U.S. Justice Edward Sanford
Edward Terry Sanford was born in Knoxville on July 23, 1865
to Edward Jackson and Emma Chavannes Sanford. His father moved
to Knoxville in 1853 from Connecticut where he began work as
a carpenter. He fell in love with the city and soon went from
laborer to contractor and partner in a lumber firm. During the
cholera epidemic in 1854, when others fled the city in droves,
Sanford stayed behind at great risk to himself to care for the
sick and help bury the dead.
In 1860, he met Emma Chavannes and married. When the Confederates
seized Knoxville, Sanford fled to Kentucky to join the Union
Army, but was rejected and returned to his home town in Connecticut
to recover from an illness. When Union Gen. Burnside took Knoxville,
however, Sanford returned where he did join the Union Army and
went on to fight at Fort Sanders in the Battle of Knoxville.
The post war economy of Knoxville allowed Sanford to extend
his business interests in the city. In 1864, he organized the
drug firm of E. J. Sanford and Company and saw it grow into
a formidable company.
His investments, which were many in the city, led to a good
financial position for his family and allowed him to see that
his children received a good education. In 1872, Sanford saw
an opportunity to increase his business by merging his firm
with the Albers and Chamberlain Drug Company. The business changed
its name to Sanford, Chamberlain and Albers and quickly grew
to become one of the leading drug companies in the industry.
As Edward Sanford matured, his parents discovered, in addition
to his robust love of the outdoors, that their son also had
an unusual concentration upon his studies and excelled in history
and politics. Following his graduation from school, he went
on to attend the University of Tennessee and, following graduation
there, was admitted to Harvard, where he received the B.A.,
M.A. and his law degree.
When he left Harvard, Sanford spent a year in traveling the
countryside in Europe and continuing his education. He returned
to Knoxville and was admitted to the Bar in 1888.
A year later he began what would be an 18-year-long career with
the law firm Lucky, Sanford, and Fowler. Sanford proved himself
to be more than capable as a lawyer and began earning a reputation
for himself. In addition, he continued his studies of history
and started becoming active in local politics. In 1891, he married
Lutie Woodruff, who was the daughter of wealthy Knoxville merchant
W.W. Woodruff. Both Sanford and his wife made their home in
Knoxville and, in addition to his other duties, Sanford was
elected as President of the U.T. Alumni Association. He served
in that position for a year and was chosen as the Alumni and
University orator to deliver the Universitys Centennial
Address. He gave a history "Blount College and the University
of Tennessee", which traced the evolution of the school
from its beginning. The speech so impressed the Universitys
officials that they published it.Sanford always maintained close
ties with the University. He acted as a lecturer of law for
the University and was made a trustee of the institution in
Sanford, like his father, involved himself in numerous civic
activities and became a leading member of the community. He
belonged to the Tennessee Historical Society,was a trustee of
Lawson McGhee library, and president of the Bar Association
of Tennessee as well as an active contributor to the published
proceedings of the organization. In June 1900, he also took
over his fathers position as trustee of the East Tennessee
Female Institute, who had stepped down and was starting to retire
Sanfords work as a lawyer and his political contributions
to the Republican Party also started gaining him national attention.
In 1907, then-President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Sanford
as a United States District Attorney. After about a year of
service, he was appointed Judge of the United States District
Court for middle and eastern districts of Tennessee. For the
next 15 years, Judge Sanford distinguished himself on the bench
and started becoming a major influence in state politics and
the Republican Party.
During this time, he and his wife also began raising a family.
His wife Lutie gave birth to two daughters named Dorothy and
Anna McGhee Sanford and, despite Sanfords demanding schedule,
the two were devoted parents. Judge Sanford shared his fathers
belief in education and worked to ensure that good educational
opportunities were available for Tennessee.
In 1909, Sanford took on the responsibility of being trustee
of the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. When
World War I started, Judge Sanford maintained his rigorous schedule
on the bench, but also served in a variety of civic capacities
helping Tennessee through numerous causes on the homefront during
the crisis.His work in the community as well as on the bench
soon brought him to the attention of some major players in Washington,
Following the election of President Warren G. Harding, a position
opened on the United States Supreme Court. Chief Justice and
former President William Howard Taft joined the lobbying efforts
of Attorney General Harry Daugherty to get the President to
appoint the Tennessean to the bench. Sanfords experience
in the lower courts and his cosmopolitan education impressed
the President. In addition, Sanford was a Southern Republican
and it was through the Souths support in the previous
campaign that Harding had won election to the presidency.
While his administration would be later eclipsed in the Tea
Pot Dome scandal, President Harding accepted the advice of Daugherty
and Taft and nominated Edward T. Sanford as an Associate Justice
of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923, which was approved by the
When Sanford took the bench and was sworn in on Feb. 19, 1923,
he immediately found the tasks in front of him to be extremely
challenging, but the Tennessean threw himself into his work
and soon became one of the most respected members of the bench.
The Supreme Court under the leadership of William H. Taft, who
had also been nominated to the position by President Harding,
was regarded as one of the most conservative in U.S History.
Taft believed in team work on the bench and did not appreciate
much dissent, especially those involving long explanatory footnotes,
which often put him at odds with Justice Brandeis. He was, however,
one of the most dynamic leaders and reformers of the Supreme
Court. Taft worked and lobbied informally for passage of the
Judiciary Act of 1925, which gave Justices the ability to choose
their own docket and decide which cases it would hear. Until
that time, the Court had no say in the matter and could be easily
manipulated away from important Constitutional cases. His work
in the area was paramount to ensuring, in his term at least,
that the sanctity and inviolability of judicial decisions from
his court be unimpaired.
While other justices on the bench sometimes eclipsed the Tennesseans
activities, Justice Sanfords greatest impact on American
Constitutional law came in the area of civil liberties and freedom
of speech and the press. During the eras surrounding World War
I, a number of questionable laws had been passed and many citizens
imprisoned in the interest of "national security"
under then-President Woodrow Wilson, which left a lot of questions
unanswered regarding freedom of speech and other civil rights.
Before President Hardings administration became embroiled
in scandal, he had cleared American cells of most of World War
Is political prisoners by giving the people presidential
pardons. While it resolved individual cases, the laws under
which they had been convicted had been more than questionable
and allowed states to establish dangerous precedents that seemed
counter to the U.S. Constitutions Bill of Rights. State
Attorneys General wanted decisions from the Supreme Court on
the laws and Justice Sanford found himself in a very active
and sometimes controversial role on the bench. His greatest
judicial work would be on what is known as the "incorporation
The guarantees of the Bill of Rights originally applied only
on the federal level. The controversy leading to the War Between
the States demonstrated that all states did not guarantee personal
fundamental liberties and many issues surrounding it had remained
unresolved. As American entered the 20th century and started
taking a leadership role in world affairs that brought the nation
into World War I and other international crisis, many Americans
loudly protested the involvement, which led to states passing
repressive laws that infringed on the Bill of Rights personal
guarantees. Many of the laws were directed at newspapers and
other media outlets, who editorialized against U.S. involvement
over seas. Some publishers had been arrested on charges of sedition
and treason resulting from the passage of certain state laws
and no case had ever been tried beyond the lower courts.
While the Fourteenth Amendment was generally thought to have
supposedly ended such situations in its assertion of fundamental
liberties through due process, there was no concrete ruling
that established it as such and attorneys, arguing for their
respective states, could easily evade it in court.
In a series of cases, Justice Sanford and the Supreme Court
decided to issue a number of decisions where the Court would
have to balance both state and national police powers against
individual rights of citizens.
Sanford first articulated the "incorporation doctrine"
in two major cases. In the 1925 Gitlow vs. New York case concerning
freedom of speech and the press, Sanford wrote in his decision.
"The First Amendments freedom of speech and press
were fundamental to personal liberty and protected from state
While the First Amendment had been a part of the Bill of Rights
since its adoption in 1791, the 1925 case was the first ruling
in history that established the rule free expression was protected
under the Constitutions Fourteenth Amendments "Due
Although the decision would uphold the publishers conviction,
who had been arrested and convicted for publishing statements
calling for the violent overthrow of the government, Sanfords
statement had a major significance in regards to the interpretation
of the First Amendment and how it would be applied in future
The Justice would later invoke the Fourteenth Amendment again
in the 1927 case Fiske vs. Kansas, where he spoke for the court
"I uphold the defense invoking the Fourteenth Amendment
to guarantee the federal right of free speech against a state
criminal anarchy statute."
For seven years on the bench, Justice Edward T. Sanford handed
down 130 decisions. Many of which are regarded by historians
as of "more than average importance". While the presences
of Justices Louis Brandeis and Oliver W. Holmes would dominate
public attention and the media, Sanfords work was highly
regarded by the Court. In addition, he continued to be personally
active in community service in Tennessee and remained active
at his trustee positions.
On March 8, 1930, Knoxvilles only U.S. Supreme Court Justice
died suddenly at his home in Washington, D.C. That same day
he was followed in death by Chief Justice William Howard Taft.
The ensuing days would be hard ones for Mrs. Sanford and their
daughters as they tried to make arrangements for Justice Sanfords
funeral in a city scrambling to make room for the enormous crowds
that were expected for Tafts funeral.
Tafts death was cause for mourning across the nation and
his funeral preparations dominated the headlines of newspapers.
While he became the first U.S. President to be buried in Arlington
National Cemetery amid the ceremonies justly due a former President
and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Edward Terry
Sanford was, unfortunately, eclipsed in death by Taft and quietly
laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery off of Tazewell Pike in Knoxville.
Justice Edward T. Sanford was one of six Tennesseans to serve
on the United States Supreme Court. They are as follows:
oJohn Catron appointed by President Martin Van Buren
oHowell Jackson appointed by President William Henry
o Horace Lurton - appointed by President William Howard Taft.
oJames McReynolds appointed by President Woodrow Wilson
oEdward T. Sanford appointed by President Warren G. Harding
o Abe Fortas appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Justice Sanfords seven-year-career on the U.S. Supreme
Court was short compared to many, but his impact was felt for
years to come, especially in the courts efforts to establish
the "incorporation doctrine", which simply set forth
the principal that the Bill of Rights liberties were guaranteed
to all citizens and superseded state and, sometimes, federal
laws to the contrary.
The "incorporation doctrine", however, would be a
source of controversy in succeeding courts and political administrations,
who would fight it and the Courts interpretations for
years to come. In the 1980s, the doctrine again gained national
attention when then Attorney General Edwin Meese and others
criticized the doctrine as inconsistent with the intent of the
framers of the Constitution. All the efforts to do away with
it, however, have been unsuccessful.
While Sanfords rulings in favor of the doctrine established
the First Amendments guarantee of freedom of speech and
the press as a primary right of every American, he has been
much maligned over the years and his quotes in the 1925 Gitlow
vs. New York taken out of context to boost various political
While Edward Jackson Sanfords stature in Knoxville was
one of considerable influence, his New England roots allowed
his son certain opportunities that would have otherwise been
unavailable to a youth growing up in East Tennessee in that
era. Like many families in those days, they were quite large
and Edward T. Sanford was only one of ten children raised by
the couple. Sanfords father first came to Knoxville with
only the clothes on his back and his tools as a carpenter, but
firmly believed in self-education and hard work. He stressed
those values on his children as he did those of community service.
He was also a major player in the post-WBTS rebuilding of Knoxville
and helped establish numerous organizations in the city.
The drug company he helped organize known as Sanford, Chamberlain
and Albers served as a vibrant part of Knoxvilles business
community for 135 years. Andrew Jackson Albers, who had graduated
from a pharmacy school in Cincinnati, OH served as a pharmacists
mate on the USS Indianola during the War Between The States
and was captured after the ship was sunk in the Battle of Vicksburg.
Following his release from a Richmond P.O.W. Camp, he returned
to Cincinnati and met E.J. Sanford. The three families became
quite a force in Knoxvilles post war economy. The company
delivered products throughout the region and even had a steamboat
at one time to service their clients.
The Drug Company they operated was extremely diversified. Although
known for such things as their "three-heart" brands
of patent medicine, one of their most noted products in that
day was lubricating oil that they sold to the East Tennessee
and Virginia Railroad. In fact, they cut a deal with the company
to locate its Lenoir Car Works west of the city so they could
keep it supplied with their brand of lubricating oil. It became
such a major employer in the region that the homes and small
businesses that grew up around it became what we know today
as Lenoir City.
In 1926, the name of the company was shortened to Albers
Drug Company and remained in the hands of the Albers family
until 1994 when it was sold to the Walker Drug Company in Birmingham,
Ala. Following the sale, most of its records and cabinetry,
which was handmade by E.J. Sanford was donated to the East Tennessee
Historical Society and the McClung Collection. Museum officials
hope to include the cabinetry in its proposed expansion of the
Sanfords mother, Emma Chavannes Sanford, played a large
part in seeing that her son was well educated. She was a first
generation descendent of a group of Swiss immigrants who settled
in the Buffat Mill Road area of Knox County and other locations.
The Swiss immigrants to Knoxville included many who would rise
to national prominence. Of special note is the fact that her
father Adrain Chavannes was a noted writer and publisher of
his day and his Knoxville printing company is recognized as
publishing the first Sociological journal in the United States.
A portrait of Edward Sanford was done in 1927 by a local artist
and presented to the University of Tennessee Law School, but
was later given to Knoxvilles Federal Court where it hung
until the courthouse was recently moved. It is now located in
the Elks Club in downtown Knoxville, where Sanford was a member.
Sanford quietly slipped from the pages of Tennessee history
because of the dominating personalities of his day and the fact
that his death was eclipsed by former President William Taft.
There is little information about him available, but some U.S.
Supreme Court records do give an account of the cases that were
before him in his tenure on the bench. His quotes on the Gitlow
vs New York case can be found in the book "The Worlds
Greatest Thoughts", which uses the quote as an example
of asserting freedom of speech in a free society.
A brief biography of Sanfords life can be found locally
in the book "The French Broad Holston Country" published
by the East Tennessee Historical Society. It is available from
the local library and for purchase from the ETHS bookstore.
It is one of the best accounts of early life in East Tennessee.
Information on him is hard to come by and there are no special
markers commemorating his service to Tennessee or the nation.
Special thanks for this story has to go to Bud Albers and Fred
Reagan for the information regarding the history of Albers Drug
Company in East Tennessee and its founders and also to the United
States Supreme Court and their resident historians, who assisted
me in gathering facts about Sanfords decisions on the
bench and his tenure with the bench.