Image of Catron, John

Catron, John

b. 1786, in Pennsylvania or Virginia; d. May 30, 1865, in Nashville, Tennessee. As a child, Catron lived in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. In 1812, he moved to Tennessee and enlisted and fought in the War of 1812. In 1815, he was admitted to the bar and practiced in what was known as the "mountain circuits." In 1818, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and continued the practice of law. In 1824, he became a justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals, and in 1831, he became the court's Chief Justice when that office was created. After the state passed a new constitution in 1834, the Court of Errors and Appeals was abolished, and Catron pursued a private law practice. Catron was a Democrat in politics who had supported Jackson, and in 1836, he directed the campaign in Tennessee for Martin Van Buren's presidential bid. Shortly before retiring from the Presidency, Andrew Jackson appointed Catron to the United States Supreme Court. In the famous case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, Catron concurred with the majority in holding that the Missouri Compromise had been unconstitutional. Catron, while on the bench, presided over the federal circuit court, composed of Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. After the outbreak of Civil War, Catron returned to Tennessee hoping that he could aid in keeping his state loyal to the Union. When the course of the Civil War allowed him to return to his duties, he resumed his seat on the bench. However, he was in poor health and died soon after.
John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 4:579-80; Kermit Hall, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 129-30; Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner's & Sons, 1964), 2:2:576-77. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.