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Royall Tyler Wheeler (1810-1864)

Justice, Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, 1844-1845
Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1846-1858
Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1858-1864

Little is known about the early years of Royall Tyler Wheeler, except that he was born in Vermont in 1810 and grew up in Ohio, where he received his education, studied law, and was admitted to the bar. He moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1837, and began a law practice with William S. Oldham.

Wheeler married and moved to San Augustine, Texas in 1839. He formed a law partnership there with Kenneth L. Anderson, who served in the congress of the republic and was its vice president from 1844-45. Wheeler was also linked briefly with the towns of Nacogdoches, Huntsville, and Independence, as well as Austin.

In 1842 Wheeler was elected district attorney of the Fifth District, and in 1844 he was promoted to district judge, automatically making him a justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas. In 1845, with the adoption of the constitution of the new state of Texas, Wheeler was appointed associate justice of the supreme court, comprised of himself, John Hemphill, and Abner Lipscomb. When the position became elective he faced no opposition, and was elected in 1851 and again in 1856. The following year, when Chief Justice Hemphill resigned to join the U.S. Senate, Wheeler was elected to the position without opposition. Wheeler aligned himself politically with the Whig party, had advocated statehood, and later became an outspoken secessionist.

When Baylor University formally established its law school in 1857, Wheeler was named law professor and head of the law department. He served in this capacity until 1860, with two classes graduating under him. The following year he announced his plan to open a law school in Austin. Tuition was set at $40 per year, and Wheeler was to be assisted in his teaching by ?gentlemen of the Austin bar.? (Gage 435) But the timing was bad for a law school: Texas was about to secede from the Union, the Civil War was imminent, and males above the age of 16 were called into military service.

Texas suffered, though not as greatly as other parts of the South, during the war. The economic system of the South, dependent on slavery, was destroyed. By the spring of 1864, the war had entered its final stage and its outcome was inevitable. On April 9, 1864, ?inclined to the forebodings of melancholy . . . and contemplating the clouds which hung over the future of his country and the prospects of his family,? (Lynch 95) Royall Tyler Wheeler took his own life at his home in Washington County.

Notable opinions

Causici v. La Coste, 20 Texas reports 285.

Wheeler's dissenting opinions in Coles v. Kelsey, 2 Texas reports 541, Snoddy v. Cage, 5 Texas reports 106, and Swenson v. Walker's Adm'rs, 3 Texas reports 93, have been described as ?epochs? in Texas judicial history (Davenport 25; Lynch 95).

Sources

Baker, DeWitt Clinton. A Texas Scrap Book Made up of the History, Biography and Miscellany of Texas and Its People (1875) with a new introduction by Robert A. Calvert (1991).

Davenport , Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 22-25 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Gage, Larry Jay. The City of Austin on the Eve of the Civil War, 63 Southwestern Historical Quarterly 435.

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 91-96 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Extended bibliography

Baker, DeWitt Clinton. A Texas Scrap Book Made up of the History, Biography and Miscellany of Texas and Its People 301 (Austin, Texas: The Steck Co., 1935).

Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas 79 (New York, New York: Southern Publishing Co., 1880).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 13, 64, 91, 533, 608 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 32 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 2, page 7, 12
Volume 19, page 162
Volume 43, page 521
Volume 49, page 273, 584
Volume 53, page 396
Volume 54, page 266n
Volume 55, page 347, 453, 454, 456
Volume 57, page 27
Volume 60, page 17
Volume 62, page 204
Volume 63, page 435
Volume 69, page 305
Volume 75, page 83

Hon. Royall T. Wheller, 27 Texas reports v (1863).

Preface, 28 Texas reports v (1866).

Brown, Frank. Annals of Travis County and of the City of Austin 19:44. Archives Division, Texas State Library (Austin, Texas).