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Lawyers and Legal Culture in British North America

Lawyers and Legal Culture in British North America: Beamish Murdoch of Halifax

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Lawyers and Legal Culture in British North America
    Book Description:

    Centred on one pre-Confederation lawyer whose career epitomizes the trends of his day, Beamish Murdoch (1800-1876),Lawyers and Legal Culture in British North Americamakes an important and compelling contribution to Canadian legal history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9921-2
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    R. Roy McMurtry and Jim Phillips

    Philip Girard is well known to Osgoode Society readers as the author of an award-winning biography of Bora Laskin. GirardʹsLawyers and Legal Culture in British North America: Beamish Murdoch of Halifaxis much more than a biography of Nova Scotiaʹs best-known nineteenth-century lawyer and legal author. It is also a first-class account of an everyday lawyerʹs practice in the first half of the nineteenth century and has a great deal to say about the British North American legal profession and legal culture. Girard places Murdoch and the legal profession in one colony in the broader context of what we...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. xii-2)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    Beamish Murdoch (1800–76) was, in the economical language of theDictionary of Canadian Biography, a Nova Scotian ʹwriter, lawyer, and politician.ʹ¹ By examining and contextualizing his life and career, this book aims to explore the role of lawyers and the development of legal culture in a particular settler society, British North America, from roughly 1800 to 1867.

    The reader may well ask whether we need more work on pre-Confederation lawyers in British North America. There are excellent studies of Ontario lawyers and of the Law Society of Upper Canada, of early Montreal law firms, and of lawyers and legal...

  7. 2 Antecedents
    (pp. 12-24)

    Beamish Murdoch was born at Halifax on 1 August 1800.¹ He had deep roots in Nova Scotia: not only had both parents been born in the province, but also his grandmothers. Amelia (Mason) Ott Beamish and Abigail (Salter) Murdoch were both born at Halifax in the 1750s, less than a decade after the townʹs foundation in 1749. Murdoch was raised by his grandmother Beamish after the early death of his mother, and it was she and her daughters who inspired his attachment to his birthplace and his interest in its history. In a society where kinship counted for so much,...

  8. 3 Apprenticeship
    (pp. 25-45)

    What John Adams had observed as a law student in Boston in 1756 was just as true in Regency Halifax. To get ahead in the law, one needed not only knowledge, time, and a large collection of books but, most important, ʹthe Friendship and Patronage of the great Masters in the Profession.ʹ Knowledge and time Murdoch possessed, and he was in the process of acquiring a large library. When he began his five-year apprenticeship as an attorney on 11 November 1814 with Crofton Uniacke, the second of Attorney General Richard John Uniackeʹs five lawyer sons, it seemed that he had...

  9. 4 The Legal Profession in Nova Scotia: Organization and Mobility
    (pp. 46-74)

    When Beamish Murdoch began his apprenticeship as an attorney in 1814, entry to the legal profession had recently been regulated by provincial statute for the first time since the founding of Halifax. An act of 1811 set the period of service at five years after which the candidate was entitled to be admitted as an attorney of the Supreme Court provided he had attained his majority, passed an oral examination administered by the judges, and taken the attorneyʹs oath. He had to spend a further quasi-probationary period of one year before final admission as a barrister, except that graduates of...

  10. 5 The Making of a Colonial Lawyer, 1822–7
    (pp. 75-95)

    Whether in pre-Confederation British North America or the antebellum United States, lawyers have seldom been studiedaslawyers. Their prominence as political leaders, judges, officeholders, or businessmen has interested historians more than the day-to-day business of their legal careers. In 1991 Richard Scott Eckert observed in the context of colonial America that there had been no ʹdetailed treatment of the legal career of a representative member of the legal profession in either colonial Massachusetts or one of the other colonies,ʹ and his observation remains largely true even for the antebellum United States.¹ Historians of colonial America have been most interested...

  11. 6 The Maturing of a Colonial Lawyer, 1828–50
    (pp. 96-110)

    The busy pace Murdoch had set for himself in his law practice and his community, political, and cultural involvements did not slacken in the years after 1827. His law practice continued to grow not only in volume, which probably doubled by the mid-1830s, but also in the variety and complexity of work performed and the amount of remuneration per client. The proportion of his practice devoted to debt collection remained important but declined overall as Murdoch spent more time on other types of work, such as admiralty law, conveyancing, and the settlement of estates. Some tasks developed naturally from transactions...

  12. 7 The Politics of a Colonial Lawyer: Murdoch, Howe, and Responsible Government
    (pp. 111-133)

    Given Beamish Murdochʹs intense interest in the welfare of his community, it is not surprising that early in life he set his sights on a seat in the House of Assembly. More surprising is that the freeholders of Halifax acceded to the twenty-five-year-old Murdochʹs desires the first time he offered himself as a candidate, in the election of May 1826. That struggle had an air of David and Goliath about it, as Murdoch competed against two well-established incumbents, lawyer Charles Rufus Fairbanks and merchant John Albro. Faced with such opponents, Murdoch managed to transform his apparent disadvantages into positive attributes....

  13. 8 Law and Politics in the Colonial City: Murdoch as Recorder of Halifax, 1850–60
    (pp. 134-151)

    The 1840s were a time of transition for Beamish Murdoch. His aspirations in the field of cultural and political leadership remained largely unfulfilled. The political terrain shifted in a direction Murdoch did not favour, frustrating his ambitions for provincial political office. Nor had hisEpitome of the Laws of Nova-Scotiaachieved the recognition he sought. As he contemplated the debts he had incurred on that score, he must have felt a pang at seeing John George MarshallʹsJustice of the Peace, and County and Township Officerpublished at provincial expense in 1837.¹ These setbacks led Murdoch to reorder his priorities:...

  14. 9 Law, Identity, and Improvement: Murdoch as Cultural Producer
    (pp. 152-182)

    We have seen that the reading of aspirant lawyers was not confined to the narrow realm of black-letter law and private dispute resolution. Rather, lawyers were expected to be familiar with social and political organization in historical and comparative context and to have some acquaintance with English and classical literature. As part of the British diaspora, they were also inheritors of a tradition that explicitly linked ʹthe rights of Englishmenʹ and the common law to British exceptionalism and imperial success.¹ Connections between law, culture, and national identity came easily to the lawyers of nineteenth-century British North America.

    It is not...

  15. 10 Epilogue
    (pp. 183-191)

    In the fall of 1863, theAcadian Recorderbegan a series entitled ʹSketches of Our Barʹ with a profile of Beamish Murdoch. ʹMax,ʹ who confessed himself to be ʹsomething of a physiognomist,ʹ provided the following portrait of Beamish Murdoch as he approached the final decade of his life:

    [A] long life of generous sentiments has given to Beamish Murdoch the softtoned, almost girlish sweetness of expression which draws you to the man in spite of yourself … He keeps so quiet in these feverish, democratic times that he might soon sink out of sight … I should think he likes...

  16. 11 Conclusion
    (pp. 192-206)

    Two interrelated themes have been woven through this book: the nature of British North Americaʹs legal professionalism and its legal culture. In this chapter I will link each of these themes to broader debates recently conducted by historians. First, I will examine how what we have learned about British North American professionalism fits with Michael Burrageʹs impressive comparative study of the impact of revolutions on the legal profession.¹ Second, I will suggest that the study of nineteenth-century legal culture requires us to modify the notion of Canada as a liberal empire founded on ʹthe primacy of the individual and the...

  17. Appendix Bibliography of Published and Manuscript Works by Beamish Murdoch
    (pp. 207-208)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 209-274)
  19. Index
    (pp. 275-280)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-284)