford County, Virginia and also studied surveying before moving to Kentucky County (then part of Virginia) with the Innes family when Harry Innes was appointed to the Kentucky district of the Virginia Supreme Court.[4] Todd tutored his cousin's children in Danville, Kentucky in exchange for help in reading law.[5]

Career in Kentucky[edit]

Todd was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1786, and maintained a private practice in Danville, Kentucky from 1788 until 1801. He also gained influence by becoming its court reporter and served as secretary to the Kentucky State Legislature after statehood. Before that event, Todd served as the secretary to ten conventions between 1784 and 1792 which advocated formation of the state of Kentucky, and which later wrote its state constitution.[6] Todd also served as one of Lincoln County's two delegates to the Virginia House of Delegates in the term which ended in Kentucky's statehood.[7]

Todd was also the first clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals (on which he would in 1801 begin sit as one of its judges and beginning in 1806 as its chief judge).[6] Todd also owned slaves, twenty-six slaves at the time of the 1820 census.[8]


Todd married Elizabeth Harris in 1788. They had five children: Millicent (c. 1789–1810), Charles Stewart Todd (1791–1871; whom his father sent back to Virginia for education at the College of William and Mary, then tutored in law), John Harris Todd (1795–1824), Ann Maria (1801–1862) and Elizabeth Frances (1808–1892).

On March 29, 1812, two years after his first wife died, Todd married Lucy Payne Washington, the youngest sister of Dolley Madison[1] and the widow of Major George Steptoe Washington, who was a nephew of President George Washington. It is believed to be the first wedding held in the White House.[9] Their children were: James Madison (1817–1897), William J. and Madisonia.

Supreme Court justice[edit]

On February 28, 1807, President Thomas Jefferson nominated Todd as an associate justice of the Supreme Court,[10] after the number of seats on the Court was expanded from six to seven by Congress.[11] The United States Senate confirmed the appointment on March 2, 1807,[10] and Todd was sworn into office on May 4, 1807.[12]

Todd served under Chief Justice John Marshall. As justice responsible for the circuit including Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, Todd convened court twice a year each in Nashville, Frankfort and Chillicothe, and spent the six winter months in Washington, D.C.[6]

He is one of 19 Presbyterians to have served on the Court.[13] He served on the Court until February 7, 1826.[12]

Court opinions[edit]

Thomas Todd House Frankfort, Kentucky

Politically, Todd was a Jeffersonian.[1] Although they had different political beliefs, Todd adopted Marshall's views on judicial interpretation, but did not write a single constitutional opinion. He was labelled the most insignificant U.S. Supreme Court justice by Frank H. Easterbrook in The Most Insignificant Justice: Further Evidence, 50 U. Chi. L. Rev. 481 (1983). Todd wrote only fourteen opinions—eleven majority, two concurring and one dissenting. Ten of his eleven majority opinions involved disputed land and survey claims.

Todd's first reported opinion was a dissent to the opinion of Chief Justice Marshall in Finley v. Lynn. He concurred in all other opinions written by the chief justice. One of the more interesting of these cases was Preston v. Browder, in which the court upheld the right of North Carolina to make land claim restrictions on filings that were made in Indian territory and that violated the Treaty of the Long Island of Holston made by the state on July 20, 1777. His opinion in Watts v. Lindsey's Heirs et al., explained confusing and complicated land title problems which plagued early settlers of Kentucky.

Todd's only Court opinion that did not involve land law was his last. In Riggs v. Taylor, the court made the important procedural ruling, now taken for granted, that if a party intends to use a document as evidence, then the original must be produced. However, if the original is in the possession of the other party to the suit, and that party refuses to produce it, or if the original is lost or destroyed, then secondary evidence will be admitted.

Death, estate and legacy[edit]

Thomas Todd gravesite, Frankfort Cemetery Frankfort, Kentucky

Todd died in Frankfort, Kentucky on February 7, 1826, at the age of 61. He was initially buried in the Innes family cemetery. Later, his remains were removed to Frankfort Cemetery, overlooking the Kentucky River and the Kentucky State Capitol.[14]

At the time of his death, Todd owned substantial real property, particularly in Frankfort. He was a charter member of the Kentucky River Company, the first business formed to promote Kentucky waterway navigation. The inventory of his estate revealed he was a shareholder of the Kentucky Turnpike, the first publicly improved highway west of the Alleghenies, and the Frankfort toll bridge, crossing the Kentucky River. In addition to his home, he owned more than 7,200 acres (29 km2) of land throughout the state and another twenty or so pieces in Frankfort. After his children were provided for, as he put it, in "their full proportion", the remainder of his estate valued at more than $70,000—a large sum at the time.[15]

Todd's papers are kept in three locations:

During World War II the Liberty ship SS Thomas Todd was built in Brunswick, Georgia, and named in his honor.[17]

Memberships and other honors[edit]

Todd became a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1820.[18] He was also a Freemason.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kleber, John E. (ed.) (1992). The Kentucky Encyclopedia, p. 888. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1772-0.
  2. ^ KTyler, Lyon Gardiner (ed.) (1915). Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, vol. 2, p. 279. Lewis Historical Publishing Co.
  3. ^ Appleton's Cyclopedia, vol 6, p. 127
  4. ^ Tyler pp. 279-180
  5. ^ Appleton's
  6. ^ a b c Tyler p. 280
  7. ^ Cynthia Miller Leonard, The Virginia General Assembly 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) p. 184
  8. ^ 1820 United States Census for Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky, p. 2 of 9, available on
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2011-03-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ a b "Supreme Court Nominations (1789-Present)". Washington, D.C.: United States Senate. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  11. ^ "Landmark Legislation: Seventh Circuit". Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  12. ^ a b "Justices 1789 to Present". Washington, D.C.: Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  13. ^ "Religion of the Supreme Court". Archived from the original on April 5, 2001.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  14. ^ The Kentucky Encyclopedia Archived 2017-12-13 at the Wayback Machine, p. 888
  15. ^ Biography and Bibliography, Thomas Todd Archived 2008-09-20 at the Wayback Machine, 6th Circuit United States Court of Appeals.
  16. ^ Location of Thomnas Todd Papers Archived 2007-03-17 at the Wayback Machine, 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
  17. ^ 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 978-1476617541. Archived from the original on 14 October 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  18. ^ "MemberListT". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
  19. ^ "TODAY in Masonic History: Thomas Todd Passes Away". February 7, 2016. Archived from the original on April 14, 2021. Retrieved August 29, 2019.


Further reading[edit]

Legal offices
New seat Associate Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
New seat Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by