Allen Granberry Thurman
b. Nov. 13, 1813
d. Dec. 12, 1895
33rd Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio
Term
Feb. 9, 1852
to Feb. 9, 1856

ALLEN GRANBERRY THURMAN

Allen Granberry Thurman was known for his honor and integrity in the practice of law.

He was born on Nov. 13, 1813 to Pleasant and Mary Granberry Allen Thurman in Lynchburg, Va. and moved with the family moved to Chillicothe in 1819.

Thurman was raised along with his uncle, William Allen. William Allen and Thurman both attended the Chillicothe Academy. After graduation, Thurman taught school and served as a land surveyor in the Virginia Military District. He also served as a clerk in the town post office. In 1834, Thurman served as the private secretary to Gov. Robert Lucas.

Thurman began to study law under the mentorship of his uncle and completed his studies under the tutelage of Noah H. Swayne, later a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Thurman was admitted to the Ohio bar in May 1835 and established a legal partnership with his uncle. Allen became an inactive partner in 1837, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, so Thurman took over the partnership and built it into a large local and circuit practice. Much of his practice dealt with disputed land titles, water rights, mill-dam powers, collections, contracts and criminal cases. His surveying experience greatly helped him. He traveled extensively within the surrounding judicial district, which included Ross, Pike, Jackson and Fayette counties. Thurman’s memorial in the Ohio State Reports said, “He was indefatigable in the preparation of his cases, both upon the law and the facts, and whether they involved much or little in amount. He was a logical, forcible, accomplished advocate. His professional integrity and honor were above suspicion.”  

In 1844, Thurman was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Democrat in the traditionally Whig district, which included Ross, Adams, Jackson, Pike and Hocking counties. He served in the 29th Congress from March 4, 1845, to March 3, 1847. Declining renomination, he returned to his legal practice in Chillicothe.

At the first election held under the new 1851 Ohio Constitution, which transferred the election of Supreme Court justices from the legislature to the electorate, Thurman, William B. Caldwell, Thomas W. Bartley, John A. Corwin and Rufus P. Ranney were elected. To ensure staggered terms, they drew lots to determine the length of each Justice’s first term. Thurman drew the four-year term and took his seat on the bench on Feb. 9, 1852. His opinions are in volumes 1 to 5 of Ohio State Reports. By law, the office of Chief Justice rotated to the judge having the shortest time to serve, and Thurman served as Chief Justice from Dec. 4, 1854, to Feb. 9, 1856. He declined to seek another term in 1855.

The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy in Alpheus W. Poage v. The State of Ohio (1854). Thurman, in a unanimous opinion, stated that a defendant could not be tried again for the same offense if the first jury was dismissed by the judge for reasons not authorized by statute. Another important case affirmed the right to a trial by a 12-member jury. In Morris Sovereign v. the State of Ohio (1855), an individual was acquitted of the charge of larceny by a jury of six people in Muskingum County Probate Court. The Probate Court Code allowed the probate judge to order the prosecutor to pay courts costs if he determined that the prosecution was malicious or without probable cause. Thurman wrote of this practice in the majority opinion:

“With the policy of this law, we, as a court, have nothing to do; but speaking for myself alone, I cannot help remarking, that it seems strange to me, that, in this humane and civilized age, our statutes create a direct pecuniary interest in the clerks and sheriffs who draw our juries, and by the latter of whom vacancies are filled with bystanders, and also in the worst class of prosecuting witnesses, namely, those suspected of malicious motives, to convict persons accused of crime. To make the fees of clerks and sheriffs depend upon the conviction of the prisoner, and to increase the zeal of a prosecuting witness by threatening him with a judgment for the costs if there is a verdict of acquittal, has always appeared to me a strange mode of securing that impartial trial which both justice and the constitution imperatively require.”

The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor did not have to pay court costs, as a jury of six people did not have the constitutional right to convict or acquit a person.

Upon completing his Supreme Court term, Thurman relocated his practice from Chillicothe to Columbus, where he advocated in both state and federal courts.

In 1867, Thurman was nominated by the Democratic Party for governor, running against Rutherford B. Hayes. He narrowly lost to Hayes. As a reward for his hard work for the Democratic Party in the 1867 election, Thurman was elected by the Ohio General Assembly to serve in the U.S. Senate for a six-year term beginning March 4, 1869. He was re-elected in1874, but was defeated in 1881. His term ended March 3, 1881.

In 1881, Thurman returned to his law practice in Columbus. President James A. Garfield appointed Thurman to the American delegation to the International Monetary Conference in Paris in 1881, which considered establishing silver as the uniform currency of the attending countries. During 1882, he also served on an advisory commission investigating the differential rates charged between the trunk railroads for routes from the eastern to the western United States.

At the 1880 and 1885 National Democratic conventions, Thurman’s name was placed in nomination for the presidency, but he did not receive the nomination. On June 7, 1888, at the Democratic convention in St. Louis, Mo., Thurman was nominated to be the vice presidential running mate of President Grover Cleveland. President Cleveland was defeated in his bid for re-election by Benjamin Harrison.

Thurman and Mary Anderson Tompkins were married on Nov. 14, 1844, in Chillicothe. The Thurman’s had five children. He died Dec. 12, 1895 and is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus next to his wife.

Thurman’s contribution to jurisprudence was best summarized in his memoriam in Ohio State Reports: “The underlying and fundamental article in Judge Thurman’s political creed and statesmanship was, that the sole and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizens in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and that when the government assumes other functions, it is usurpation and oppression. The application of this principle led him to oppose some measures which a majority of his countrymen deemed essential to ‘the general welfare.’”