64 Parishes

Thomas C. Manning

Thomas C. Manning served as the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1877 to 1880.

Thomas C. Manning

Courtesy of The Law Library of Louisiana

Thomas C. Manning. Poincy, Paul (Artist)

Thomas C. Manning was the sixth chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, serving in that role from January 9, 1877, through April 5, 1880. He assumed leadership of the court by appointment of Gov. Francis T. Nicholls at the end of Reconstruction, an era when former Confederates and white supremacists regained control of state government.

Manning was born in Edenton, North Carolina, to Joseph Manning and Sarah Haughton-Long on September 14, 1825. His mother taught him at home, endowing him with a command of English vocabulary derived from reading the King James version of the Bible. After his grammar school education at the Edenton Academy, he attended the University of North Carolina, where he graduated in 1843. He returned to Edenton to study law and establish himself in that profession. In 1848 Manning married Mary Louisa Blair and combined his practice of law with teaching Greek and Latin at the Edenton Academy and editing the local newspaper, The Albemarle Sentinel.

During an economic downturn in Edenton in the 1850s, Manning decided to move west to Louisiana, where he settled in Alexandria in 1855. He joined many former North Carolinians who had taken up residence in Louisiana, notably his friend Thomas O. Moore, who went on to be elected as Louisiana governor in 1859, and William B. Hyman, his future competitor as chief justice. Manning’s practice prospered in Alexandria, and he developed friendships with influential people.

In 1860 Governor Moore appointed Manning to the Board of Supervisors for the newly created Louisiana State Seminary (now Louisiana State University). He and two other board members advocated for organizing the school along academic lines, similar to the University of Virginia, but the majority of the board, led by William Tecumseh Sherman, decided to establish a military college similar to the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.

In the chaotic months leading up to the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina—the opening volley in the Civil War—Manning became an ardent supporter of states’ rights, and he voted for Louisiana to break away from the Union at the 1861 Secession Convention. He volunteered for service in the Confederate army and became an aide-de-camp to Governor Moore with the rank of brigadier general. In 1863 Governor Moore named him adjutant general of Louisiana. Manning contributed significantly to Governor Moore’s administration of Confederate Louisiana. In 1864 the new governor of Louisiana, Henry W. Allen, appointed Manning to be an associate justice on the Confederate Supreme Court, which had decamped to Shreveport after abandoning New Orleans and Opelousas ahead of Union troops. A supreme court under federal jurisdiction in New Orleans had been established with William B. Hyman, a Republican and Union sympathizer, as chief justice. Hyman was a fellow North Carolinian and Rapides Parish attorney, well known to Manning. At the war’s end, Manning swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and was granted a full pardon so that he could return to his family and law practice in Alexandria.

During Reconstruction, Manning became politically active with the Democrats, and he supported Confederate war veteran Francis T. Nicholls for governor in the 1876 election. Nicholls ran against Republican Stephen B. Packard, and the results were disputed. As part of the national Compromise of 1877, which allowed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to assume the US presidency following his own disputed election in exchange for his promise to remove occupation troops from former Confederate states, Hayes recognized Nicholls as Louisiana’s elected governor. January 9, 1877, marks the day when Reconstruction government ended in Louisiana—also known as the Compromise of 1877—with the formal acceptance of Nicholls as governor. Thereafter, Nicholls moved immediately to reshape the Louisiana Supreme Court by appointing Manning as chief justice, along with four new associate justices. Manning served until 1880, when the court was once again replaced by a new constitution, enacted in 1879. During Manning’s administration, he insisted on a new level of decorum in the courtroom. He instituted the policy of assembling the justices in an anteroom so that they could enter the courtroom and take their places at the bench in unison as the court crier proclaimed their entry. In a show of respect, the bar would rise during this entry, the justices would bow to them and be seated, and the bar would bow in return before sitting down. This acknowledgement of mutual respect has continued and become established practice. Another important contribution made by Manning was his digest, Unreported Cases Heard and Determined by the Supreme Court of Louisiana from January 8, 1877 to April 1880, published at his expense by Nixon-Jones Printing Company in 1884.

In 1880, at the end of his tenure as chief justice, Manning was appointed to the Board of Trustees for the Peabody Educational Fund, a benefaction of George Peabody for the purpose of promoting “intellectual, moral, and industrial education in the most destitute portion of the Southern States.” In late 1880 Gov. Louis Alfred Wiltz appointed Manning to the US Senate seat made vacant by the death of H. M. Spofford. This was the senate seat that was being contested by William Pitt Kellogg, and the senate tabled Manning’s credentials and confirmed Kellogg as senator.

In 1882 Gov. Samuel D. McEnery returned Manning to the Louisiana Supreme Court as associate justice to complete the term of William M. Levy. Manning thus became the only person to serve three separate terms as a justice on the supreme court. In August 1886, President Cleveland appointed Manning as the United States minister to Mexico. Although in failing health, he carried out his duties in Mexico City. In early October 1887, while traveling to New York City for a meeting of the Peabody Educational Fund, he became very ill; he died on October 11, 1887. A service was held at Trinity Chapel in New York, followed by another service at Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans. Manning was buried in Metairie Cemetery.