Howell Jackson


Howell Edmunds Jackson was born in Paris, Tennessee on April 8, 1832. He graduated from Western Tennessee College in 1850, and graduated with high honors in 1852 from the University of Virginia. Jackson obtained a law degree from Cumberland Law School in 1856, passed the bar and set up a private legal practice as one of the more educated attorneys in the country. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1858, and married Sophia Malloy the following year.
Although he opposed Tennessee’s secession from the Union and chose not to enter military service, he remained loyal to the South and served as a receiver of property confiscated from Union supporters. After the war, Jackson took an oath of allegiance to the Union, thus enabling him to return to his legal practice. He joined the Democratic Party, and hoped to promote the growth of manufacturing in the South. In 1873, his wife died in an epidemic of smallpox, cholera and yellow fever which hit Memphis, and he was left with four children. He later married Mary E. Harding, with whom he had three more children.
Jackson was appointed a special judge to the Madison County chancery court and, in 1875, he was appointed to the Court of Arbitration for Western Tennessee. In 1881, he was elected to the US Senate, in which he served for five years. In 1887, a year before the end of his term, Jackson was invited by President Grover Cleveland to recommend candidates for nomination to the Sixth Federal Circuit Court. To Jackson’s surprise, the President decided to appoint Jackson himself. When Cleveland insisted, Jackson resigned from the Senate and took his seat on the court. In 1891, he was elevated to the position of presiding judge of the circuit court of appeals. Two years later, in 1893, he was nominated to the US Supreme Court by President Benjamin Harrison, and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate.
Jackson served on the Court for only two years, being diagnosed with tuberculosis a year after his Court appointment. He wrote 46 opinions and four dissents, although his ill health forced him to miss most of the important cases which came before the Court during his tenure. After leaving Washington, D.C. to improve his health, he returned in 1894 to vote on one last case, dealing with the constitutionality of the income tax. The vote was tied 4-4 without Jackson’s vote, so the case was reargued. Jackson took part in the vote following the reargument, voting in favor of the income tax. Nevertheless, one of the other justices -- no one is certain of which one it was -- switched his vote, so the income tax was eventually defeated by a 5-4 vote. Jackson died less than three months later, on August 8, 1895, at his home in Nashville, Tennessee. Eighteen years after his death, the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified, giving Congress the right to pass a national income tax.