Jackson, Howell E. Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

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.Harrison, Benjamin;nominations to the Court

Howell E. Jackson

(Landy, Cincinnati/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

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.[case]E. C. Knight Co., United States v.[E. C. Knight Co., United States v.] (1895). Jackson’s 1893 ruling in the case of United States v. Patrick upholding the conviction of three Tennesseeans charged with violating the Civil Rights Act of 1870 helped position Jackson as Republican Benjamin Harrison’s last appointee to the Supreme Court in 1893.

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 statesStates’ rights to restrict federal authority and the right of both state and the national government to regulate private enterprise. He ultimately gained lasting fame for his deathbed dissent favoring a federal income tax in the 1895 case of Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.[case]Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.[Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.] He died exactly one hundred days after delivering his dissent at his West Meade estate just outside of Nashville.

Further Reading
  • 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.

Income tax

Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.

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