Thomas Jefferson Brown, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, son of Ervin and Matilda (Burdett) Brown, was born in Jasper County, Georgia, on July 24, 1836. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Washington County, Texas. After attending county schools he received an LL.B. degree from Baylor University in 1856 and passed the bar exam in 1857. He established his first law office at McKinney, where, on August 7, 1859, he married Louise T. Estes. The couple had seven children. Brown quickly established his legal reputation among county residents, partly because of his partnership with McKinney lawyer and future governor James W. Throckmorton.
During the Civil War Brown served as an officer in Col. Robert H. Taylor's regiment of the Twenty-second Texas Cavalry. In 1865 he returned to McKinney and his law practice. Seven years later, however, he moved his practice to Sherman, where he practiced law for the next sixteen years in partnership with Don A. Bliss. His sympathies with the Grange and the Farmers' Alliance led him in 1888 to campaign for a seat in the Texas House. He served in the Twenty-first and Twenty-second legislatures and in a special session held March 14 through April 12, 1892. In the legislature he introduced a bill to establish a Railroad Commission. Although this initial effort failed, Brown publicized the need for such a regulatory agency by writing twelve articles that detailed what he believed to be unreasonable rate schedules, inflationary pricing, and undue influence in Texas politics by the railroads. The articles appeared in 1890 in the Southern Mercury, a Farmers' Alliance publication printed in Dallas. The articles, combined with Attorney General James Stephen Hogg's well-publicized legal attacks against the railroads, helped bring about the commission. In 1891, with Hogg as governor, the Texas legislature established the commission.
The following year Brown was appointed district judge of Grayson and Collin counties. In 1893 he left Sherman to take a seat as associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court at Austin. For the next decade and a half he served as associate justice and as an unofficial advisor to Texas Democrats, among whom his status increased so much that in 1901 Edward M. House suggested that Brown run for governor. He declined, however, comfortable with his position on the bench. His loyalty to the court was rewarded in 1911, when he became chief justice. But stomach cancer marred his tenure at the head of the court. On May 26, 1915, he died at Greenville, where he had gone for treatment.