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  Neal, Jr., John Randolph
NameJohn Randolph Neal, Jr.
, Tennessee , United States
Born September 17, 1876
DiedNovember 23, 1959 (83 years)
Last ModifedRBH
Sep 05, 2007 04:24pm
InfoJohn R. Neal Jr. was born in 1874, one of five brothers and sisters. His father, John Neal Sr., was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was also a politician from Tennessee who served in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate. John Sr. married Mary E.C. Brown, and together they had John Jr., George F. Neal, Mary, Katherine and Amanda.

John Randolph Neal Jr. attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and received his undergraduate degree. He went to Vanderbilt for his M.A. and Law degree and got his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 1899. As soon as he left Columbia after receiving his Ph.D. he started teaching law at the University of Denver. In 1907, Neal ran for the General Assembly of Tennessee and lost. His luck changed in 1909, the year he ran for the state Senate, and won. He was a key player in the passing of the General Education Bill of 1909 which increased money and regulated the set money for funds for the University of Tennessee.

Teaching law began for Neal at the campus where he received his first degree, the University of Tennessee. At UT, Neal was extremely popular with his law students. He did not always show up for class. When he did go, class usually got off topic, with Neal opting to discuss current events instead. He was somewhat lazy, offering students 90's instead of making them take exams so that he would not have to grade them. He rarely turned in grades on time. He was not as popular with the administration for these reasons. His hair became long and unkempt, and his appearance slovenly. He would wear the same clothes for days at a time, causing a stench to follow him. He also had very thick eyebrows. He resembled a 1960's hippie, minus the tie-died clothing.

In 1923, the "Slaughter of Ph. D.'s" took place at UT. The dean of the university, James Hoskins, fired six professors. The prominent reason was that their views were too liberal, especially in the case of evolution. When the dean of the law school found out, he asked that Neal be fired as well for his liberal views on evolution, as well as his unorthodox teaching methods. He was released by the university in July of 1923. He denied the charges about his methods and ended up founding the John Randolph Neal school of Law. The school was for part-time students and lasted roughly 20 years. Also in 1923 Neal ran for governor, but did not receive many votes. It hurt his campaign that he did not have any political organization supporting him.

Neal became the chief counsel for the defense in the Scope's Trial of 1925 in Dayton. This was one of his many civil liberties trials, but he played only a minor role for the defense, which was really led by Clarence Darrow. He supported civil liberties and academic freedom more than evolution, which were his primary reasons for taking the case. His job was to challenge the Butler Act, arguing it to be unconstitutional, an argument he believed in.

He grew more eccentric in the latter portion of his life. He is famous for the Neal Papers, a collection of about 10,000 separate items, ranging from letters, books, and memorabilia. The collection dated between the 1850's and 1959, with some material being junk, and other parts valuable. This gave historians an insight into what kind of man John R. Neal was. He died in 1959.


During its century-long existence, the UT College of Law has had many colorful and controversial faculty members, but surely one of the most fascinating was John R. Neal.

When he joined the faculty in 1917, he had already attained substantial political recognition and a considerable degree of scholarly eminence. He had earned an undergraduate degree from UT, an M.A. and a law degree from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. Immediately upon receipt of his doctorate in 1899, he taught law at the University of Denver, leaving in 1907 to return to Tennessee to campaign successfully for a seat in the state's General Assembly. Two years later, he won election to the Tennessee Senate.

In the legislature, Neal supported the efforts of Philander P. Claxton, then head of the University's Department of Education, to secure a general appropriation for the University. Up to this time, the University's support had come largely from tuition and fees, federal appropriations, and the income from land grant funds. Neal helped to secure passage of the General Education Bill of 1909, which increased appropriations throughout the state and established the precedent of regular allocations of funds for the University of Tennessee.

These traditional accomplishments, however, concealed a rather unconventional personality. While Neal proved popular with many of his law students, his inattention to the University's administrative requirements provoked his superiors. He did not turn in grades promptly; he failed even to grade his examinations. He announced to one class that he would give them all 90s as grades in lieu of an examination. Objectors could elect to take an exam! He often failed to meet his classes, and when he did, the prescribed lesson was discarded in favor of a discussion of current events.

His carelessness with dress deteriorated, in time, to positive slovenliness. He wore the same shirt for days without washing until it wore out; he would then put a new shirt over it. His hair was rarely combed, and he bathed only infrequently. This unorthodox behavior exacerbated bad feelings between Neal and the law school dean, Malcolm McDermott.

In 1923, six members of the faculty were dismissed upon the recommendation of James Hoskins, dean of Liberal Arts and dean of the University. The issues were varied but included charges that some of those released were too liberal in their views on evolution. When the law school dean heard of the impending action, he recommended that Neal's name be added to the list, and in July 1923, the dismissals were formally announced. This "Slaughter of the Ph.D.s," as critics called it, provoked a public outcry and produced an investigation by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Neal denounced the charges against him--of missing classes, failing to give exams, refusing to grade exams, and neglecting the subject of his lectures--and received some AAUP support in his stand, but it was not enough to change the Trustees decision.

Embittered, Neal embarked on a variety of other enterprises. The most spectacular was the establishment of a private law school in Knoxville for part-time students. It lasted for twenty years and enrolled more than seventy students during its peak period, 1940-1941, but it never attained much stature as an institution of legal education.

Neal ran for several public offices in Tennessee but failed in each effort. In 1925, he undertook the defense of John Scopes in the famous Dayton "Monkey Trial," enlisting Clarence Darrow as his co-counsel. Neal achieved some notoriety in this case but failed to prevent Scopes's conviction.

In other "liberal" causes, Neal wrote the charter for the Highlander Folk School, supported the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and represented North Carolina mill workers in suits arising from a strike.

In his last years, Neal, a bachelor, became even more derelict in dress and appearance and equally eccentric in his behavior. On one occasion, at a dinner, he placed his salad in his coat pocket. On another, he commented on the beautiful treed scenery in fields where there were none. In 1959, just shortly before his death, and years after his law school had closed, he announced to some old friends its opening! Friends, however, preferred to remember him as a champion of lost causes, a defender of labor unions, an advocate of civil liberties, and a supporter of the University of Tennessee.

Perhaps his most appropriate epitaph came from the pen of T.H. Alexander, a Nashville newspaperman:

"The very thing I like about Dr. John Neal is what some of his fellow countrymen object to, that is his absolute willingness upon any and all occasions to fly to the defense of any creature who is within the toils of the law....What a man, what a man."




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Father John Randolph Neal 1836-1889

  11/04/1958 TN Governor Lost 0.10% (-57.43%)
  11/02/1954 TN Governor Lost 12.27% (-74.93%)
  08/05/1954 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 1.46% (-66.73%)
  11/04/1952 TN US Senate Lost 1.92% (-72.26%)
  08/07/1952 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 1.21% (-55.33%)
  11/07/1950 TN Governor Lost 21.91% (-56.17%)
  08/03/1950 TN Governor - D Primary Lost 0.60% (-55.06%)
  11/02/1948 TN US Senate Lost 1.22% (-64.10%)
  08/04/1948 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 0.46% (-41.78%)
  11/05/1946 TN Governor Lost 2.74% (-62.60%)
  11/05/1946 TN US Senate Lost 5.27% (-61.33%)
  08/01/1946 TN Governor - D Primary Lost 0.93% (-58.89%)
  08/01/1946 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 1.03% (-60.92%)
  11/07/1944 TN Governor Lost 1.52% (-60.98%)
  08/03/1944 TN Governor - D Primary Lost 7.69% (-79.67%)
  11/03/1942 TN US Senate Lost 9.60% (-59.28%)
  08/06/1942 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 3.67% (-48.22%)
  11/05/1940 TN US Senate Lost 0.01% (-70.80%)
  08/01/1940 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 5.80% (-85.74%)
  09/13/1939 TN District 3 - Special Election Lost 1.88% (-69.47%)
  11/08/1938 TN US Senate - Special Election Lost 3.31% (-67.19%)
  08/04/1938 TN US Senate - Special D Primary Lost 1.32% (-47.94%)
  11/03/1936 TN US Senate Lost 4.06% (-71.82%)
  08/06/1936 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 17.09% (-65.83%)
  11/06/1934 TN US Senate Lost 19.91% (-60.19%)
  08/02/1934 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 16.01% (-67.97%)
  08/07/1930 TN US Senate - Special D Primary Lost 29.33% (-41.33%)
  08/02/1928 TN US Senate - D Primary Lost 1.85% (-61.41%)
  08/05/1926 TN Governor - D Primary Lost 1.08% (-50.54%)
  08/07/1924 TN Governor - D Primary Lost 20.98% (-58.04%)
  08/05/1920 TN Governor - D Primary Lost 0.84% (-58.72%)