Howell Edmunds Jackson

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Howell Jackson
Justice Howell Jackson2.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
February 18, 1893 – August 8, 1895
Appointed by Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by Lucius Lamar
Succeeded by Rufus Peckham
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
In office
June 16, 1891 – February 18, 1893
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Horace Lurton
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit
In office
April 12, 1886 – June 16, 1891
Appointed by Grover Cleveland
Preceded by John Baxter
Succeeded by Seat abolished
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
March 4, 1881 – April 12, 1886
Preceded by James Bailey
Succeeded by Washington Whitthorne
Personal details
Born (1832-04-08)April 8, 1832
Paris, Tennessee, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sophia Molloy (Deceased 1873)
Mary Elizabeth Harding
Children Henry (with Sophia)
Mary (with Sophia)
William (with Sophia)
Howell (with Sophia)
Elizabeth (with Mary)
Louise (with Mary)
Hardind (with Mary)
Alma mater Union University
University of Virginia
Cumberland University
Religion Baptist

Howell Edmunds Jackson (April 8, 1832 – August 8, 1895) was an American jurist and politician. 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. He authored 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 James Clark McReynolds, who later also became a Supreme Court Justice.

Early life

Jackson was born in Paris, Tennessee to Alexander Jackson, a doctor, and Mary (née Hurt) Jackson, the daughter of a Baptist minister, both 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 of the Mississippi Delta, and 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

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 was a Confederate brigadier-general.

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

Career in Memphis

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 he lost his wife during a yellow fever outbreak, leaving him to care for their children. He subsequently married Mary E. Harding, who was the daughter of William G. Harding, a wealthy Nashville landowner. This marriage put him in contact with numerous prominent citizens and the estate her father gave them provided his family with the appearance of wealth. However, Howell's family was not wealthy, in part, because of the trouble he had collecting payments from clients. He returned to Jackson in 1874 and served on the Court of Arbitration for West Tennessee on two occasions.

Later career

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.

While in the Senate, Jackson employed as his secretary James Clark McReynolds, who later was appointed 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; it later was 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

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 sparked 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.


  1. "James C. McReynolds". Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved March 21, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
United States 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