Ten Pound Act Cases N.H. (1786–1787)
TEN POUND ACT CASES N.H. (1786–1787)
These cases, about which little is known (not even the names of the litigants are known), are notable as the first instances in our history of a state court's holding unconstitutional an act of a state legislature. The Inferior Court of Common Pleas of Rockingham County, sitting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1786 and 1787, voided the "Ten Pound Act," which had been passed in 1785 for the speedy recovery of small debts. Our scanty knowledge of the cases derives from newspaper reports and legislative records. The act of 1785 allowed justices of the peace to try certain civil cases, involving sums less than ten pounds, without juries. The state constitutional guarantee of trial by jury extended to all civil cases except those which juries customarily did not try. New Hampshire practice had previously allowed a justice of the peace to try a case without a jury if the sum amounted to less than two pounds. After the court ruled that the act conflicted with the right to trial by jury, petitions to the state House of Representatives demanded impeachment of the judges. The house, by a 3–1 majority, voted that the act was constitutional, but the judges stood by their initial decision or reaffirmed it in another case. Following the failure of a motion to impeach the judges, the house capitulated and repealed the Ten Pound Act.
Leonard W. Levy