Jones left VMI in 1862 to enlist in the Confederate Army. He attained the rank of major, saw combat with the Army of Northern Virginia, was wounded four times, and carried the flag of truce at Appomattox.
He returned to Montgomery after the war where he read law and was admitted to the Bar in 1868. In 1866 he married Georgena Caroline Bird of Montgomery and eventually fathered thirteen children. For a time he was a newspaper editor. From 1870 to 1880 he served as reporter for the Alabama Supreme Court. He was elected to the legislature and served as Speaker of the House from 1886 to 1888. In 1890 he was elected Governor and re-elected in 1892. He was President of the Alabama Bar Association during the 1900-1901 term of office. And, in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Jones to a Federal judgeship where he served until his death on April 28, 1914.
This brief sketch outlines the highlights of a long and distinguished career. However, Thomas Goode Jones is probably most remembered for his authorship of the Alabama Code of Ethics, the first such code adopted in this country on December 14, 1887. Nevertheless, the code could have been adopted several years earlier. Matters moved slower in those days. The story of how the code came about was written by his son, Judge Walter B. Jones, in an article for the Notre Dame Lawyer legal journal, for which he wrote several articles, and which was first published in May of 1932. It was later reprinted in the Alabama Lawyer in the July 1941 issue. Here now is a summary of how the code came to be written by Thomas Goode Jones.
Summer 1881: Thomas Goode Jones was chairman of the Alabama State Bar Association Committee on Judicial Administration and Remedial Procedure. The committee recommended that the Association appoint a special committee to report back with a Code of Legal Ethics for consideration by the entire body at the next annual meeting. This was the first formal proposal for a legal ethics code.
1882 Annual Meeting: The Jones recommendation was not acted upon until the next annual meeting. A motion was made to appoint a three person committee with Thomas Goode Jones as chairman. The motion carried but due to a misunderstanding, the two other members of the committee were not appointed. Jones did not feel that he could proceed with such important work alone.
1883 Annual Meeting: The next meeting was the fifth annual meeting of the Alabama Bar Association. It took place at Blount springs, which was the Gulf Shores of its day. At this convention, Jones was chairman of the Executive Committee. He again recommended the appointment of a special committee of three to report at the next annual meeting a Code of Legal Ethics for the Bar of Alabama. The committee was appointed but it appears that Jones did all of the drafting. He submitted his work to the other two members.
1884 Annual Meeting: This meeting of the Association took place in Birmingham. A report from the special committee was called for but Jones asked for additional time stating that the work was of such importance it should not be hurried. He was seeking the advice of attorneys throughout the state by correspondence. Remember, this was before the days of faxes, e-mails, and even phones. The request for further time was granted.
Later in 1884: A meeting of the Bar Association took place at the State Capitol. The report of the special committee was called. Jones was absent. It was reported to the body that his duties in the legislature were so pressing that he could not review the report and so consideration was postponed.
1885 Annual Meeting: The next annual meeting of the Bar Association took place in Montgomery. The report was made that a code had been drafted but that Jones was involved in court and could not attend the convention. The report for consideration was passed for another year.
December 2, 1886: The 1886 annual meeting of the Association took place in Montgomery. The report was called for but since the legislature was meeting and Thomas Goode Jones was Speaker of the House, he could not attend the morning session. His representative asked that the matter of the Code of Ethics be considered in the afternoon session at 4 o’clock. Then at four, Jones reported to the convention that an accident prevented him from presenting the report. His shorthand writer had placed the report written from his notes on his desk near an open window. It appeared that part of the code was blown out of the window and was lost. He begged the indulgence of the Association one more time.
December 14, 1887: The 1887 annual meeting of the Alabama Bar Association again took place in Montgomery. The committee finally reported to the Association. The code was read by Jones, section by section, in the morning. The afternoon session was devoted to discussing the document. The code was approved.
This code was the first Code of Legal Ethics adopted in the United States. It became the foundation of the American Bar Association Canons of Ethics. Thomas Goode Jones had prepared the code without any manual or guide with the exception of an essay on ethics written by a Pennsylvania judge in 1854. For this act and his lifetime of services, the lawyers of Alabama induct Thomas Goode Jones into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.