Thursday, January 21, 2016

Calling interested law students: annual essay competition is underway!

The eighth annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition is underway and open to any graduate student in law, library science, history, or related fields!

 The Legal History and Rare Books (LH&RB) Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), in cooperation with Cengage Learning, sponsors this annual competition, which is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School. The competition is designed to encourage scholarship and to acquaint students with the AALL and law librarianship, and is open to students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, and related fields. Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives.

 The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses to attend the AALL Annual Meeting in July in Chicago. The winner and runner-up will have the opportunity to publish their essays in LH&RB’s online scholarly journal Unbound: A Review of Legal History and Rare Books. The entry form, requirements, and instructions are available at the LH&RB website. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., April 18, 2016 (EST).

Monday, November 30, 2015

Early Maine Attorney's Court Docket Book

Today's item is a docket book once owned by Charles Greene, a successful lawyer in Maine. Interestingly, the entries begin in 1816, when Maine was still a district of Massachusetts. By the time of the last entry, in 1833, Maine had been a state for more than a decade. This book covers cases handled in the common law courts of York and Somerset Counties.

Charles Greene was educated at Dartmouth, from which he graduated in 1811. Upon graduating, he went to study law under his father, Judge Benjamin Greene, along with Dudley Hubbard, South Berwick's "first regularly educated lawyer." In 1814, just three years after graduating college, Charles Greene opened his own practice in South Berwick, York County. He would later move to Norridgewock before finally settling in Athens, where he would stay until his death in 1852. Greene continued to practice law and later became judge of the county probate court.

The book is completely filled in, with no blank pages and none missing. Overall, the volume contains 1569 cases. Most of the actions contained within are for debt, but several others of interest include actions of replevin, trespass, defamation, and dower, among others. The page shown above is part of Greene's comprehensive 12-page index. The index is split into two sections to separate Greene's time practicing in South Berwick from his practice in Athens.

Many thanks to Robert H. Rubin for the wonderful description on which this post is based.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New Acquisition: 19th Century Justice of the Peace Ledger

Wilkes Wood entry on theft
This acquisition is a manuscript ledger of cases heard by Wilkes Wood, a justice of the peace for Middleborough in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Wood graduated from Brown University in 1793 and was admitted to the bar of Plymouth in 1796 after studying law there under Judge Thomas. He served as judge of probate and president of the Bar Association of Plymouth County. A member of the Whig Party, Wood served as a state senator for Massachusetts for two years and was a member of the electoral college that cast its vote for William Harrison.

Unlike today, justices of the peace in Massachusetts at the time had a good deal of power, with jurisdiction over criminal cases and some civil cases. Justices worked out of their own homes and kept their own records and ledgers. Dissatisfied parties could appeal the justices’ rulings to the local county courts, with the records for the appeal coming from the ledger or minute books of the justice of the peace who heard the original case. Catherine S. Menand, A Research Guide to the Massachusetts Courts and Their Records 60 (1987).

Wood’s ledger covers actions from 1801-1840, with the bulk of the entries from 1801-1816. Although most of them are related to defaults on debts, there are approximately one hundred actions brought for other matters including theft, assault and battery, and vagrancy. Additionally, there are several records of marriages performed by Wood. One of the more interesting actions is displayed above. In it, plaintiff Joseph Bisbe, a blacksmith, has brought an action against the defendant for theft. After examining the “proofs” offered, Justice of the Peace Wood declares the defendant to be guilty and orders him to pay a fine of three dollars as well as the costs of prosecution, listed on the bottom left of the page.

previous post showcased a similar record book belonging to a justice of the peace in Springfield.

Many thanks to Robert H. Rubin for the description on which this post is based.

Thomas Weston, History of the Town of Middleboro Massachusetts (1906)
Catherine S. Menand, A Research Guide to the Massachusetts Courts and Their Records (1987)

This posted was drafted by BC Law Library intern, Liz Walk, Boston College Class of 2016. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

New Acquisition: A Legal Commonplace Book

This commonplace book, published in London in 1680, is attributed to Samuel Brewster. It is succinctly titled A Brief Method of the Law. Being an Exact Alphabetical Disposition of All the Heads Necessary for a Perfect Common-Place. Books of this type were used as a tool for the study and retrieval of law. The owner was meant to follow the structure of the book and fill it in, or “common-place” it, with notes and precedents. The book is organized into an alphabetical outline of legal topics, from “Abatement del breve” to “Wreck”. The blank interleaves in our copy were filled in extensively by an English law student or lawyer; the language of the notes varies between English, Latin, and Law-French.

In his History of English Law, Holdsworth discusses the utility of commonplace books in the study of law at this time, making specific reference to Brewster's work. According to Holdsworth, the typical law student “was thrown upon his own resources; and that consequently the method of getting and assimilating a knowledge of law, which was universally recommended and generally followed, was the making of a commonplace book under alphabetical heads.”

In addition to his considerable notes in the text, the owner also copied a lengthy indenture into the first several pages of the book, indicating an intent to use this as a precedent book as well.

Thank you to Michael von der Linn at Lawbook Exchange for the description on which this post is based.

Holdsworth, William. A History of English Law. Vol. 6: 601.

This post was drafted by BC Law Library intern, Liz Walk. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

New Acquisition: Revolutionary Period Reference Letter

This acquisition, dated 1783, is a letter of reference for membership to the bar. In it, Peter W. Yates, Esq., endorses Anthony Hoffman’s good moral character and affirms that Hoffman clerked in his office for a period of one year. Yates was a prominent attorney in Albany and later a member of the New York State Assembly and a delegate to the Continental Congress.

The letter supports Hoffman’s application for admission to the bar. The standards for legal education and admission to the bar differed from those in place today. Law courses were uncommon at colleges until after the Revolution, when American legal education began to develop in earnest. Before the founding of independent law schools, chairs of law began to be established at several colleges, the first one at William and Mary College in 1779. The first school of law, Litchfield Law School, was not established until 1784, the year after this letter was written. Law books were difficult to come by, so the primary method of study came through an apprenticeship with a member of the Bar who would have superior texts and experience.

At the time Yates wrote his reference, neither the New York State Bar Association nor the ABA had been established, though there had been a New York Bar Association established in New York City that existed from 1747 until around 1770. We are not certain of what experience Hoffman would have had in terms of his legal education or in his process of admission to the bar. As of 1767, the New York Supreme Court controlled admission to the bar and decided that either a bachelor’s degree coupled with a 3-year clerkship or a 5-year clerkship without a degree would be required for applicants. After the adoption of the New York State Constitution in 1777, courts were given power to control qualification of the attorneys appearing before them. Hoffman likely would have been working with similar standards.

The bar exam itself was also markedly different. The first bar exam administered in the United States was in Delaware in 1763. It was an oral examination in front of a judge. The first written bar exam did not come until 1855, in Massachusetts. Would Hoffman’s experience have been an informal interview with a judge? A rigorous oral examination on all points of the common law?

Interestingly, Yates’s endorsement of Hoffman’s character is quite comparable to the affidavit as to an applicant’s good moral character still required in New York today, and similar to other states’ moral character requirements.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Otis Family: Part 3


Two previous posts showcased some of our Otis materials, which are largely related to the legal practice of James Otis, Sr. Otis was the father of the patriot James Otis, Jr., the poet and political writer Mercy Otis Warren, and the politician Samuel Allyne Otis.

This 1738 document is an indenture binding Hannah Attequin, a Native American woman from Mashpee, to Silvanus Bourn. Bourn was a wealthy merchant and lawyer living in Barnstable. He also served as judge of the Barnstable Court of Common Pleas, becoming Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas before his death. Additionally, Bourn  was a member of the Governor’s Council, Register of Probate, and then Judge of Probate for Barnstable County. The indenture transfers Attequin’s debt from the recently deceased Joseph Hinckley over to Bourn, who was actually Hinckley’s uncle. Though the indenture states that Attequin was binding herself to Bourn, her signature is nowhere to be found in the document.

James Otis, Sr., alongside John Gorham, acted as a justice of the peace in witnessing the document. Otis and Bourn were neighbors, friends, and cousins by marriage. Both were active public figures in Massachusetts, with Otis being appointed judge of the Court of Common Pleas and judge of Probate for Barnstable County the year after Bourn died. Additionally, the two acted together as guardians of the local Mashpee Indian tribe.

From looking at various genealogical records, including this site and this book, we believe that Joseph Hinckley, the previous party to the indenture, was the great-grandson of Samuel Hinckley, Sr. Samuel is also known for being the common ancestor of three presidents: George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Many thanks to Robert Rubin for his helpful description of this item. Some of the information in this post comes from The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts by John J. Waters, Jr.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Recent Acquisition: More from Joseph Story on Proposed Federal Bankruptcy Law


A previous post introduced readers to the correspondence between Joseph Story and William Tudor. At the time of the letters, Story (1779-1845) was serving as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Tudor, who wanted to serve as the Massachusetts Commissioner of Bankruptcy as his father had, sought a letter of recommendation from Story. The initial request came from Tudor as Congress was considering a new bankruptcy bill, which Story emphatically supported. In our previously acquired letter, Story wrote that he was uncertain whether the legislation would grant appointment power to the executive or judicial branch.

In this letter, dated five months later, Story obliges Tudor with the requested letter of recommendation. He reminds Tudor that, as the bill stood at the time of writing, the appointment commission would be made up of State judges. Story notes that if the legislation were amended to give appointment power to the executive branch, Tudor would need to forward the recommendation to the President. At that time, he would have been referring to James Monroe.

Ultimately, the bill in question failed to pass. This would disappoint Story, who long advocated for a federal bankruptcy law. He would go on to aid in drafting similar legislation that was eventually passed by Congress in 1841, making it the first federal bankruptcy law enacted since the repeal of the Bankruptcy Act in 1803. Story would continue to serve on the Supreme Court until his death in 1845. To this day, he is the youngest Supreme Court Justice at the time of appointment.

Many thanks to Michael von der Linn at Lawbook Exchange for the description on which this post is based.