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Federal Courts in the Early Republic: Kentucky, 1789-1816

Federal Courts in the Early Republic: Kentucky, 1789-1816

Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau
Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Federal Courts in the Early Republic: Kentucky, 1789-1816
    Book Description:

    On the basis of both civil and criminal suits, some private and some brought by the government, Professor Tachau demonstrates that the federal courts in Kentucky were immediately accessible, visible, and deeply involved in the lives of the people. The actual legal practice revealed in the records thus contradicts much of the conventional wisdom and traditional assumptions about the "inferiority" of the lower federal judiciary and suggests that a major revision of American legal and constitutional history may be in order.

    Originally published in 1978.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7132-2
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    In 1922, Charles Warren publishedThe Supreme Court in United States History, a pioneering work concerned with the impact of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary on American history from 1789 to 1918.¹ The book was immediately recognized as an important contribution toward understanding the third, and often neglected, branch of government. Among the complimentary letters Warren received was one from United States Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. He wrote that Warren had “performed an important public service,” because “a better understanding of the function of our Court is an essential of political and social health.” Like many...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Style, Structure, and Jurisdiction of the Courts
    (pp. 14-30)

    Kentucky acquired a federal court in 1789, two and one-half years before it achieved statehood. What was then the western district of Virginia was a wilderness, only recently vacated by Indians who frequently recrossed the Ohio River to attack the Anglo-Americans who had taken their hunting and farming lands.¹ It was a forested and fertile land which promised great productivity and wealth to those who could hold and exploit it, but it was a land that could be reached only after hazardous journeys along primitive trails or along the rivers. No stagecoaches penetrated the region, and the unimproved Wilderness Road,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Judge Harry Innes
    (pp. 31-53)

    Americans take great pride and comfort in the belief that theirs is a government of laws and not of men. This shibboleth is generally understood to mean that the laws are superior to all men regardless of their station. It also carries an implication that laws, once enacted or discovered, go into effect automatically. But the records of the early federal courts in Kentucky indicate that there, at least, men decided which laws would be enforced, how they would be interpreted, and to whom they would be applied. While Kentucky was, for the most part, a law-respecting community, the laws...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Personnel of the Courts
    (pp. 54-76)

    Although the federal courts in Kentucky from 1789 until 1816 were identified in the public mind most closely with Harry Innes, he was not alone in determining their destiny. During the twenty-seven years he sat as judge, twenty other men were appointed to serve with him in various capacities. By their service (and sometimes by their refusal to serve) these men, too, contributed to the history of those courts. The roster of judges, clerks, marshals, and federal attorneys includes men of prominence and others who have rarely been chronicled. Among them were Federalists and Republicans who had little in common...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Procedures of the Courts
    (pp. 77-94)

    As the structure and jurisdiction of the federal courts in Kentucky were defined in federal statutes, and the reputation and professionalism of their officers may be deduced from biographical information, so the style and character of those courts may be seen by examining the procedures followed throughout their first generation. The most distinctive aspect of these procedures was their rigorous adherence to the antiquated technicalities of English law. The writs, the forms of action, the pleadings, and the judgments were all consistent with traditional English practice. It is clear from their records that the Kentucky federal courts were very conservative....

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Internal Revenue Laws and Their Enforcement
    (pp. 95-126)

    The United States was by far the most frequent single plaintiff in the federal courts in Kentucky from 1789 to 1816. During those years, the government brought 775 suits: 100 criminal charges and 675 civil actions. Ninety-five percent of these cases resulted from the internal revenue laws passed in the new nation’s first decade. The unpopularity of these laws constituted a serious challenge to the power of the national government and to the authority of its courts in Kentucky. How the courts met this challenge is revealed in a variety of long-forgotten contemporary sources.

    Certain federal statutes may be enforced...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Criminal Charges in the Courts
    (pp. 127-148)

    Judge Innes’s political judgment and judicial skill enabled the federal court to survive the challenges of the internal revenue acts with a notable degree of prestige and authority. He was equally competent in handling a wide variety of criminal charges that soon followed. In these cases, Innes, and later Todd, construed criminal statutes narrowly and the rights of defendants broadly, and paid the same scrupulous attention to traditional English standards of due process as they did in the rest of the docket. The criminal caseload was not large because neither judge believed that federal jurisdiction extended to common law crimes,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Private Civil Suits in the Courts
    (pp. 149-166)

    The caseload of the federal courts in Kentucky from 1789 to 1816 was divided into three approximately equal parts. In one-third of the cases, the United States was plaintiff or accuser; and because the federal government was responsible for enforcing federal internal revenue acts and federal criminal statutes, these cases are not unexpected. Another third of the cases involved disputes over land. This portion of the docket was predictably large because of the extensive litigation that resulted when settlement preceded survey and land grants were issued both by Virginia and by Kentucky. But the final third of the caseload, made...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Land Cases in the Courts
    (pp. 167-190)

    The excessive litigation over land in Kentucky has long made that state notorious, and has given it a reputation for contentiousness that early court records show was well deserved.¹ Almost half the private suits docketed in the federal courts from 1789 until 1816 dealt with land: 712 cases out of a total of 1,515. The frequency of these conflicts is reflected also in state court records, and early volumes ofKentucky Reportsare dominated by decisions on competing land claims.

    There are several reasons for this large number of lawsuits. From the very beginning, provisions regarding the distribution of the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-200)

    The Order Books of the early federal courts in Kentucky appear to be among the least enlightening of American public records. Although they were written in English, their language is nearly incomprehensible. Only a rare word or phrase links the past with the present; classical pleadings and forms of action that have long since fallen into disuse tend to obscure whatever was going on. But when the proceedings are deciphered, the caseload recreated and rearranged, two interwoven histories begin to emerge.

    The first and more obvious is a hitherto hidden legal history which has been discussed in earlier chapters. However,...

  14. Appendix A. Private Case Docket of the Federal Courts in Kentucky
    (pp. 201-202)
  15. Appendix B. Judgments on Private Suits in Kentucky Federal Courts
    (pp. 203-204)
  16. Appendix C. Cases Brought by the United States in Kentucky Federal Courts
    (pp. 205-207)
  17. Appendix D. Harry Innes’s 1785 Book Order
    (pp. 208-209)
  18. Appendix E. A Glossary of Terms Used in the Kentucky Federal Courts
    (pp. 210-212)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-230)
  20. Index
    (pp. 231-234)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)