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

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Ex-Officio Judges of the Court of Appeals

Henry Wyllys Taylor

1796-1888 Henry Wyllys Taylor served in 1850. Born in Deerfield, Mass., Feb. 2, 1796. Yale graduate, 1816. New York State ...
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Daniel Pratt

1806-1884 Daniel Pratt served in 1850. Born on Aug. 22, 1806, in Greenwich, Washington County. Union College graduate, 1835. Admitted ...
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Ira Harris

1850, 1858
1802-1875 Ira Harris served in 1850, 1858. Born in Charleston, Montgomery County, N.Y., on May 31, 1802. Union College graduate, ...
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Elisha Powell Hurlbut

1807-1889 Elisha Powell Hurlbut served in 1850. Born 1807, in Salisbury, Herkimer County, N.Y. Elected to supreme court, first judicial ...
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Hiram Gray

1851, 1859
1801-1890 Hiram Gray served in 1851, 1859. Commissioner on Appeals, 1870-1875. Born in Salem, Washington County, N.Y., in 1801. Union ...
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James Mullett

1784-1858 James Mullett served 1851. Born in Whitington, Vt., Oct. 17, 1784, the eldest of 13 children. Moved to Darien, ...
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Other Notable Judges

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Important Figures

New York Attorneys General 1847-1869

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District Attorneys, 1847-1869


Notable Attorneys

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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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