View Full Version : Legal History website

07-17-2004, 02:02 AM
If anyone is interested in politics, social issues, and the legal system during the nineteenth century, there is a great website focusing on legal history: "Famous Trials" created by law professor Doug Linder. The website has been recently updated and now includes 37 trials plus links to others. Please note the copyright comments.

"Famous Trials" see http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/ftrials.htm

The following are relevant to the nineteenth century. My comments are italicized.

Amistad Trials

This really helps separate fact from fiction. The incident was still talked about in the 1860s and key figures involved in the trial were actively involved in the Civil War. For example, there is an interesting biography on Lewis Tappan -- a key figure in these trials. The Amistad Committee evolved into the American Missionary Association with Tappan as one of the founding members. The AMA was the organization presented by Gen. Butler in helping to solve "the slave problem" and was ultimately given official governmental permission to set up schools in the Union Army camps for former enslaved people. See: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/trialheroes/Tappanessay.html

The Dakota Rebellion, 1862

Also called "The Red Scare" during its time. This incident really affected the citizens in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. In some communities, the state militia rounded up folks in the rural areas and forced them into towns. The incident was interpreted at Old World Wisconsin the early 1990s using several primary accounts from citizens. The USV host unit portrayed the local militia and several menfolks shed their uniforms and portrayed farmers along with the female civilians.

Lincoln Assassination Trial

Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial

I have found this site useful in pulling together some facts when I interpret the social and political issues of the Civil War and hope it is helpful to others.

07-17-2004, 03:57 PM
Great site Yolanda! I do quite a bit with the Amistad trial in my AP classes, and this will be a superb addition.
I Remain,
Kurt Knierim

07-22-2004, 07:43 PM
Along those lines, might I also recommend "Modern Medea" by Steven Weisenburger. This is the true story that later inspired Toni Morrison's novel "Beloved." No ghosts in this fact-based book, however. Modern Medea is about Margaret Garner, the escaped slave mother who killed one child and nearly killed several others when slave catchers caught up with her. Her attorney argued, unsuccessfully, that she should stand trial for murder in Ohio before being returned to her master in Kentucky. From the book jacket: "Margaret Garner's child-murder electrified the United States, inspiring the longest, most spectacular fugitive-slave trial in history. Abolitionists and slaveholders fought over the meaning of the murder, and the case came to symbolize the ills of the Union in those last dark decades before the Civil War." Although her trial was forgotten by century's end, it was very much on the minds of Americans in 1856.

While I'm making recommendations, let me also suggest the Dred Scott opinion, http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/21.htm. I didn't see that on the "famous trials" website. Unfortunately, this website doesn't give as much background on the Dred Scott case as I was hoping. When we read the case in law school, my professor mentioned that many people believe that the Dred Scott case was a "set-up," in other words, abolitionists were seeking a case to bring to challenge slavery, and his "owner" really wasn't seeking to establishing ownership rights.

Kathryn Bourn

07-23-2004, 11:22 AM
Along those lines, might I also recommend "Modern Medea" by Steven Weisenburger. ...

While I'm making recommendations, let me also suggest the Dred Scott opinion ....

Kathryn Bourn


Yes, both of these cases were much discussed in mid-nineteenth century, especially among abolitionists. Relevant to the Civil War? Yes.... at least I believe so...

The Marilyn Garner incident is connected with the evils of the Fugitive Slave Act: evil acts can cause people to commit evil acts as self-defense and "preservation of self." If you want to tie that into Civil War military you have to connect the dots: The Fugitive Slave Act was congressionally abolished by the First Confiscation Act (Section 4) and Second Confiscation Act (Section 10). See http://www.history.umd.edu/Freedmen/conact1.htm and http://www.history.umd.edu/Freedmen/conact2.htm respectively. (As a side note: these acts orignated the word "Contraband" to identify fugitive slaves working for the Union Army.)

The Dred and Harriet Scott case was a long drawn-out situation -- 1846 until 1857. The Washington University website with its related links is a good source to original documents and timelines. See http://library.wustl.edu/vlib/dredscott/ An article via the Missouri State Archive's website gives a good outline on Dred and Harriet Scott's case. See http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/africanamerican/scott/scott.asp. As indicated in the article, Dred Scott was owned by a civilian doctor stationed at various military posts, therefore ownership of slaves in non-slave states was an important issue. Also note the last paragraph of the article in which the author states, "...the intense and immediate public reaction accelerated a chain of events that made fighting a civil war unavoidable." Did it or didn't it? Was it among the several issues that continued to split Missouri and caused the fighting and dieing to spill outside that state's borders? Again, that statement was timely discussion and debate by citizens and soldiers during the Civil War.

Anyways... the intent in this little exercise was to help promote topical discussions in first person interpretation. As covered on another thread, talk on poltiics, social, legal issues etc was part of everyone's daily life in the nineteenth century and should be reflected in our interpretation... At least that's my opinion.