A Southern Democrat who had served with the Confederacy, Jackson was the final Supreme Court appointee of outgoing Republican president Benjamin Harrison. In 1895 on his deathbed, Jackson wrote a dissent favoring a federal income tax.
Born in Paris, Tennessee, Jackson soon moved with his family to Jackson where he attended Jackson Male Academy and West Tennessee College. After attending the University of Virginia and Cumberland School of Law, Jackson practiced law in Jackson and Memphis before accepting appointment as Confederate receiver of sequestered property for West Tennessee in 1861. Resuming his legal practice in 1865, Jackson served as special judge on Tennessee’s post-Reconstruction court of arbitration before losing a bid in 1878 for a seat on the state supreme court. Jackson won election to the state legislature in 1880, and his leadership within the “State Debt” Democratic faction, which had opposed Tennessee’s repudiation of its postwar debts, helped secure his election as the legislature’s compromise candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1881.
Howell E. Jackson
Jackson served in the Senate for the next five years, supporting Stanley Matthews during his bitterly contested nomination for Supreme Court in 1881 and opposing Roscoe Conkling’s nomination to that body in 1882. A former Whig turned Democrat, Jackson voted to support both the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883. He was also a strong advocate of railroad regulation and federal aid to local education. Additionally, his strong opposition to the Tenure of Office Act (1867) helped position him to be Grover Cleveland’s first major judicial appointee in 1886.
Jackson’s colleagues during his seven years of service as Sixth Circuit Court Judge included William H. Taft. One of his first recorded decisions proved instrumental in diffusing the Pan Electric Company’s attempt to nullify the telephone patent then held by Alexander Graham Bell. His 1892 decision in the case of In re Greene later served as the legal foundation for United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
Jackson showed signs of tuberculosis shortly after his first term on the Court. In the twenty-nine months he served on the Court, he rendered just forty-six decisions and four dissents. Although most of his rulings pertained to matters involving patent law, he left a lasting record of opposition against both the right of the states
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Calvani, Terry. “The Early Legal Career of Howell E. Jackson.” Vanderbilt Law Review 30 (1977): 39-73. Ely, James W., Jr. The Fuller Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Hudspeth, Harvey G. “Howell Edmunds Jackson and the Making of Tennessee’s First Native-Born Supreme Court Justice, 1893-1895.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly (Summer, 1999): 56-76. Hudspeth, Harvey G. “Seven Days in Nashville: Politics, The State Debt, and the Making of a United States Senator.” West Tennessee Society Papers 52 (December, 1998): 81-94. Schiffman, Irving. “Escaping the Shroud of Anonymity: Justice Howell Edmunds Jackson and the Income Tax Case.” Tennessee Law Review 37 (1970): 334-348.
E. C. Knight Co., United States v.
Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.