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Amos Morrill (1809-1884)

Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1867-1870

Born in Salisbury, Massachusetts on August 25, 1809, Amos Morrill was a descendent of an old Puritan family. He worked as a schoolmaster to save money to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Following his graduation from Bowdoin in 1834, he moved to Nashville and then Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he taught school for two years. He returned to Amesbury, Massachusetts to study law in the office of Robert Cross and then went back to Murfreesboro, received his license to practice law, and began a legal practice.

Morrill moved to Clarksville, Texas in 1838, and established a law office there. He was married in 1843 and went into partnership with his bride's brother, J. J. Dickson. He relocated with his wife to Austin in 1856 and established a successful legal practice with future provisional governor, Andrew J. Hamilton. Although Morrill and his wife did not have children of their own, he was said to have been very fond of them and reportedly helped finance the educations of seven children, including four whose educations he sponsored entirely.

Like his friend and law partner, A. J. Hamilton, Morrill opposed secession and had strong Union ties. When the Civil War broke out, Morrill fled first to Mexico and then to Massachusetts, and spent the final year of the war working at a customs house in New Orleans. At war's end he returned to Austin.

After Justices Moore, Coke, Donley, Willie, and Smith, who made up Texas' first Reconstruction court, were removed from office by federal military order on September 10, 1867, Morrill was appointed chief justice. (Livingston Lindsay, Albert H. Latimer, Colbert Caldwell, and Andrew J. Hamilton were appointed associate justices. Personnel changes occurred during the six years this court existed, and five other judges eventually served on it: Moses B. Walker, James Denison, Lemuel D. Evans, Wesley Ogden, and J. D. McAdoo. These justices, who shared Unionist sentiments, together are often referred to as the Military Court.) Morrill served on the court until 1870, when his friend and colleague A. J. Hamilton was defeated in a run for governor against E. J. Davis. Gov. Davis appointed a new court under the Constitution of 1869.

In 1872 President Grant appointed Morrill U.S. district judge of the Eastern District of Texas, and Morrill relocated to Galveston. He served in the position eleven years until, in October 1883, ill health forced his resignation from the bench. He traveled to California, hoping the climate would benefit his health, and later went to Tennessee, where he learned that his resignation had not been accepted in Washington, and that if he did not return to Galveston the November court term would not be held. Morrill dutifully returned to Galveston and held the term, but his health continued to decline. When the term ended, he returned to Austin, where he died March 5, 1884.

Notable opinions

Goodman v. McGehee, 31 Texas reports 252 (Tex. 1868) (ruling that loan for Confederate currency was illegal as supporting the rebellion, that a contract based on illegal consideration is void and may be pleaded).

Sources

Davenport, Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 89 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 151 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Morrill, Amos, Handbook of Texas Online (Last updated June 6, 2001).
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/MM/fmo54.html

Norvell, James R. The Reconstruction Courts of Texas 1867-1873, 62 The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 141-163 (October, 1958).

Extended bibliography

Davenport , Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 89 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Johnson, Francis White. 2 A History of Texas and Texans 1118 (Chicago, Illinois & New York, New York: American Historical Society, 1914).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 13, 151, 533 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 50, 484, 485 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

The Encyclopedia of the New West 485. William S. Speer, ed. (Marshall, Texas: United States Biographical Publishing Co., 1881).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 48, page 449, 450, 455
Volume 50, page 468
Volume 60, page 17
Volume 62, page 145, 149n
Volume 63, page 80, 435
Volume 73, page 32
Volume 78, page 6, 32
Volume 82, page261

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