Walker, Timothy (1806-1856)
Timothy Walker (1806-1856)
Educator and publicist
Transplantation. Timothy Walker typified the spread of New Englanders and New England values across the Old Northwest. A direct descendant of Elder William Brewster of the Mayflower, Walker was born in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in 1806. He entered Harvard College at the standard age of sixteen and graduated in 1826 at the head of his class. For the following three years he taught mathematics at George Bancroft’s famous Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, and wrote articles for the North American Review as well as a geometry textbook. In 1829 he joined the first class to attend Harvard Law School subsequent to the reorganization that accompanied the appointment of Joseph Story to the faculty. After one year of instruction he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, then the rapidly growing Capital of the West and one of the most exciting intellectual environments in the country.
Cincinnati. A characteristic child of the Puritans, Walker practiced law in Ohio for only two years before joining with a local judge to establish a small private law school. In 1835 the school became affiliated with Cincinnati College; as the University of Cincinnati Law School it would be the fourth oldest law school in the country (behind William and Mary, Harvard, and Yale) a century and a half later. By 1850 the assigned reading included James Kent’s Commentaries on American Law (1826–1830), William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769), and treatises on evidence, equity, pleading, and mercantile law. The centerpiece of the curriculum was Walker’s lectures, which he published in 1837 as Introduction to American Law and dedicated to his mentor Story. The overview reflected Walker’s aim to provide “a first book upon the law of this country” useful to students rather than practitioners. Disclaiming any originality, profundity, or erudition, he sought to provide a clear, concise survey of the various branches of law, with guidance for further learning. Walker’s work ably filled a gap in the literature—a generation later, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. would call it the best general introduction that he found as a student—and the book remained in print through eleven editions into the early twentieth century.
Reform Editor. In 1843 Walker established the Western Law Journal, which immediately became one of the most important legal publications in the country. Like other legal periodicals of the era, it sought to meet the everyday needs of practitioners; the advent of academic law journals staffed by students remained in the distant future. In addition to presenting recent case reports and other basic information, Walker made the Western Law Journal an influential voice on behalf of various reforms. He advocated codification along the same lines as Kent and Story, as a streamlining of the common law to secure recent innovations and achieve efficiency. Troubled by the Jacksonian argument that codification would rein in a privileged professional elite, Walker warned that “the spirit of the hour is a spirit of radicalism; a spirit of selfsufficiency, which regards the wisdom and experience of the past is mere dry dust.” Walker similarly sought to follow a moderate course by calling for expansion of woman’s rights to hold property and make contracts, while opposing the extension of suffrage or rights of officeholding because “the general participation of that sex in political affairs, could have no other effect than to transform them into a race of Amazons.”
Beyond Settlement. As Cincinnati matured, the Western Law Journal under Walker’s leadership remained a vital forum for the discussion of such social and economic aspects of law as the power of railroad corporations to condemn private property, the merits of establishing an institution for juvenile delinquents in a populous city, and the disposition of the vast, unsettled domain owned by the federal government. When Ohio was divided into two federal judicial districts in 1855, Walker was appointed to draft the rules of practice for the courts of the new southern district. After a carriage accident later in the same year, he died at his home in Cincinnati.
Walter Theodore Hitchcock, Timothy Walker, Antebellum Lawyer (New York: Garland, 1990).
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