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 University’s 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 University’s 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 1897.
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 father’s position as trustee of the East Tennessee Female Institute, who had stepped down and was starting to retire from business.
Sanford’s 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 Sanford’s demanding schedule, the two were devoted parents. Judge Sanford shared his father’s 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, D.C.
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. Sanford’s experience in the lower courts and his cosmopolitan education impressed the President. In addition, Sanford was a Southern Republican and it was through the South’s 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 Congress.
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 Tennessean’s activities, Justice Sanford’s 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 Harding’s administration became embroiled in scandal, he had cleared American cells of most of World War I’s 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. Constitution’s 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 doctrine".
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 Amendment’s freedom of speech and press were fundamental to personal liberty and protected from state infringement."
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 Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment’s "Due Process clause".
Although the decision would uphold the publisher’s conviction, who had been arrested and convicted for publishing statements calling for the violent overthrow of the government, Sanford’s statement had a major significance in regards to the interpretation of the First Amendment and how it would be applied in future cases.
The Justice would later invoke the Fourteenth Amendment again in the 1927 case Fiske vs. Kansas, where he spoke for the court and stated:
"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, Sanford’s 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, Knoxville’s 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 Sanford’s funeral in a city scrambling to make room for the enormous crowds that were expected for Taft’s funeral.
Taft’s 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 in 1837.
oHowell Jackson – appointed by President William Henry Harrison.
o Horace Lurton - appointed by President William Howard Taft.
oJames McReynolds – appointed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.
oEdward T. Sanford – appointed by President Warren G. Harding in 1923.
o Abe Fortas – appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Justice Sanford’s 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 court’s 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 Court’s 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 Sanford’s rulings in favor of the doctrine established the First Amendment’s 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 agendas.
While Edward Jackson Sanford’s 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. Sanford’s 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 Knoxville’s business community for 135 years. Andrew Jackson Albers, who had graduated from a pharmacy school in Cincinnati, OH served as a pharmacist’s 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 Knoxville’s 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 Alber’s 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 facility.
Sanford’s 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 Knoxville’s 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 World’s Greatest Thoughts", which uses the quote as an example of asserting freedom of speech in a free society.
A brief biography of Sanford’s 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 Sanford’s decisions on the bench and his tenure with the bench.