Judge David Campbell, State of Franklin official and early territorial and state judge, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, in 1750. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, attaining the rank of major. After the war, circa 1783, he moved to present-day Greene County, Tennessee, where he practiced law and served as a judge on the newly declared Supreme Court of Franklin. He is credited as being one of the authors of the Franklin constitution along with being a member of the First Franklin Convention in 1784 and the Third Franklin Convention in 1785. But of the major Franklin leaders, Campbell “was the least wedded to the separatist movement.” (1) In 1787, in fact, he became a member of the North Carolina assembly, and later that year he was elected judge of the Superior Court of North Carolina, Washington District, where he served until 1790. However, Campbell refused to abandon his Franklin friends entirely. When John Tipton and others attempted to have John Sevier arrested for treason, Campbell refused to issue the arrest warrant.
With the establishment of the Southwest Territory, Territorial Governor William Blount appointed Campbell as territorial judge in 1790; he served in that position until Tennessee's statehood in 1796.
Success and controversy marked Campbell's career as a Tennessee state judge. From 1797 to 1809 he served as a judge of the Superior Court, but early in his term, Campbell became embroiled in a heated, bitter dispute with William Blount, John Sevier, and others over the boundary of the Treaty of Holston. The survey of the treaty completed in 1797 placed the home of Judge Campbell and others in Cherokee territory, and state officials did nothing to prevent federal troops from evicting Campbell and the other settlers. A furious Campbell lashed back at Blount and Governor Sevier. When Campbell refused to even consider a suit Blount wanted the court to adjudicate, Blount asked Sevier to reply in kind. Sevier convinced leaders in the Tennessee House to bring impeachment charges against Judge Campbell.
When the removal trial came before the state Senate in December 1798, William Blount, who had been impeached as a U.S. senator, was awaiting word from Philadelphia on whether the U.S. Senate would convict him. He had already been expelled by the U.S. Senate and upon returning to Tennessee, Blount arranged to be elected to the state Senate, where he was chosen Speaker. In the Campbell removal trial, therefore, Blount was the Senate's chief prosecutor of a case in which he held a considerable personal and political interest. Campbell avoided conviction and removal, but by just one vote.
Five years later, in 1803, Campbell faced a second impeachment, this time for bribery. With the support of the Jackson faction, the state Senate voted nine to three for Campbell's acquittal.
Judge David Campbell received a federal appointment as a Mississippi territorial judge in 1811, but he never served in the post. He died in Washington, Rhea County, in 1812.