Nathan Green, noted Tennessee Supreme Court judge, was born on May 16, 1792, in Amelia County, Virginia, the son of planter Thomas Green. The young Green left his home state and relocated to Tennessee, settling first in Winchester and later in Lebanon. In 1827 he represented Wilson County in the Tennessee Senate. That same year, the legislature established three Chancery Divisions, one for each of the state’s three grand divisions; Green was elected chancellor of the East Tennessee Division, thus ending his political career.
In 1831 Green was elected to the Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals. He served in that capacity for three years, until the adoption of the Tennessee Constitution of 1834. Green was then reelected to his former post and served on the reorganized Tennessee Supreme Court until his retirement in 1852. He authored an important slave manumission decision in Ford v. Ford in 1846. During his tenure on the bench, Green spent vacations teaching and lecturing at the new law department of Cumberland University. After his retirement from the court, he accepted a full professorship there.
As a member of the Cumberland University faculty, Green penned an open letter opposing secession. Confederate sympathizers demanded Green’s removal to the North and criticized Cumberland University for employing him. Once Tennessee left the Union, however, Green professed his loyalty to his home state and supported his son’s decision to fight for the Confederacy. He even attempted a return to the political arena, becoming an unsuccessful candidate for the Confederate Congress.
Green remained on the Cumberland University faculty until his death on March 30, 1866. His contribution to Tennessee legal history continued beyond his lifetime. His son, Nathan Green Jr., followed his father’s footsteps to Cumberland University, where he served as head of the law school. Green’s grandson, Grafton Green, served on the Tennessee Supreme Court, eventually as chief justice. On February 4, 1868, the Middle Tennessee bar adopted a resolution in memory of Nathan Green, noting that “he was the pillar of the judicial system, the keystone of its arch. And there was something grand and awe-inspiring about him.”
Arthur F. Howington, “Not in the Condition of a Horse or an Ox,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 34 (1975): 249-63