Campbell, John A. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Campbell’s opinion in the 1857 case involving slave Dred Scott cast him as a proslavery Southerner. As a lawyer before the Supreme Court in 1873, he argued that the Fourteenth Amendment should be used to limit state police powers in cases involving slaughterhouses.

A native of Georgia and graduate of the University of Georgia, Campbell moved to Alabama in 1830. A Democrat, he served in the state’s legislature and practiced law, earning a reputation for sound arguments and superior writing. He began to argue cases before the Supreme Court in 1850, gaining favorable national attention.Pierce, Franklin;nominations to the Court

John A. Campbell

(Handy Studios/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Although Campbell defended states’ rightsStates’ rights and opposed abolitionism, he opposed Southern nationalists and only mildly endorsed slavery. His moderation made him attractive to Northern Democrats, and his Southern birth garnered support from Southern Democrats. Therefore, President Franklin Pierce nominated him to fill a seat on the Court that had been open for nearly a year. The sectional politics that marked his appointment colored his career on the bench.

As a justice, Campbell voted with the majority in Scott v. Sandford in 1857, which declared that Dred Scott remained a slave although he had resided in a free state. Campbell’s vote in this case made him staunchly proslavery in many people’s minds, but what he actually wrote in his opinion reveals a somewhat more moderate stance. He consistently argued that Congress could enact only laws pursuant to the powers enumerated in the Constitution. Although its Article IV gave Congress power to “make all needful Rules and Regulations” for territories under its jurisdiction, this power did not extend to interfering with the “relations of the master and slave.” However repugnant in result, Campbell’s opinion was not different in reasoning from his dissent in Dodge v. Woolsey[case]Dodge v. Woolsey[Dodge v. Woolsey] (1856), in which he chided the Court for extending regulatory authority over state-chartered corporations without strict constitutional warrant.

Campbell used his office to back the national government to its fullest. In 1858 he convened a grand jury in Mobile to stop the filibustering expedition by William Walker, because filibustering violated the neutrality laws of the United States. The following year, he joined the other members of the Court in overturning the interposition of the Wisconsin supreme court in a matter involving the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 because that act rested upon a specific constitutional authority and, under the Constitution, was the supreme law of the land.

Campbell resigned in 1861, the first year of the Civil WarCivil War, and served for a time as assistant secretary of war for the Confederate States of America. In private practice after the war, Campbell represented butchers in New Orleans who ran afoul of a state law to regulate their trade. In the Slaughterhouse Cases[case]Slaughterhouse Cases[Slaughterhouse Cases] (1873), Campbell held that the Louisiana regulation overextended police powers and interfered with the right to earn a living, making it an unreasonable law that wrongfully harmed an insular segment of the population. Campbell’s novel use of the Fourteenth Amendment was rejected in this case but within two decades was embraced by the Court.

Further Reading
  • Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004.
  • Huebner, Timothy S. The Taney Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003.
  • Saunders, Robert, Jr. John Archibald Campbell: Southern Moderate, 1811-1889. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.
  • Siegel, Martin. The Taney Court, 1836-1864. New York: Associated Faculty Press, 1987.

Civil War

Scott v. Sandford

Slaughterhouse Cases

Taney, Roger Brooke

Categories: History Content