While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


David Minor

BROWN, THOMAS JEFFERSON (1836–1915). Thomas Jefferson Brown, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, son of Ervin and Matilda (Burdett) Brown, was born in Jasper County, Georgia, on July 24, 1836. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Washington County, Texas. After attending county schools he received an LL.B. degree from Baylor University in 1856 and passed the bar exam in 1857. He established his first law office at McKinney, where, on August 7, 1859, he married Louise T. Estes. The couple had seven children. Brown quickly established his legal reputation among county residents, partly because of his partnership with McKinney lawyer and future governor James W. Throckmorton.

During the Civil War Brown served as an officer in Col. Robert H. Taylor's regiment of the Twenty-second Texas Cavalry. In 1865 he returned to McKinney and his law practice. Seven years later, however, he moved his practice to Sherman, where he practiced law for the next sixteen years in partnership with Don A. Bliss. His sympathies with the Grange and the Farmers' Allianceqqv led him in 1888 to campaign for a seat in the Texas House. He served in the Twenty-first and Twenty-second legislatures and in a special session held March 14 through April 12, 1892. In the legislature he introduced a bill to establish a Railroad Commission. Although this initial effort failed, Brown publicized the need for such a regulatory agency by writing twelve articles that detailed what he believed to be unreasonable rate schedules, inflationary pricing, and undue influence in Texas politics by the railroads. The articles appeared in 1890 in the Southern Mercury, a Farmers' Alliance publication printed in Dallas. The articles, combined with Attorney General James Stephen Hogg's well-publicized legal attacks against the railroads, helped bring about the commission. In 1891, with Hogg as governor, the Texas legislature established the commission.

The following year Brown was appointed district judge of Grayson and Collin counties. In 1893 he left Sherman to take a seat as associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court at Austin. For the next decade and a half he served as associate justice and as an unofficial advisor to Texas Democrats, among whom his status increased so much that in 1901 Edward M. House suggested that Brown run for governor. He declined, however, comfortable with his position on the bench. His loyalty to the court was rewarded in 1911, when he became chief justice. But stomach cancer marred his tenure at the head of the court. On May 26, 1915, he died at Greenville, where he had gone for treatment.

Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). Dallas Morning News, May 27, 1915. National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 18.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, David Minor, "BROWN, THOMAS JEFFERSON," accessed June 04, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbr97.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...