1850-1877: Law and Justice: Chronology

views updated

1850-1877: Law and Justice: Chronology




  • Michigan and Pennsylvania switch from appointed to elected supreme courts.
  • In Brown v. Kendall Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of the Massachusetts Supreme Court sets forth the principle that liability for injuries caused in an accident will result only if the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care.
  • 30 Aug . Following a well-publicized trial, Harvard professor John Webster is executed in Boston for the murder of Dr. George Parkman.
  • 18 Sept . President Millard Fillmore signs the Fugitive Slave Act.
  • 22 Oct . The Chicago City Council passes a resolution nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act.
  • 30 Oct . Slave catchers trying to retrieve runaways William and Ellen Craft in Boston leave the city out of fear for their safety.


  • Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of Massachusetts introduces the doctrine of legislative police power in Commonwealth v. Alger.
  • 15 Feb . The fugitive Shadrach escapes from slavecatchers in Boston.
  • Apr. The fugitive Thomas Sims returns from Boston to slavery in Georgia.
  • 2 June Passage of the Maine Law provides a nationwide model for legislation prohibiting the sale of alcohol.
  • 12 Aug . Isaac Merrit Singer is granted a patent for his sewing machine. He soon organizes I. M. Singer and Company, leading to litigation with inventor Elias Howe.
  • 11 Sept . In the Christiana Massacre, Pennsylvania, a slave owner is killed and his son seriously wounded when they attempt to retrieve a runaway slave.


  • The state of Massachusetts establishes an insurance commission to collect data and report to the legislature.
  • An Ohio statute on local governments applies as its model an 1835 English law regulating municipal corporations.
  • The state of Rhode Island abolishes the death penalty.
  • In Haring v. New York and Erie Railroad Company the doctrine of contributory negligence is applied to bar an award of damages in the death of a man hit by a train while sledding across a railroad track.
  • 24 Oct . Daniel Webster, legendary lawyer, orator, senator, and secretary of state, dies.


  • The state of Wisconsin abolishes the death penalty.


  • The law firm headed by Clarence A. Seward relocates to Wall Street from Auburn, New York; later it develops into Cravath, Swaine and Moore.
  • 24 May The arrest of fugitive Anthony Burns in Boston begins agitation over proceedings to return him to slavery in Virginia.
  • 2 June The Rendition of Anthony Burns occurs when the runaway is marched through the streets of Boston by state and federal troops, who return him to slavery.


  • The state of New York establishes a railroad commission.


  • Manufacturers of sewing machines form a patent pool to share new technology in the industry.
  • 8 July Rep. Preston S. Brooks (S.C.) is indicted for assault and battery in the 22 May caning of Sen. Charles Sumner (Mass.) in Congress. Brooks pleads guilty and is fined $300.


  • The New York Railroad Commission is abolished on the recommendation of the commissioners, who had been bribed by railroad executives.
  • Stephen J. Field is elected to the California Supreme Court. Later, as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Field would gain a reputation for upholding the individuals right to property.
  • 6 Mar . The Supreme Court announces its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, holding that blackswhether free or slaveare not citizens of the United States. Furthermore, the court rules that the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery above the 36° 30 line in the Louisiana Purchase Territory is unconstitutional.


  • Theodore W. Dwight assumes direction of the Columbia University Law School and holds that position until his retirement in 1891.


  • The New York case oí Lawrence v. Fox establishes the principle of third-party beneficiary contract: a person not a party to a contract may enforce it in court if the contract is intended to benefit him or her.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court invalidates Wisconsin personal liberty laws m Ablentan v. Booth.
  • 26 Apr . Congressman Daniel E. Sickles is acquitted of murder charges after killing his wifes lover, U.S. District Attorney Philip Barton Key, in Washington, D.C.
  • 25 Oct . The trial of abolitionist John Brown begins. He is quickly convicted of murder, treason against the state of Virginia, and criminal conspiracy to incite a slave rebellion.
  • 2 Dec . John Brown is hanged in Charlestown, Virginia.


  • In Lemmon v. The People, the New York Court of Appeals upholds the free status of blacks brought to New York City by a Southerner merely changing ships for a direct boat to New Orleans. Antislavery Northerners expect the decision to be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Civil War begins before the case can be heard.


  • Congress passes a statute requiring an oath of future loyalty from all federal employees.
  • 21 Feb . The Senate rejects President James Buchanans nomination of Jeremiah S. Black to the Supreme Court. Black had a reputation for strictly enforcing federal laws relating to the return of fugitive slaves.
  • 30 Mar . Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw dies.
  • 27 Apr . President Abraham Lincoln authorizes the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the area between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
  • 26 May Chief Justice Roger B. Taney issues a writ of habeas corpus in Ex Parte Merryman. President Lincoln refuses to execute the writ.


  • The Morrill Act seeks to punish and prevent the practice of polygamy in the territories. This federal statute is held constitutional in 1878, but it is slow to affect the practices of Mormons.
  • 2 July President Abraham Lincoln signs the ironclad test oath which demands past loyalty from all federal officials; later it is extended to federal contractors, attorneys, jurors, and applicants for passports.
  • 8 Aug . Secretary of War Edwin Stanton declares the writ of habeas corpus suspended throughout the country for cases of disloyalty and draft evasion.
  • 24 Sept . President Abraham Lincoln ratifies Edwin Stantons order of 8 August.
  • 26 Dec . Thirty-eight leaders of a Sioux uprising in Minnesota are executed.


  • Massachusetts creates the first State Board of Charities to regulate administration of services to the poor.
  • 10 Mar . The Supreme Court, in the Prize cases, approves by a 5-4 vote the legality of the blockade ordered by President Abraham Lincoln at the outset of war.
  • 25 May Peace Democrat Clement Vallandigham of Ohio is exiled to the Confederacy for a public speech criticizing the war effort and a new conscription law.


  • Thomas Cooley is elected to the Michigan Supreme Court. He serves for twenty years and plays an important role in the growth of the University of Michigan Law School.
  • 12 Oct U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney dies. Taney is best known for writing the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case.


  • The Iowa Law School opens in Des Moines as the first night school for law training.
  • Jan. African American war hero Robert Smalls is ejected from a Philadelphia streetcar for violating segregation laws.
  • 31 Jan . The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, is approved by Congress and submitted to the states for ratification.
  • 5 Feb . John S. Rock of Boston becomes the first black lawyer admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • May Massachusetts enacts the first comprehensive law banning racial discrimination in public accommodations.
  • 7 July Mary Surratt and three other convicted conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln are executed; four accomplices receive prison sentences.
  • Oct. The publication of the Mississippi black code provides a model for other Southern states.
  • Oct. The American Association for the Advancement of Social Science is established in Boston; its charter includes a section on jurisprudence.
  • 18 Dec . The Thirteenth Amendment is signed into law after being ratified by three fourths of the states.


  • The United States Constitution, stored in the Treasury Building since 1820, is moved to the Washington Orphan Asylum.
  • 3 Apr . In Ex parte Milligan the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates trials by military commissions outside combat zones.
  • 9 Apr . Congress passes the first Civil Rights Act over the veto of President Andrew Johnson.
  • 8 May Former Confederate president Jefferson Davis is indicted for treason against the United States.
  • 16 June The Fourteenth Amendment, establishing the citizenship of all persons born or naturalized in the United States, is submitted to the states for ratification.
  • 16 June Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. graduates from Harvard Law School after service in the Union army. He would later gain renown as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


  • Congress passes a national bankruptcy act for the first time since prior laws were repealed in 1841. The new law is repealed in 1878, leaving the country without a uniform bankruptcy system until 1898.
  • 14 Jan . The Supreme Court announces its decisions in Ex parte Garland and Cummings v. Missouri, together known as the Test Oath cases, invalidating loyalty oaths for former Confederates.
  • 1 Mar . Nebraska becomes the thirty-seventh state and adopts for its motto Equality Under the Law.
  • May Jefferson Davis is released from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, after two years of imprisonment.


  • 27 Mar . Congress deprives the Supreme Court of jurisdiction in Ex parte McCardle, a case involving a Vicksburg, Mississippi, newspaper editor arrested for inciting insurrection and tried by a military tribunal. Republican leaders in Congress struck at the Courts authority by repealing the provision of the Habeas Corpus Act allowing direct appeals to the Supreme Court.
  • 30 Mar . The impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson begins.
  • 16 May The Senate votes 35-19 to impeach President Andrew Johnson, falling one vote short of the two-thirds majority required to remove him from office.
  • 25 May Congress enacts an eight-hour-workday law for federal employees.
  • June The Congressional Committee on Lawlessness and Violence reports that 373 freed slaves have been killed by whites in the past two years, while only ten whites have been killed by freed slaves in the same time period.
  • 28 June The Fourteenth Amendment is proclaimed to be in effect.
  • 3 Oct . Myra Bradwell begins publication of the Chicago Legal News.
  • 3 Dec . The treason trial of Jefferson Davis begins in Richmond before federal judges Salmon P. Chase and John C Underwood; the charges, however, are dropped after President Andrew Johnson proclaims a general pardon and amnesty for all charges of treason arising from the Civil War.


  • Jan. The Law Department at Howard University, Washington, D.C., opens.
  • 23 Jan Massachusetts establishes the first state bureau of labor statistics.
  • 26 Feb . The Fifteenth Amendment, affirming the right of citizens to vote, is submitted by Congress to the states for ratification.
  • 12 Apr . The Supreme Court announces its decision in Texas v. White, holding that the Confederate states were at all times part of the Union.


  • The city of Saint Louis legalizes prostitution; this social experiment lasts until 1874.
  • Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cooley writes the majority opinion in The People v. Salem, invalidating legislative authorization of local taxes to fund bonds for railroad construction.
  • 3 Feb . The Senate rejects the nomination of Ebenezer R. Hoar to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hoars past insistence that federal judgeships be filled with men of ability and integrity earned him the animosity of many senators, who considered these positions as opportunities for political patronage.
  • 7 Feb . In Hepburn v. Griswold the Supreme Court invalidates greenbacks, paper currency used to finance the Civil War.
  • 15 Feb . The Association of the Bar of the City of New York is founded; 450 attorneys join in the first year.
  • 30 Mar . The Fifteenth Amendment is declared to be in effect.
  • 31 May Congress passes the Enforcement Act of 1870 to secure the voting rights of citizens in the South.
  • Sept. Christopher Columbus Langdell is appointed dean of Harvard Law School.
  • Oct. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. becomes coeditor of the American Law Review.
  • Oct. The National Congress of Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline advocates the implementation of a parole system for the nations prisons.
  • 4 Oct . President Ulysses S. Grant appoints the first solicitor general of the United States, Benjamin H. Bristow.


  • Feb. The first graduation ceremonies are held in the Law Department of Howard University.
  • 15 Apr . The Illinois Railroad Act authorizes a state commission to set maximum railroad rates.
  • 20 Apr . Congress passes the Ku Klux Klan Act, outlawing conspiracies, the wearing of disguises, resisting law enforcement officers, and intimidating government officials. It also authorizes the president to suspend habeas corpus when necessary to suppress armed combinations.
  • 26 Apr . A sensational San Francisco criminal trial ends with the jury finding Laura Fair guilty of murdering her lover, Alexander Parker Crittenden; Fair is sentenced to death.
  • 1 May The Supreme Court announces its decision in Legal Tender cases, reversing Hepburn v. Griswold and upholding the financing of the Civil War through issuance of currency not redeemable in gold or silver.
  • 24 May The Senate ratifies the Treaty of Washington, providing for international arbitration of American claims against Britain for damages caused by English-built ships supplied to the Confederacy. A tribunal is convened in Geneva, Switzerland, to hear the cases.


  • A California statute authorizes school districts to establish separate schools for persons of Asian descent.
  • 30 Sept . Laura Fair is acquitted of murder charges after an appeal produces an order for a retrial.
  • 19 Nov . William Marcy Boss Tweed, leader of Tammany Hall, is convicted on 204 counts of political corruption in New York City.


  • Judge Albert Cardozo of the New York Supreme Court resigns to avoid impeachment for impropriety in the Erie Railroad bankruptcy proceedings. His son Benjamin, then three years old, would later become a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
  • Congress enacts the Comstock Law, prohibiting the mailing of obscene, lewd, or lascivious books or any article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion.
  • 14 Apr . In the Slaughterhouse cases the Supreme Court has its first opportunity to interpret the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority of the justices limit the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the first section of the amendment.
  • 7 May U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase dies. Chase had presided over the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.


  • 19 Jan . President Ulysses S. Grant appoints Morrison R. Waite of Ohio to be chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Waite had served on the Geneva arbitration tribunal.
  • 11 Mar . Wisconsin passes the Potter Law, regulating railroads; Iowa follows suit with a similar law twelve days later.
  • 8 May Massachusetts passes the Ten Hour Act, limiting working hours for women and children.
  • 20 Aug . New York journalist Theodore Tilton sues minister Henry Ward Beecher for seducing Tiltons wife, Elizabeth. The jury is unable to agree whether or not Beecher initiated the affair.


  • The United States Constitution is moved from the Washington Orphan Asylum to cellar storage in the War and State Building, where it remains until transferred to the Library of Congress in 1921.
  • Congress passes the Jurisdiction and Removal Act, permitting any claim arising under federal law to be filed in a federal court or, if filed in a state court, to be removed to federal court at the defendants option.
  • Eighteen-year-old Louis Brandeis, a future U.S. Supreme Court justice, enters Harvard Law School.
  • Eighteen-year-old Clarence Darrow enters University of Michigan Law School. Darrow would later become famous for his participation in the Scopes Trial (1925), during which he argued for the teaching of evolution in schools.
  • 25 Jan . Pinkerton detectives raid the home of Jesse and Frank James, killing their half brother but failing to find the outlaws. Jesse would be killed seven years later by Robert Ford, and Frank would surrender to law enforcement authorities shortly afterward.
  • 1 Mar . Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, barring discrimination in hotels, theaters, railroads, and other public facilities.


  • 27 Mar . The Supreme Court announces its decision in United States v. Cruiksbank, finding that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments bar violations of civil rights by the states and do not cover racially motivated crimes committed by private individuals.


  • 21 June Ten members of the Molly Maguires, a secret labor organization, are executed for murder in Pennsylvania. They had been tried and convicted following an investigation initiated by railroad executives and conducted by undercover operatives of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

About this article

1850-1877: Law and Justice: Chronology

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


1850-1877: Law and Justice: Chronology