Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction New York

Civil War Era Header

In a time of rapid growth and development, the judicial system that New York had inherited from the English, with its separate courts of common law and equity, proved frustratingly slow and expensive. A new Constitution adopted in 1846 merged common law and equity jurisdictions into a single court system and instituted a new court of final appeal, the New York Court of Appeals. The mid-19th century saw the continued development of canals and railways and this new infrastructure created new legal issues to be resolved by the courts. The plight of tenant farmers subject to colonial manorial tenure continued to roil the Hudson and Mohawk valleys, and led to two major cases before the Court of Appeals. By mid-century, a decade long court struggle against the State of Virginia had emerged in the form of the Lemmon Slave Case. The courts also dealt with issues arising from the Civil War, including the suspension of habeas corpus and the implementation of the military draft. The status of lands owned by Native Americans was resolved by two cases decided in the New York Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States.

A New Judicial System

Commentary on the 1846 Constitution Courtesy New York State Library

Judiciary Act 1847

The Field Code

Chester A. Arthur The Lemmon Slave Case

Judges of the Era

Judges of the Court of Appeals

William B. Wright

1847-1848; 1856-1857; 1860-1868
1806-1868 Ex Officio Judge of the Court of Appeals; 1847-1848; 1856-1857; 1860 Associate Judge, 1861-1867 Chief Judge, 1868 by Erik ...
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Charles Herman Ruggles

1789-1865 Court of Appeals, 1847-1850; 1854-1855 Chief Judge: 1851-1853 by Albert M. Rosenblatt Judge Charles Ruggles has a special place ...
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Greene Carrier Bronson

1789-1863 Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature, 1836-1845 Chief Justice, 1845-1847 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, ...
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Freeborn Garrettson Jewett

1791-1858 Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature, 1845-1847 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1847; 1850-1853 Chief Judge, ...
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Charles Mason

1853; 1861; 1868-1869
1810-1879 Ex Officio Judge of the Court of Appeals,  1853; 1861 Associate Judge, 1868-1869 by Albert M. Rosenblatt Oneida County ...
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Samuel Lee Selden

1800-1876 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1855-1862 Chief Judge, January-July 1862 by Frances Murray There exists a manuscript, ...
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Ex-Officio Judges of the Court of Appeals

John A. Lott

1806-1878 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1870 by Jason C. Rubinstein Although John A.1 Lott served as a ...
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William Fitch Allen

1808-1878 Ex Officio: 1854, 1862 Court of Appeals: 1870-1878 by William A. Lawrence By 1864, Judge William F. Allen had ...
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Rufus W. Peckham, Sr.

1809-1873 Ex Officio Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1866 Associate Judge, 1870-1873 by Megan W. Benett Rufus Wheeler Peckham, ...
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Theodore Miller

1816-1895 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1874-1886 by Dionne Fraser Theodore Miller's legal career spanned almost 50 years ...
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Samuel Jones

1769-1853 Samuel Jones served in 1847, 1848. Born in New York City, May 26, 1769. Graduated from Yale (1790) and ...
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Charles Gray

1796-1871 Charles Gray served in 1847-1848. Born in Palatine, Montgomery County, N.Y., on Sep. 20, 1796. Herkimer County jail building ...
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Other Notable Judges

William Rockwell

1803-1856 William Rockwell was born in Sharon, Connecticut, on September 20, 1803. He graduated Yale College with the class of ...
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Elijah Paine, Jr.

1796-1853 Elijah Paine, Jr. was born on April 10, 1796 in Williamstown, Vermont. He studied at Harvard College, graduated in ...
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John H. McCunn

1825-1873 John H. McCunn was born in Londonderry County, Ireland, in 1825. A self-made man, he arrived in New York ...
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Charles P. Daly

1816-1899 Charles Patrick Daly was born in New York City on October 31, 1816. Following the death of his father, ...
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Important Figures

New York Attorneys General 1847-1869

John Van Buren

1810-1866 Attorney General of New York, 1845-1847 John Van Buren, second son of President Martin Van Buren, was born on ...
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Ambrose L. Jordan

1789-1865 Attorney General of New York, 1848-1849 Ambrose Latting Jordan, the first New York State Attorney General elected by popular ...
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Levi S. Chatfield

1808-1884 Attorney General of New York, 1849-1853 Levi Starr Chatfield was born in Butternuts, Otsego County, New York, on March ...
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Gardner Stow

1790-Unknown Attorney General of New York, 1853 Gardner Stow was born around the year 1790 in Orange, Franklin County, Massachusetts ...
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Ogden Hoffman

1794-1856 Attorney General of New York, 1854-1856 Ogden Hoffman, born on October 13, 1794 in New York City, was the ...
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Stephen B. Cushing

1812-1868 Attorney General of New York, 1856-1857 Stephen Booth Cushing was born in January 1812 in the village of Pawling, ...
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District Attorneys, 1847-1869


Notable Attorneys

Erastus D. Culver

1803-1889 Erastus Dean Culver was born in Champlain, Washington County, New York, on March 15, 1803. He graduated from the ...
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Charles O’Conor

1804-1884 Charles O'Conor was born on January 22, 1804, in New York City, the son of a rebel who fled ...
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Nicholas Hill

1805-1859 The portrait of Nicholas Hill that hangs in Court of Appeals Hall Albany is one of the very few ...
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David Dudley Field

1805-1894 David Dudley Field was born in Haddam, Middlesex County, Connecticut, on February 13, 1805. He was educated by private ...
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John Jay

1817-1894 John Jay II, grandson of Chief Justice John Jay and son of Judge William Jay, was born on June 23, ...
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William M. Evarts

1818-1901 William M. Evarts was born on February 6, 1818, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He was educated at the Boston Latin ...
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Important Cases

Anti-Rent Movement

The Anti-Rent War Prosecution of Dr. Smith Boughton, 1845

On December 12, 1844, Columbia County Sheriff Henry C. Miller went to the village of Copake to serve process on ...
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People v. Van Rensselaer; People v. Clarke, 1853

People v. Van Rensselaer 9 N.Y. 291 (1853) The long simmering issue of manorial titles came to the fore again ...
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Civil Rights

Jennings v. Third Avenue Railroad Co., 1854

In 1852, the Third Avenue Railroad Company obtained a franchise to construct and operate a street railway service in parts ...
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Seneca Tonawanda

Blacksmith v. Fellows, 1852

7 N. Y. 401 (1852) Fellows v. Blacksmith, 60 U.S. 366 (1857) The Treaty of Buffalo Creek (1838) provided for ...
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New York ex rel. Cutler v. Dibble, 1858

62 U.S. (21 How.) 366 (1858) The Treaty of Buffalo Creek (1838) provided for the removal of the Seneca from ...
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Anti-Slavery (Abolitionists)

The Lemmon Slave Case (Judicial Notice Article)

The Lemmon Slave Case (Documentary & Exhibit)

Superior Court Decision

Supreme Court Decision

Court of Appeals Decision

Civil War

Court Cases Related to the New York City Draft Riots, 1863

At the outbreak of the Civil War, large numbers of New York men volunteered to fight for the Union. As ...
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In the Matter of Robert Martin, 1865

31 How. Pr. 228, 45 Barb 142 (1865) Suspension of Habeas Corpus “When the necessity arises, the military power is ...
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People ex rel. Gaston v. Campbell, 1869

40 N.Y. 133 (1869) Agnes A. Gaston sued for divorce and alimony was awarded pending the trial. Her husband, Albert ...
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Commerce and Technology

Thomas v. Winchester, 1852

Professor Stewart Sterk highlighted this case in There Shall Be a Court of Appeals, writing that “In New York, and ...
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Newell v. People ex rel. Phelps, 1852

7 N.Y. 9 (1852) In his work on the history of the New York Court of Appeals, Judge Francis Bergan stated: ...
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Corwin v. New York & Erie Railroad Co., 1855

13 N.Y. 42 (1855) This case illustrates how a common law rule relating to wandering domestic animals was found to ...
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Lawrence v. Fox, 1859

80 N.Y. 268 (1859) As Stewart Sterk wrote in There Shall Be a Court of Appeals, “the Court of Appeals ...
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Criminal Law

La Beau v. The People, 1866

34 N.Y. 223 (1866) A case decided in 1865 enunciated a rule of cross-examination that is still cited in the ...
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Class Tension (Astor Place Riots)

People v. Judson, 1849

11 Daly 3 (1849) Astor Place Riot During the 1840s, attending plays was a major form of public entertainment and ...
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Tammany Corruption

The People ex rel. Hackley v. Kelly &c. and Matter of Andrew J. Hackley, 1861

24 N.Y. 74 (1861) In the early 1860s, the Republicans who controlled the New York Legislature tried to break the ...
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Famous & Sensational Cases

People v. Cunningham, 1847

Harvey Burdell was the owner of 31 Bond Street, a large, four-story town house in New York City, in which ...
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People v. Robinson, 1854

4 American State Trials 88 The Trial of Henrietta Robinson for the Murder of Timothy Lanagan, Troy, N.Y., 1854 Known ...
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People v. William Landon, 1855

7 American State Trials 893 The Trial of William Landon for Breach of the Prohibition Law of the State, Albany, ...
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La Beau v. The People, 1866

34 N.Y. 223 (1866) A case decided in 1865 enunciated a rule of cross-examination that is still cited in the ...
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People v. Cole, 1868

The trial of George W. Cole for the murder of L. Harris Hiscock elicited much public interest because of the ...
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Courts of the Era

Justice of the Peace Courts

Article VI, section 17, of the Constitution of 1846 authorized the election of Justices of the Peace to serve in ...
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County Courts

The Constitution of 1846 provided for the establishment of a County Court in each county outside New York City. It ...
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The New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1869

The 1846 Constitution drew a distinction between the trial of impeachments and the review of cases on appeal, and established ...
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Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, 1777-1846

The Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors was established by the Constitution of 1777. Commonly called ...
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NYS Supreme Court

By Chapter 4 of the Laws of 1691, the New York Assembly established the New York Supreme Court of Judicature ...
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Surrogate’s Court, 1787 to Present

The Surrogate's Courts are statutory courts that were established by chapter 38 of the Laws of 1787. The Surrogate’s Court, ...
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Further Resources

The Judges of the New York Court of Appeals: A Biographical History. Edited by Albert M. Rosenblatt. (2007).

The New York Court of Appeals. There Shall Be a Court of Appeals

Francis Bergan. The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1932. (1985).

Charles Z. Lincoln. The Constitutional History of New York from the Beginning of the Colonial Period to the Year 1905, Showing the Origin, Development, and Judicial Construction of the Constitution: Volume 2, 1822-1894. (1905). Available digitally at the New York State Library.

Alden Chester, E. Melvin Williams. Courts and Lawyers of New York: A History, 1609-1925, 3 volumes (1925). Henry Wilson Scott. The Courts of the State of New York: Their History, Development and Jurisdiction (1909).

American Civil War Digital Collection (New York State Library)

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