ENTRY

Campbell, Preston W. (1874–1954)

SUMMARY

Preston W. Campbell was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902, commonwealth’s attorney for Washington County (1911–1914), a judge of the Twenty-third Circuit (1914–1924), and a judge on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (1924–1946), serving as the court’s chief justice from 1931 until his retirement. Born in Abingdon, Campbell studied law there and practiced in the town for fourteen years. At the Convention of 1901–1902, called in large part to disenfranchise Virginia’s blacks and poor whites, he supported the depoliticizing of county school superintendents but spoke little during the proceedings. As a Supreme Court justice he penned 528 opinions, the most memorable of which was his solo dissent in Staples v. Gilmer (1945). Campbell argued that in calling a constitutional convention, the General Assembly could not place limits on what the delegates considered. Campbell retired from the bench in 1946 and died in 1954.

Preston White Campbell was born in Abingdon and was the son of Ellen Sheffey White Campbell and Edward McDonald Campbell. His father died in 1878. Campbell read law locally and was admitted to the bar in 1896. He attended the University of Virginia but did not graduate. Campbell practiced law in Abingdon for fourteen years. In 1914 he married Louise Elwood Howard. They had three sons.

Members and Officers of The Constitutional Convention of Virginia

In May 1901 Campbell was elected to represent the district comprising Washington County and the city of Bristol in a convention called to revise the constitution of Virginia. He was the fifth member of the Campbell family to represent Washington County or its predecessor, Fincastle County, in a state convention since 1776. Campbell served on the Committee on the Bill of Rights. He announced at the beginning of the convention that he would support a provision to depoliticize county school superintendents. Campbell seldom spoke during the convention. He voted with the majority on the three most important votes that the convention took: in favor of restrictive suffrage provisions that the convention adopted on April 4, 1902, to proclaim the constitution in effect without submitting it to a ratification referendum, and to adopt the new constitution.

Campbell served from 1911 to 1914 as commonwealth’s attorney for Washington County. On March 25, 1914, he was appointed to the vacant judgeship of the Twenty-third Circuit, comprising Scott, Smyth, and Washington counties, and was subsequently elected to a full term. On January 23, 1924, Democrats in the General Assembly nominated Campbell for a vacant seat on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The assembly formally elected him six days later. Campbell qualified for his seat on the bench on January 31, 1924, and began his term the following day. After the death of Chief Justice Robert R. Prentis on November 25, 1931, Campbell became chief justice and served until his retirement on October 1, 1946.

Campbell wrote 528 opinions while on the Supreme Court of Appeals. Perhaps the most memorable was his solo dissent in the 1945 case Staples v. Gilmer. In 1944 the General Assembly had submitted to the voters a proposal for calling a convention to draft an amendment to the state constitution for certain voter registration and poll tax exemptions. The assembly’s proposal restricted the convention to the consideration of that topic only. When a case that reached the Supreme Court of Appeals asked whether the assembly could place limits on a convention, the court upheld the power of the assembly, but Campbell dissented and stated forcefully that the assembly lacked constitutional authority to limit the work of a constituent convention.

Campbell died during the night of July 2–3, 1954, in a hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, and was buried in Knollkreg Memorial Park, in Abingdon.

MAP
TIMELINE
1874
Preston W. Campbell is born in Abingdon, the son of Ellen Sheffey White Campbell and Edward McDonald Campbell.
1896
Preston W. Campbell is admitted to the Virginia bar.
May 1901
Preston W. Campbell is elected to represent the district comprising Washington County and the city of Bristol in the Constitutional Convention of 1901—1902. He is the fifth member of the Campbell family to represent the area in a state convention since 1776.
1911—1914
Preston W. Campbell serves as commonwealth's attorney for Washington County.
1914
Preston W. Campbell and Louise Elwood Howard marry. They will have three sons.
March 25, 1914
Preston W. Campbell is appointed to the vacant judgeship of the Twenty-third Circuit, comprising Scott, Smyth, and Washington counties, and is subsequently elected to a full term.
January 23, 1924
Democrats in the General Assembly nominate Preston W. Campbell for a vacant seat on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
January 29, 1924
The General Assembly formally elects Preston W. Campbell to fill a vacant seat on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
January 31, 1924
Preston W. Campbell qualifies for his seat on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and begins his term the following day.
November 25, 1931
Robert R. Prentis, chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, dies. Preston W. Campbell becomes the new chief justice.
1944
The General Assembly submits to voters a proposal for calling a convention to draft an amendment to the state constitution for certain voter registration and poll tax exemptions. The assembly's proposal restricts the convention to the consideration of that topic only, which sparks a lawsuit.
1945
Chief Justice Preston W. Campbell writes a solo dissent in the case Staples v. Gilmer, in which the court upholds the right of the General Assembly to call a constitutional convention while restricting the topics the convention can consider.
October 1, 1946
Chief Justice Preston W. Campbell retires from the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
July 2—3, 1954
Preston W. Campbell dies during the night in a hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, and is buried in Knollkreg Memorial Park, in Abingdon.
FURTHER READING
  • Carrico, Harry L. “Campbell, Preston White.” In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 578–580. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Carrico, Harry. Campbell, Preston W. (1874–1954). (2021, February 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/campbell-preston-w-1874-1954.
MLA Citation:
Carrico, Harry. "Campbell, Preston W. (1874–1954)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (12 Feb. 2021). Web. 27 Feb. 2021
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