Successful and controversial antebellum Democratic politician A. O. P. Nicholson was born in the Carter Creek area near Spring Hill in 1808. He received private tutoring before attending Woodward Academy in Columbia. In 1823 he entered the University of North Carolina, graduating four years later. After college, Nicholson studied medicine and then law, receiving his license to practice law in 1830. He married Mary (Gordon) O'Reilly in 1829, and they had eight children.
A Democratic stalwart, Nicholson represented Maury County in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1833 to 1837; he later served in the state Senate from 1843 to 1845. Like many Democrats, he supported Hugh Lawson White in the 1836 presidential contest, but he returned to the Democratic fold by serving as a presidential elector on the Martin Van Buren ticket in 1840. After the death of U.S. Senator Felix Grundy in 1840, Governor James K. Polk rewarded Nicholson for his hard campaigning by selecting him to complete Grundy's term in office from December 1840 to February 1842, when the general assembly would either reelect Nicholson or select a successor. But the election of any Tennessee senator became hopelessly mired in partisan politics during 1842. Democrats, led by the “Immortal Thirteen,” delayed the selection process until the Whig Party swept the 1843 elections and secured control of the general assembly.
Nicholson also served his party as a newspaper editor. He was one of the compilers of the Statutes of Tennessee in 1836. He edited Columbia's Western Mercury from 1830 to 1834 and the Nashville Union from 1845 to 1846, after which he was selected as a director and later president of the Bank of Tennessee, 1846-47. During the late 1840s he became one of the acknowledged leaders, along with Andrew Johnson, of the anti-Polk faction within the Democratic Party. After 1848, according to historian Paul Bergeron, “the anti-Polk group moved steadily toward a position of domination in the party, though it ran into some difficulties from time to time.” (1)
For instance, in the 1850s, Nicholson served as chancellor of the Middle Tennessee Division (1850), a delegate to the Nashville Convention (1850), a presidential elector on the Franklin Pierce ticket (1852), and again as U.S. senator from 1859 to 1861. He also resumed his editorial career, serving as editor of the Washington Daily Union from 1853 to 1856 and was the public printer for the U.S. House of Representatives from 1853 to 1855 and for the U.S. Senate from 1855 to 1857.
After the Civil War, Nicholson was a member of the 1870 state constitutional convention and then became the new chief justice of the State Supreme Court, serving in that position until his death on March 23, 1876. He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia.