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Court History

Historical Background

"Congress accepted Tennessee as a State on June 1, 1796 (1 Stat. 491), and provided the new State with one district court having both district and circuit court jurisdictions on January 31, 1797 (1 Stat. 496). Congress provided for four court terms per year, two in Nashville and two in Knoxville. This arrangement continued when, in 1801, the State was divided into two judicial districts--East Tennessee and West Tennessee--with seats at Knoxville and Nashville, respectively. In 1839 a third judicial district was created for Tennessee. The Western District now met at Jackson, the new Middle District met at Nashville, and the Eastern district met at Knoxville.

Throughout the period 1797-1865, only one Federal judgeship for the Tennessee Federal courts was authorized by Congress. John McNairy, the first judge, served from 1797 to 1833, Morgan Brown from 1834 to 1853, West Humphreys from 1853 to 1862, and Connally Trigg from 1862 to 1880. Before 1807, cases appealed from district court decisions went directly to the U.S. Supreme Court; after that date the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court for the Seventh Circuit reviewed appeals at circuit court sessions in Tennessee.
... When Tennessee seceded on May 7, 1861, the Confederate Congress approved Jefferson Davis' nomination of Humphreys to be judge of Confederate court for Tennessee. However, unlike the other 13 Federal judges in the South, who joined the Confederacy, Judge Humphreys failed to resign from his position as Federal district judge. This presented the Union government with the thorny problem of how to deal with Judge Humphreys. Because President Lincoln was operating on the assumption that the Union was indestructible, it was necessary to impeach Humphreys before another judge could be appointed to the position. He was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate on six counts that included advocating and helping to organize rebellion against the United States; refusing to hold Federal court sessions after July 1861; and, while acting as judge, arresting certain U.S. citizens, including William G. Brownlow, who later became Governor of Tennessee during Reconstruction. After conviction by the Senate, Judge Humphreys was removed from office and disqualified from holding future office in the United States Government.
Federal troops captured Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, in February 1862, and the city remained under Federal control for the rest of the war. On June 3, 1862, John Catron, an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and a Tennessean, opened the U.S. district court in Nashville and held a district court session in the 'absence of the district judge.' On July 17, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Connally Trigg as district judge for the East and Middle Districts of Tennessee..."

Source: National Archives , Microfilm Publications, Microfilm I.D. M1213