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

Henry Ebenezer Davies

1805-1881 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1859-1867 by Norman Kee Contested elections resulting in heated litigation may seem ...

Henry Rogers Selden

1805-1885 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1862-1865 by Frances Murray Described by a contemporary historian1 as one of ...

Lewis Bartholomew Woodruff

1809-1875 Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1868-1869 by Donald J. Paisley Although serving on the Court of Appeals ...

Ex-Officio Judges of the Court of Appeals

Thomas A. Johnson

1847-1848, 1856, 1864
1804-1872 Thomas A. Johnson served 1847-1848, 1856, and 1864. Born in Blanford, Hamden County, Mass., May 15, 1804. Land commissioner, ...

Daniel Cady

1773-1859 Daniel Cady served in 1849. Born in Canaan, Columbia County, N.Y., Apr. 29, 1773. Father of Elizabeth Cady Stanton ...

Selah Brewster Strong

1849, 1859
1792-1872 Selah Brewster Strong served in 1849, 1859. Born in Setauket, Suffolk County, Long Island, May 1, 1792. Yale graduate, ...

William Henry Shankland

1849, 1857
1804-1883 William Henry Shankland served in 1849, 1857. Born in Cherry Valley, Otsego, County, N.Y., Feb. 29, 1804. Admitted to ...

James G. Hoyt

1849, 1861
1805-1863 James G. Hoyt served in 1849, 1861. Served on supreme court, Eighth Judicial District (Chester, Courts and Lawyers of ...

James J. Roosevelt

1795-1875 James J. Roosevelt served in 1850. Listed in some references as James J. or James John but in ...

Other Notable Judges

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Important Figures

New York Attorneys General 1847-1869

Lyman Tremain

1819-1878 Attorney General of New York, 1858-1860 Lyman Tremain was born on June 14, 1819, in Durham, Greene County, New ...

Charles G. Myers

1810-1881 Attorney General of New York, 1860-1861 Charles Godfrey Myers was born to a farming family in Madrid, St. Lawrence ...

Daniel S. Dickinson

1800-1866 Attorney General of New York, 1862-1863 Daniel Stevens Dickinson was born in Goshen, Connecticut, on September 11, 1800. Soon ...

John Cochrane

1813-1898 Attorney General of New York, 1864-1865 John Cochrane was born August 27, 1813, in Palatine, Montgomery County, New York ...

John H. Martindale

1815-1881 Attorney General of New York, 1866-1867 John Henry Martindale was born in Sandy Hill, Washington County, New York, on ...

Marshall B. Champlain

1824-1879 Attorney General of New York, 1868-1869 Marshall Bolds Champlain was born on December 22, 1824, in Stafford, Genesee County, ...

District Attorneys, 1847-1869


Notable Attorneys

Henry Lauren Clinton

1820-1889 Henry Lauren Clinton was born in Woodbridge, Connecticut, on February 21, 1820. He was educated in the common school ...

Henry D. Lapaugh

1826-Unknown Henry D. Lapaugh was born around 1826 and although little is known of his personal life, he was admitted ...

Chester Alan Arthur

1829-1886 Chester Alan Arthur was born in the town of Fairfield, Franklin County, Vermont, on October 5, 1829. The family ...

Edward P. Chapin

1831-1863 Edward Payson Chapin was born in Waterloo, New York, on August 16, 1831. He was educated in the local ...


Important Cases

Anti-Rent Movement

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Civil Rights

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Seneca Tonawanda

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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

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Commerce and Technology

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Criminal Law

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Class Tension (Astor Place Riots)

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Tammany Corruption

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Famous & Sensational Cases

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Courts of the Era

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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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