Lurton, Horace H.

The appointment of this former Confederate officer to the Supreme Court was a symbol of regional reconciliation.

The son of a medical doctor who became an Episcopalian minister, Lurton was an avid backer of the South and expressed his support for the region even after the Civil War (1861-1865). He enlisted in the Confederate army at age seventeen and was twice captured by Union forces. After the war, Lurton attended Cumberland School of Law, then located in Lebanon, Tennessee. Following his graduation in 1867, Lurton became much more nationalistic in his political views, perhaps a result of exposure to the Cumberland faculty, which had always been nationalistic and had even resisted secession.Taft, William H.;nominations to the Court

Horace H. Lurton

(Harris and Ewing/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

After establishing a legal practice, Lurton became a chancery judge in 1883 and then won election to the Tennessee supreme court in 1886. He served there until 1893, when he received an appointment to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, under the leadership of Presiding Judge William H. Taft. When Taft became president, he appointed Lurton to the Supreme Court.

As a justice, Lurton’s most significant opinions interpreted the Sherman Antitrust ActSherman Antitrust Act (1890). He wrote for the majority of the Court in enforcing the statute but construing it narrowly so as to render the law effective only against smaller combinations and local monopolies.

A competent judge of a conservative, nationalistic bent, Lurton never played a leading role on the Court. He saw his appointment as somewhat symbolic, and following his appointment, he deliberately charted his train journey from his home in Clarksville, Tennessee, to Washington, D.C., by a route that passed through as many southern states as possible.

Further Reading

  • Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004.
  • Langum, David J., and Howard P. Walthall. From Maverick to Mainstream: Cumberland School of Law, 1847-1997. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.
  • Shoemaker, Rebecca S. The White Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004.
  • Tucker, David M. “Justice Horace Harmon Lurton: The Shaping of a National Progressive.” American Journal of Legal History 13 (July, 1969): 223-232.
  • Watts, James F., Jr. “Horace H. Lurton.” In The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789-1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions, edited by Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel. Vol. 3. New York: Chelsea House, 1969.

Civil War



Taft, William H.