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Howell E. Jackson

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“My high regard for your father will make it a labor of love to serve his son.”

Howell Edmunds Jackson, 1832–1895.  Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1893–1895; United States Senator from Tennessee, 1881–1886.  Rare Autograph Letter Signed, Howell E Jackson, two pages, 5” x 8”, on stationery of the United States Senate, December 7, 1885.  With original autograph mailing envelope.

This is an extremely rare handwritten letter by Jackson with excellent political content.  We sold the only handwritten letter that we have ever seen by Jackson as a Supreme Court Justice, and at the time our research disclosed only one other Jackson handwritten letter, one dated in 1881, in auction records.  Still we have found only those two in addition to this one. 

Here Jackson, the junior Senator from Tennessee, regrets his inability to obtain a job appointment for Charles St. John, Jr., of Knoxville.  Politics, he indicates, got in the way.  He writes, in full:  “As requested in letters from our mutual friends Robt L. Taylor, Genl J C J Williams & Col. Gregg I have, in person applied to Capt Donelson for your appointment to some good position under him and made it a special request.  I regret to inform you that the prospect of getting a position under him is not good.  He considers himself under obligations to the Democratic Members of the House to whom he owes his election.  They each have some friend whom they wish appointed & the places at his disposal are not sufficient to go round.  I regret my inability to accomplish our wishes in this direction.  It will afford me pleasure to assist you in securing any other position you may indicate.  My high regard for your father will make it a labor of love to serve his son.  /  Yours truly . . . ” 

The father was evidently Charles St. John, a former Confederate first lieutenant who had helped to organize Company C of the 19th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Confederate Army.  Jackson himself served in the Confederate government as a Receiver of Alien Property in West Tennessee from 1861 to 1864.  In July 1865, after the war, St. John petitioned his fellow Tennessean, President Andrew Johnson, for a pardon to protect him from a charge of treason. 

The references whom Jackson noted in this letter suggest that St. John, Jr., had significant Tennessee political connections himself.  At the time, Robert Love Taylor, of Nashville, was a United States Representative from Tennessee.  He later served as Governor of Tennessee and as a United States Senator from Tennessee.  J. C. J. Williams, of Huntsville, later served as a Tennessee delegate to the 1912 Democratic National Convention. 

Jackson’s autograph material is scarce.  A Democrat, Jackson served only five years in the United States Senate before he became a federal judge.  He sat on the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from 1886 until his appointment as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by Republican President Benjamin Harrison in 1893.  His tenure on the Supreme Court was cut short by his untimely death from tuberculosis.  He served on the Court only 2 years, 5 months, and 21 days.  

Jackson has written and signed this letter and the accompanying envelope in black.  The letter has considerable staining, mostly at the left but some at the right, which affects the text but not Jackson’s signature.  There are also a few wrinkles on the second page, well removed from the signature. Were it not for the staining, we would grade this letter fine to very fine; with the staining, it is in good condition under the strict Manuscript Society grading criteria that we use.  The accompanying envelope is addressed in Jackson’s hand. It bears a red 2¢ George Washington postage stamp, with a Washington, D.C., cancellation dated December 10, three days after Jackson wrote the letter.  The envelope is likewise stained, somewhat soiled, and torn open at the right end.  The word “preserve” is written vertically in another hand on the left end, and there are another postmark and an old price notation in pencil on the back.  The envelope is likewise in good condition.

Jackson’s autograph material is scarce overall, and his letters are rare on the market.  The rarity of this letter makes it desirable and valuable despite the staining.  Collectors of Supreme Court material should be careful not to let this this letter pass by.



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