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The Role of Circuit Courts in the Formation of United States Law in the Early Republic

Following Supreme Court Justices Washington, Livingston, Story and Thompson

By: David Lynch
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Published: 08-02-2018
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 256
ISBN: 9781509910854
Imprint: Hart Publishing
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £75.00
Online price : £67.50
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About The Role of Circuit Courts in the Formation of United States Law in the Early Republic

While scholars have rightly focused on the importance of the landmark opinions of the United States Supreme Court and its Chief Justice, John Marshall, in the rise in influence of the Court in the Early Republic, the crucial role of the circuit courts in the development of a uniform system of federal law across the nation has largely been ignored. This book highlights the contribution of four Associate Justices (Washington, Livingston, Story and Thompson) as presiding judges of their respective circuit courts during the Marshall era, in order to establish that in those early years federal law grew from the 'inferior courts' upwards rather than down from the Supreme Court. It does so after a reading of over 1800 mainly circuit opinions and over 2000 original letters, which reveal the sources of law upon which the justices drew and their efforts through correspondence to achieve consistency across the circuits. The documents examined present insights into momentous social, political and economic issues facing the Union and demonstrate how these justices dealt with them on circuit. Particular attention is paid to the different ways in which each justice contributed to the shaping of United States law on circuit and on the Court and in the case of Justices Livingston and Thompson also during their time on the New York State Supreme Court.

Table Of Contents

1. The Supreme Court Justices and the Circuit Court Experiment
A Team Effort
Why Washington, Livingston, Story, and Thompson?
2. The Federal Circuit Courts: Shaping Local and National Justice for an Emerging Republic
The Politics of Federal Law
The Grand Jury Charge: A Bond between Government and Citizen
The Circuit Court Discourse in the Constitutional Ratification and Senate Debates
The Jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Courts
'A Certain Uniformity of Decision in United States Law'
3. Bushrod Washington: The Role of Precedent and the Preservation of Vested Interests
A Federalist's Journey from Revolutionary Virginia to the Supreme Court
Justice Washington and the Role of Precedent in the Federal Legal System
Property Rights and Commercial Law on Circuit
States' Rights, the War of 1812, and Slavery
4. Henry Brockholst Livingston: Consolidating Mercantile Law
The Early Years: Political Allegiances: From Federalist to Republican
Commercial Law for New York State
A Republican on a Federalist Supreme Court
Maritime and Commercial Law for the United States
5. Joseph Story: Admiralty Expertise and the Importation of Common Law
A Modernising Influence on Law and Procedure on the First Circuit
Admiralty and the Enforcement of Embargo Laws
Consistency Through the Sharing of Expertise
The Supremacy of Federal Law
The Protection of Minority Groups
Importing Common Law into the Federal Legal System
6. Justice Smith Thompson: Promoting Commerce, State Sovereignty and the Protection of the Cherokee Nation
State Supreme Court: Statutory Interpretation and New York 'Hard Law'
Contractual Obligations on the Second Circuit and on the Court
'What is to be Left to the States?'
The Cherokee Nation and the African-American Slave


Exhaustively researched and admirably argued, this book analyzes the crucial role played by the federal circuit courts in bridging the diversity of the new nation and the need to establish a unified body of national law. It also throws important new light on the internal operation of the Marshall Court. A significant contribution to our understanding of the federal court system of the early republic.
” –  Professor R Kent Newmyer, University of Connecticut School of Law,

“This fascinating and erudite book ... provides a classic illustration of the, generally sound, principle that travel broadens the mind. I warmly recommend it.” –  Sir Christopher Rose, The Middle Templar Magazine

“[This] work deals with a vitally important period of US legal history and the crucial role of the circuit courts in the development of a uniform system of federal law across the nation ... the author demonstrates how federal law developed from the lower courts upwards rather than from the Supreme Court downwards ... I commend this book as compulsory reading.” –  David Steer QC DL, Counsel Magazine

“... as a guide to a critical period of US history, legal as well as economic and political, and to help in understanding how the fledgling state across the Atlantic has evolved, it is compulsory reading.” –  Dara Robinson, Sheehan & Partners, Law Society Gazette (Ireland)

“It is a road trodden by few American scholars and is thus genuinely new work.” –  Sir Mark Hedley, Graya

The Role of Circuit Courts in the Formation of United States Law in the Early Republic merits a place in the library of every student and scholar of American legal history. Each chapter offers a concise overview of the Justice's significant circuit court decisions, providing a thoroughly readable, engaging judicial biography of its subject.” –  Tara Helfman, Comparative Legal History

“Lynch ... provides one more illustration that interest by English scholars in American constitutional government has persisted long after Maine... Lynch's research adds considerably to what is known about both cases decided by the the early federal judiciary and those Justices who served.” –  Donald Grier Stephenson Jr, Journal of Supreme Court History

“The subjects of this excellent book are four early American judges... the book's distinctive contribution is to assess the work of the federal circuit courts to which they were allocated, sharing their time between those courts and their sittings in Washington. This a book about remarkable judges based on a doctoral thesis by a remarkable judge.” –  The Rt Hon Lord Justice Peter Jackson, Inner Temple Yearbook

“This is a splendid work of historical and legal scholarship authored by a British judge... It admirably fills a gap in our literature on the early federal courts. This is a book that demands attention, due to the author's thoroughness and writing style. It just overflows with important information. Fortunately the footnotes are where they belong; at the foot of each page. The book includes three important appendices and an extensive bibliography...I am very glad I tackled this book, and students of judicial history and legal development, I venture to say, will be pleased as well should they read it.” –  Ronald H Clark PhD, JD, formerly Senior Trial Counsel at the United States Department of Justice,

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