Peters, Richard (1744–1828)

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PETERS, RICHARD (1744–1828)

president george washington on April 11, 1792, commissioned Richard Peters judge of the United States District Court for Pennsylvania, a position he filled until his death. His duties included presiding with a Supreme Court Justice over the federal circuit court in the state.

Peters contributed significantly to the development of a distinctly American admiralty and maritime law, including features borrowed from civil and common law precedents. In cases like Warder v. LaBelle Creole (1792), he was among the first American judges to advance a risk-reward calculus intended to facilitate the expansion of commerce.

His constitutional opinions touched the civil and criminal jurisdictions of the lower federal courts and the law of treason. Peters in 1792 joined his fellow circuit court judges in hayburn ' scase in refusing to determine the qualifications of Revolutionary War pensioners under a congressional act. This task, the judges concluded, fell outside the judicial power of the united states. Peters, however, had a broad view of federal judicial power. In United States v. Worrall (1798) he urged recognition of a federal common law of crimes, a position subsequently rejected by the Supreme Court.

Peters's nationalism also shaped his views of treason and the supremacy of the federal courts. In United States v. John Fries (1800) he charged the jury that "levying war against the United States" included armed opposition to the collection of taxes. (See fries ' rebellion.) During the famous Olmstead controversy in Pennsylvania, Peters ordered the governor and the General Assembly to pay a judgment outstanding against the state in the federal court. Peters withheld issuing compulsory process for fear of an armed clash, but Chief Justice john marshall in united states v. judge peters (1809) vindicated the judge's nationalism.

Peters's Federalist political principles flowed into his jurisprudence. He was a "Republican Schoolmaster," who exploited the lower federal bench to promote commercial development, federal judicial independence, and national authority.

Kermit L. Hall


Presser, Stephen B. 1978 A Tale of Two Judges: Richard Peters, Samuel Chase, and the Broken Promise of Federalist Jurisprudence. Northwestern University Law Review 73:26–111.

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Peters, Richard (1744–1828)

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