John Catron

John Catron

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John Catron was an American jurist
A jurist or jurisconsult is a professional who studies, develops, applies, or otherwise deals with the law. The term is widely used in American English, but in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries it has only historical and specialist usage...

 who served as a US Supreme Court justice from 1837 to 1865.

Early life

Little is known of Catron's early life, but he served in the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 under Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

. He read law to be admitted to the Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

Bar association
A bar association is a professional body of lawyers. Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction; others are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members; in many cases, they are both...

 in 1815 and was in private practice at Sparta
Sparta, Tennessee
Sparta is a city in White County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 4,599 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of White County. It was the hometown of Lester Flatt of the bluegrass music legends Flatt and Scruggs.-Geography:...

 in the Cumberland Mountains
Cumberland Mountains
The Cumberland Mountains are a mountain range in the southeastern section of the Appalachian Mountains. They are located in southern West Virginia, western Virginia, eastern edges of Kentucky, and eastern middle Tennessee, including the Crab Orchard Mountains...

 of Tennessee from 1815 to 1818, while simultaneously serving as a prosecuting attorney of that city. He established a land law practice in Nashville
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

 in 1818, in which he continued until 1824.


From 1824-1834, he served on the Tennessee Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals
Tennessee Supreme Court
The Tennessee Supreme Court is the state supreme court of the state of Tennessee. Cornelia Clark is the current Chief Justice.Unlike other states, in which the state attorney general is directly elected or appointed by the governor or state legislature, the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the...

, being elevated to Chief Justice of that court in 1831. In 1834, the Tennessee state legislature abolished the chief justice position, and Catron retired and returned to private practice in Nashville. During the election of 1836, Catron directed Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States . Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson ....

's presidential campaign in Tennessee against native son Hugh Lawson White.

In 1836 Congress, by 5 Stat. 176, expanded the United States Supreme Court from seven to nine members. This allowed then-President Andrew Jackson an opportunity to name two new justices on March 3, 1837, his last full day in office. Only one of Jackson's nominees accepted, Catron. The newly seated Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 of the subsequent Congress
25th United States Congress
-House of Representatives:-Leadership:- Senate :* President: Richard Mentor Johnson * President pro tempore: William R. King - House of Representatives :* Speaker: James K. Polk -Members:This list is arranged by chamber, then by state...

 confirmed Catron's appointment five days later. He took the judicial oath on May 1, 1837.

Catron served as an associate justice until his death in 1865 at age 79. Catron owned slaves all of his adult life and he supported slavery and sided with the majority in the Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S...

case. But, he opposed secession and urged Tennessee to remain with the Union. For a brief time after Tennessee seceded from the Union but prior to Nashville being occupied by Federal troops, Catron left his residence in Nashville and took up residence in Louisville, KY. He died in 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee.

After Catron's death, Congress eliminated his seat under the Judicial Circuits Act
Judicial Circuits Act
The Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 reorganized the United States circuit courts and provided for the gradual elimination of several seats on the Supreme Court of the United States...

 from the Court as a way to prevent President Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

 from appointing any justices.

Catron is interred at Nashville's Mount Olivet Cemetery
Mount Olivet Cemetery (Nashville)
Mount Olivet Cemetery is a 250-acre cemetery located in Nashville, Tennessee.Mount Olivet has been continuously operated since its establishment in 1856. It serves as the final resting place for many of Middle Tennessee's political and business leaders, including several former governors of...


Further reading

  • Timothy S. Huebner, The Southern Judicial Tradition: State Judges and Sectional Distinctiveness, 1780-1890 (1999).