Campbell, John A. (1811–1889)

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CAMPBELL, JOHN A. (1811–1889)

John Archibald Campbell was the taney court's most thoughtful advocate of states ' rights and, with the exception of joseph story, its most penetrating legal scholar. Although never a constitutional doctrinaire like peter v. daniel, Campbell rooted his constitutional jurisprudence in a southern exceptionalism antagonistic to corporate and federal judicial power. Appointed by President franklin pierce in March 1853, Campbell served until April 1861 when he resigned to return to Alabama and eventual support for the Confederacy.

Campbell analyzed constitutional disputes as clashes between sovereign entities. He dissented from successful efforts by the majority to expand federal admiralty jurisdiction to river waters above the ebb and flow of the tide. In Jackson v. Steamboat Magnolia (1858) he ridiculed these efforts as factually incorrect, historically superficial, and purposefully intended to diminish state sovereignty. Campbell only once won acceptance for his narrow view of federal admiralty jurisdiction when he persuaded a bare majority in Taylor v. Carry (1858) that, where claims against a vessel rested on conflicting state and federal jurisdiction, the claimants had to proceed under the former.

Justice Campbell's most important decisions involved corporations. The Taney Court recognized corporations as citizens, a status that enabled them to seek relief from unfavorable state legislative and judicial action through federal diversity jurisdiction. Campbell in 1853 dissented when the Court reaffirmed this position in Marshall v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He charged that the majority perverted the meaning of citizenship and crippled state economic regulation.

Campbell also dissented from the majority's view that corporate charters, even when narrowly construed, were contracts in perpetuity. In piqua branch bank v. knoop (1854) and dodge v. woolsey (1856) he insisted, respectively, that state legislatures and constitutional conventions could alter tax-exemption provisions of previously granted charters. The states, Campbell argued, had to retain sovereign power to tax corporations in order to promote the public interest. A political and economic agenda informed Campbell's thinking about corporate citizenship and the contract clause : federal judicial protection of interstate corporations tilted the balance of national power in favor of northern manufacturing.

Campbell eased the dichotomy between state and federal sovereignty only on questions involving slavery. In dred scott v. sandford (1857) he concluded that the federal judiciary had a constitutional responsibility to protect slave property. He reiterated the primacy of federal judicial power in cases in the Fifth Circuit involving enforcement of the slave trade and neutrality laws. Like northern federal judges, who enforced the Fugitive Slave Acts, Campbell charged southern federal juries to adhere to a national rule of law.

During the post-civil war era Campbell made his most lasting contribution to constitutional jurisprudence as an attorney for the corporations he once attacked. The Supreme Court in the slaughterhouse cases (1873) narrowly rejected his arguments in behalf of the rights of corporate citizenship and substantive due process under the fourteenth amendment, but two decades later the Justices embraced them.

Kermit L. Hall


Schmidhauser, John R. 1958 Jeremy Bentham, the Contract Clause, and Justice John Archibald Campbell. Vanderbilt Law Review 11:801–820.

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Campbell, John A. (1811–1889)

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