Special Collections Blog of the Bounds Law Library

George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

The following is a post by our friend Kurt X. Metzmeier containing commentary on a letter from our collection.

George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

by Kurt X. Metzmeier

In an interesting 1820 letter, Kentucky lawyer George Robertson illustrates some of the difficulties of a book consumer on the expanding American frontier:

Lancaster 6th July 1820

Gentlemen,

You have written to me twice that you had rec’d two boxes of books for me and sent them to Jas Anderson and Co. in Lexington.  Since the reception of this information I have sent three times to Mr. Anderson but can’t find the boxes. They say they never rec’d them.

I’m very anxious to get them—and fear that you did not send them. It is the third attempt I have made to get books here and have never succeeded yet. There is something very strange in the fatality that befalls my books.

Be so good as to examine and if you have them, send them on as soon as possible—or let me know what has become of them.

Respectfully &c

G. Robertson

Robertson Letter, 1820

The letter is a nice find. It involves one of the towering figures in Kentucky legal history at an early point in his life. It also shines a light into the book trade on the American frontier and does so in the middle of an economic crisis.  Finally, the tone of the letter is relatively mild but you can faintly discern the rumblings of a legendary temper, one that would lead to one of the more famous fits of pique in Civil War history, a stubborn conflict that would involve governors, state and federal courts, and President Lincoln’s own wallet.

George Robertson (1790-1874)

George Robertson, whose portrait hangs in the courtroom of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville, served on Kentucky’s highest court 1829 to 1834, when he resigned to resume his private practice. He returned to the court to serve from 1864 to1871.[1] For a quarter-century, he led the prestigious law department at Transylvania University, teaching men like John Marshall Harlan the rudiments of jurisprudence.[2] His decisions on issues of criminal law and tort law were widely cited, and Kentucky histories and bar tributes mark him as a leading figure in the pantheon of state judges.[3]

George Robertson

However, in 1820 this was all in the future. Robertson was at this time a journeyman lawyer (he had been practicing law since he turned 19-years-old) and a U.S. Congressman serving his third term. He had just completed a term as chair of the public lands committee and, in the prior year, had successfully sponsored a bill which he wrote to establish the territorial government of Arkansas.[4] However, being “poor and having a growing family,” he would soon quit his seat to concentrate on the practice of law.[5]  Perhaps the two boxes of books he purchased were the working law library he needed to establish his new law office.

The Kentucky Book Market in 1820

From his home in the Bluegrass, Robertson would have had many opportunities to assemble a well-balanced library and legal collection.[6] Nearby Lexington was the intellectual capital of Kentucky for its first half century. As noted by pioneer William A. Leavy (whose 1873 manuscript memoir depicts a commercial life in pioneer Lexington), in 1820 it already had several booksellers.[7] Most had long associations with the publishing centers in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.[8]

As the letter suggests, many Kentuckians also purchased books by post. In “Nursery of a Supreme Court Justice,” Peter Scott Campbell and I examined probate records of books in the library of Robertson’s neighbor from nearby Danville, James Harlan.[9] We found Harlan owned many titles from the “Law Library.” Set up like the old Book-of-the Month Club, the Law Library was published by Philadelphia firm of T. & J.W. Johnson, which reprinted English legal treatises and mailed them out regularly to subscribers. Read the rest of this entry »

Hugo Black and the Classics: An Exhibit

Hugo Black and the Classics is an exhibit in the University of Alabama School of Law Library’s Hugo Black Study that offers insight into Justice Black’s strong interest in Greek and Roman classical works. The collection shown here represents one component of the more than one thousand volumes of Black’s books held at the Bounds Law Library.

HUGO BLACK AND THE CLASSICS

Hugo Lafayette Black (1886-1971) was a native of Clay County, Alabama, and a 1906 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law. Elected to the United States Senate in 1926, Black proved to be a reformist senator and leading New Dealer. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the United States Supreme Court.

Confirmed despite a furor over his earlier brief association with the Ku Klux Klan, Black served on the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, promoting the First Amendment, working to make the Bill of Rights applicable to the States, and supporting the landmark civil rights decisions of the Warren Court.

Both as Senator and Justice, Black sought to follow programs of reading and self-education. He found Will Durant’s 1929 article, “One Hundred Best Books,” to be particularly useful. Durant’s vision of history was anchored firmly in the Greek and Roman classics, and the writers of antiquity likewise appealed to Black.

In part this was because Black enjoyed the dignity and measured tone of the classics in translation, but even more because he viewed human nature as essentially unchanging. To his mind, the historians and philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome had set forth many observations perfectly applicable to mid-twentieth century America. Daniel J. Meador, who was a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Black in 1954, later commented on Black’s interest in the classics in Mr. Justice Black and His Books (1974), “If there is any single book out of the hundreds he owned which might be said to have been the favorite, it is Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way…. Law clerks over a span of many years recall having The Greek Way recommended by Black in their initial interview with him, or in the early days of the clerkship…. More than any other single book, The Greek Way is essential reading for anyone attempting to understand the mind of Justice Black.”

In his quest for the classics, Black frequented the various out-of-print bookshops of the Washington, D.C. area. He was also a dedicated reader of dealers’ catalogues. Preferring older editions, he assembled a collection of more than forty volumes on the classics.

Image of Black's underlinings and marginal notes.

Black’s underlinings and marginal notes in Aristotle’s Politics

Numerous volumes contain Black’s annotations and underlined passages. These books, many of which reflect the height of Victorian classical scholarship, can be considered the cornerstone of Black’s larger library of more than one thousand volumes.

Accompanying this post are images of several pages featuring Black’s underlinings and annotations.

Black habitually wrote in his books, commenting on passages that he liked or disliked, summarizing texts, and pointing out ideas, facts, or passages for future reference. The pages seen here from Black’s copy of Aristotle on Government reflect his lawyerly interest in practical abstractions. See page 98 for his brief observations: “City—object of law,” “Object of Government to live well and happily,” and “Rulers should be best, not richest.”

Image of Black's underlinings and marginal notes.

Black’s underlinings and marginal notes in Aristotle’s Politics

As Aristotle turns to practical instructions concerning governance (p. 210), Black’s marginalia matches the philosopher’s didactic mood: “Laws not men” (for a passage arguing against giving magistrates discretionary powers), “Pay all Officials,” and most pointedly, “No life terms.” This last annotation, sadly, gives us no idea what Black, the holder for a lifetime appointment, actually thought about Aristotle’s advice.

Image of Black's underlinings.

Black’s underlinings and notation in Edith Hamilton’s, The Greek Way

Reading Hamilton’s commentary on Thucydides (p. 187), Black singled out a passage of some eight lines which eloquently discusses “greed, that strange passion for power and possession”—a complicated emotion that is, according to the author, at the root of all wars. Similarly in The Greek Way (p. 202), Black singles out a passage which, though written in Hamilton’s conversational style, constitutes a solemn warning to the powerful Democratic states of Black’s times—or of our times.

Image of Black's underlinings.

Black’s underlinings in Edith Hamilton’s, The Greek Way

“She [Athens] had reached the point where she did not care to use fine words about ugly facts, and the reason was that they had ceased to look ugly to her.”

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th Century Justice’s Ledger

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s and 1830s. Justices of the Peace used ledgers like this one to record developments in the cases they heard. This ledger specifically deals with the complaints filed between neighbors for outstanding debts. In it, we see the financial mechanisms of an early 19th century Alabama frontier society. Thanks to Hudson Cheshire, our former research assistant and newly-minted J.D. for this post.

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th century Justice’s Ledger

Hudson Cheshire

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s. The ledger is about 200 pages long, with cardboard panels and a badly deteriorated leather spine. It is 14 ½ inches in length, 6 ¼ inches wide, and 1 ¼ inches deep.[1]

William A. Robinson, a Justice of the Peace of Clarkesville County, Alabama, began recording cases in this ledger in June of 1824.

Image of first page of Justices' Docket.

First page of Justices’ Docket

The last case recorded is from August of 1830. During this period, the docket went into the hands of at least two successive justices: Samuel Beckham, from July of 1827 to May of 1828, and Kendrick Ford from September 1828 to July of 1830. The successive justices continued to record developments in the cases first handled by their predecessors. The contents of this book were not, in all likelihood, a matter of public record, but instead a mechanism for recording, for future reference, whether disputes had been resolved. Thus, there is little in the ledger by way of common law precedent or factual background for any of the legal disputes.  In that respect, it is closer to an accounting notebook than a legal document. Still, it sheds light on the legal lives of Alabamians in the 1820s. To best contextualize the ledger’s contents, a few words are in order regarding Clarke County circa 1825 and the Justices’ legal duties.

Clarke County is located in southwest Alabama, just below the Black Belt and west of Monroe County, the hometown of author Harper Lee and inspiration for the setting of To Kill A Mockingbird. In the novel, narrator Scout Finch credits the events of the book to Andrew Jackson: “If General Jackson hadn’t run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn’t?”[2] If the Creek War of 1813 accounts for the origin of Lee’s fictional town of Maycomb, it also seems to have been a major catalyst for population growth in Clarke County. While Alabama historian Thomas Owen writes that by the time of the Creek War, Clarke County was populated enough to “furnish many soldiers to Gen. F.L. Claiborne’s army,” he also notes that the greatest population growth occurred in the decade after the war. According to Owen, a tannery, shoe factory, water mill, “iron screw” (for cotton packing), and a sawmill were all erected in Clarke County between the war’s end and 1821.[3]

The Justices who kept this ledger lived in Clarkesville, which, in the years the ledger covers, was the county seat (in 1831 the citizens voted for the county seat to be moved to Grove Hill, “the geographic center of said county”).[4] That in this time Clarkesville was the seat of a rapidly growing county is interesting because this particular ledger is almost exclusively devoted to cases involving debt and financial obligations. Through the ledger, we see the financial interdependence of a growing rural community. We see the Justice of the Peace, not just as a public servant, but also as a tradesman, who played the role of facilitating financial transactions between the citizens of his community. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessie Gillis Parish: A Woman Voter of Barbour County, Alabama

Jessie Parish Voter Registration Certificate

Jessie Parish Voter Registration Certificate

In response to our recent posting of D. Pierson’s 1902 “Lifetime” voter registration certificate, our friend David E. Alsobrook sent us an image of his great grandmother’s 1929 certificate. As you can see, it was issued to Jessie Gillis Parish of Barbour County, Alabama, on January 3, 1929. Jessie Parish is one of the individuals discussed in Alsobrook’s forthcoming book Southside: Eufaula’s Cotton Mill Village and Its People, 1890-1945 (Mercer University Press). Following a path blazed by Dr. Wayne Flynt and others, this work will provide “an in-depth-examination of life, loss, and work in a self-contained Southern cotton mill village.” Such studies are necessary if we are to understand the legacies—cultural, political, and religious—left to us by “ordinary” Alabamians. We asked David to give us some background on Jessie Parish, who after all was a member of Alabama’s first generation of women voters. Here is what he said:

Photograph of Jessie, Mallie, and Oma Parish

Jessie, Mallie, and Oma Parish, c. 1909

Although Jessie Parish’s voter registration certificate indicates that she was born on August 18, 1872, this date probably is incorrect.  Her tombstone in Eufaula’s Fairview Cemetery records her date of birth as 1871.  However, U.S. Census records for Barbour County reveal that she was born in 1869, in Glennville, Alabama, a few miles north of Eufaula.  Her parents were Malcolm D. Gillis and Queen Ann Stephenson, who had three other children born between 1873 and 1881.  Malcolm Gillis was a Confederate veteran and a cotton overseer in Glennville.  Jessie married Thomas Mallie Parish in Eufaula in 1898. They had a daughter, Oma Parish Alsobrook (1899-1969), my grandmother.  Jessie, Mallie, and Oma all worked at Donald Comer’s Cowikee Mills in Eufaula.  The accompanying photo of the Parishes was taken around 1909.  The Parishes were typical of the families who eked out a subsistence living in the cotton mills and lived in the village known as “Southside.”  Jessie Parish probably was the first woman in her family to cast a ballot in Alabama. 

Jessie Parish died in Eufaula on October 19, 1939. I only knew her from my grandmother’s occasional comments. However, her mother, Queen Anne Gillis, lived for many years afterward, and my grandmother remembers her well.  I suspect that Jessie probably met her future husband, Thomas Mallie Parish, on the job in old Eufaula Cotton Mill, owned by Capt. John Tullis.  

Jessie was a straight-laced Baptist her entire life, and her husband Mallie was a Methodist.  At her funeral, the ministers from the two Southside “mission” churches officiated–Washington Street Methodist and Second Baptist.  After Donald Comer acquired the “busted” Eufaula Cotton Mill in 1909 and changed its name to Cowikee Mill, Jessie and Mallie continued to work together there or possibly later at Cowikee Mill No. 3 in Eufaula.  These are the only basic details I know involving Jessie Gillis Parish.  She and Mallie were typical mill operatives–they worked hard all of their lives, and the debilitating nature of the work took a toll on their bodies, and their daughter Oma eventually joined them in the mill.

Like so many other mill families in Eufaula, the Parishes are rather invisible and anonymous in historical annals.  As you’ll see in the pages of Southside, my grandmother Oma told me a lot about her father Mallie and the other Parishes, but for whatever reason, she seldom talked about her mother.

Kenneth A. Roberts and the United States Capitol Shooting of 1954: An Exhibit from our Collections

On March 1, 1954, two hundred and fifty-four members of the Eighty-third Congress were debating immigration issues when a Puerto Rican Flag was unfurled and pistol fire erupted from the “Ladies’ Gallery” of the House of Representatives chamber. Four Puerto Rican nationalists, Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irving Flores Rodriguez fired thirty shots at the representatives below, wounding five of them. One of the wounded was the Democratic representative from Alabama’s Fourth District, Kenneth A. Roberts who was shot in the leg. The suspects were arrested, tried and convicted in federal court, receiving what amounted to life sentences. Eventually, all were pardoned in 1978 and 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, and they returned to Puerto Rico. Lolita Lebron would become a Puerto Rican nationalist heroine. She died in 2010 from complications from bronchitis.

Image of Puerto Rican Flag

Puerto Rican Flag. Recovered from floor of Gallery # 11 of the House of Representatives, U.S. Capitol

The Puerto Rican flag that Lebron had draped around her, one of the weapon magazines, and evidence envelopes were given to representative Roberts and are displayed in the library’s John C. Payne Reading Room.

Kenneth Allison Roberts was born in 1912 at Piedmont, Alabama, the second of four children born to John Franklin and Josephine Burton Roberts. He graduated from Howard College (Samford University) in Birmingham and entered the University of Alabama School of Law in 1932. In 1935, Roberts graduated from law school and was admitted to the bar. During World War II he joined the Navy and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Roberts represented Alabama’s Fourth District in the U.S. Congress from 1951 through 1965. He is notable for his support of progressive legislation including: deduction of child care expenses for working mothers, air pollution control, safety belt standards, refrigerator safety, and the labeling of hazardous substances. Roberts co-authored legislation for migrant workers, children’s healthcare, and American Indian healthcare. Following his congressional career he resumed practicing law in Washington, D.C., and kept an office in Brewton, Alabama. He served on the U.S. Vehicle Equipment Safety Advisory and the National Highway Safety Advisory committees. Roberts died in Potomac, Maryland on May 9, 1980.

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution: Instrument of Power

This post features a “Lifetime” voter-registration certificate recently discovered in a local antiques mall. It is an attractive and oddly cheerful bit of ephemera from a tragic era in Alabama history–the time of mass disfranchisement by means of the state’s 1901 constitution. Pondering the significance of the certificate, only slightly larger than a 19th-century dollar bill, led to the following thoughts.

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution: Instrument of Power

In the late 1890s, after overcoming serious challenges to their power, Alabama Democratic politicians decided to take decisive action. They had used various illegal tactics—chiefly ballot-box stuffing—to defeat “fusionist” coalitions of agrarians, Populists, and Republicans. They had won the elections; they remained in power. But in the process their exercise of power had lost any claim to a basis in morality. In order to prevent future challenges (and to shield themselves from the temptation to cheat), they decided to follow a plan first carried out in Mississippi in 1890 and since perfected in other southern states. The plan’s chief feature was the adoption of a new constitution, one whose voter registration provisions would disfranchise large numbers of citizens. African American voters were the primary targets; but significant numbers of hill country white voters were likewise vulnerable. The Democrats justified disfranchisement on the grounds that it would “purify” politics by eliminating unworthy voters—surely one of our most striking examples of blaming the victims. If any further excuse were needed, the Democrats, especially the “Bourbons” of Alabama’s Black Belt counties, claimed that a new constitution would maintain “White Supremacy.” This last argument, it should be noted, was exactly how they had justified ballot box stuffing. After one or two false starts, the disfranchisers engineered a constitutional convention to meet in Montgomery in the late summer of 1901.

The disfranchisers didn’t shy away from making their chief motives crystal-clear. Consider the following quotes taken from convention president John B. Knox’s opening address.

“And what is it that we want to do? Why, it is, within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State.” [Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention (1901), 9.]

“But if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law—not by force or fraud. If you teach your boy that it is right to buy a vote, it is an easy step for him to learn to use money to bribe or corrupt officials or trustees of any class. If you teach your boy that it is right to steal votes, it is an easy step for him to believe that it is right to steal whatever he may need or greatly desire. The results of such an influence will enter every branch of society; it will reach your bank cashiers, and affect positions of trust in every department; it will ultimately enter your courts, and affect the administration of justice.” [Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention (1901), 12.]

The Democratic majority at the 1901 convention proceeded to adopt two voter registration plans, a “temporary plan” in effect through December 20, 1902, and a “permanent” plan to be used from January 1903 on.

The Temporary Plan (1901 Const., Art. 8, §180) was put in place in order to placate white voters from North Alabama; its chief feature was the “fighting grandfather” clause, by which the adult (age 21) male descendants of Confederate soldiers could register to vote. The section likewise allowed the registrars to enroll “All persons who are of good character and who understand the duties and obligations of citizenship under a republican form of government.”

Under the Temporary Plan, registration was to be carried out by three-man county boards of registrars, each to be chosen by the governor, acting with the commissioner of agriculture and the state auditor (Art. 8, §186).

Lifetime Registration (Art. 8, §187). By February 1, 1903, the boards of registrars were to file in their respective offices of Probate, lists of those persons registered. Each person who registered on or before January 1, 1903, unless he subsequently became disqualified, “shall remain an elector during life, and shall not be required to register again unless he changes his residence, in which event he may register again on production of his certificate.”

See the image of one such certificate, issued to D. Pierson, of Reform Beat, Pickens County, on May 6, 1902.

Image of certificate, recto

The Permanent Plan required would-be voters to:

–be 21 years old and male (Art. 8, §177);

–be a resident in state for 2 years (with lesser residence requirements for voting in county and municipal elections) (Art. 8, §178);

–have paid all poll taxes from 1901 onward (Art. 8, §178);

–be able to read and write any article of the U.S. Constitution, and have been gainfully employed for the previous 12 months (with exemptions for persons whose illiteracy or unemployment was due to physical disabilities) (Art. 8, §181), or

–be the owner of 40 acres of land or other property valued at $300 or more, on which the taxes have been paid (with exemptions for men whose wives meet the property requirement).

Image of certificate, verso

Life Certificate of Registration, verso

The Permanent Plan also barred from voting (Art. 8, §182) any persons who have been convicted of any of a list of more than 20 crimes, including “any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary.” Likewise anyone “convicted as a vagrant or tramp” and any person “offering to sell his vote or the vote of another” or “of buying or offering to buy the vote of another.”

Under Art. 8, §183, no person could vote in a primary election without being officially registered to vote.

The ratification election for the 1901 Constitution was held on November 11, 1901. The official vote was 108,613 (in favor) to 81,734 (against).

Twelve Black Belt counties voted in favor of the constitution by a vote of 36,224 to 5,471. The “vote in the other fifty-four counties of the state was 76,263 against to 72,389 for the constitution.” See Malcolm C. McMillan, Constitutional Development in Alabama (Chapel Hill, NC: James Sprunt Studies, 1955), 350. McMillan also notes a report (Mobile Register, November 13, 1901) that the Black Belt counties were slow in reporting their votes—an old tactic by which Black Belt political bosses could determine how many votes they “needed” to count. Thus on the face of the official returns, we are expected to believe that a considerable majority of African American voters voted to disfranchise themselves.

In the years following adoption, African American voting almost vanished and white voting declined. The late Sheldon Hackney calculated that 35 per cent of potential white voters were “disfranchised by the poll tax alone.” He concluded ironically that “The convention had done its job well.” See Hackney, Populism to Progressivism in Alabama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 208.

In addition to McMillan and Hackney, interested readers may consult the following works:

Glenn Feldman, The Disfranchisement Myth: Poor Whites and Suffrage Restriction in Alabama (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2004).

R. Volney Riser, Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010).

William Warren Rogers, The One-Gallused Rebellion: Agrarianism in Alabama, 1865-1896 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970; subsequent edition, University of Alabama Press, 2001).

William Warren Rogers, et al., Alabama: The History of a Deep South State (Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1994; subsequent edition, 2010).

Bailey Thomson, ed., A Century of Controversy: Constitutional Reform in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002).

Samuel Webb, Two-Party Politics in the One-Party South: Alabama’s Hill Country, 1874-1920 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Announcing a Collaborative Project between UA and UVA Law Libraries

Image of Meador at the UA Law School

Dean Daniel Meador at the University of Alabama School of Law

Over the past year the Litera Scripta editors and research assistants have worked with their counterparts at the University of Virginia Law Library to create a website presenting the correspondence of Daniel J. Meador (1926-2013) and his pupil Ronald Sokol. A native Alabamian and a 1951 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law, Meador was a distinguished law professor whose service at the University of Virginia began in 1957 and continued until 1994, interrupted by a year in England as a Fulbright fellow (1965), four years as Dean of the University of Alabama School of Law (1966-1970), and two years as Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice (1977-1979). During most of this period Meador corresponded with his former pupil Ronald Sokol (UVA Law, class of 1962). Like Meador, an habitual student and a prolific author, Sokol has traveled the world studying languages, laws, and cultures; but most of his time since 1970 has been spent in Aix-en-Provence, where he has built up a substantial practice in French and international law. Sokol’s correspondence with Meador features discussions of politics, approaches to law (French, American, and Cambodian), and the nature and flaws of institutions, as well as insights into regional cultures, writing, and travel, and reflections upon the passage of time. Please see below for the link to the website, which is titled “The Letters of Daniel Meador and Ronald Sokol.”

Hannis Taylor’s Science of Jurisprudence: Book as Text, Book as Object, Book as Legacy

For the next offering in our series titled “Preserved in Amber,” we feature a post by U.A. law student Hudson Cheshire on our Hannis Taylor collection. This collection consists of a copy of Taylor’s 1908 treatise The Science of Jurisprudence with two of his letters affixed to the endsheets. The letters are addressed to Cambridge history professor J.B. Bury. They seem blatantly self-promotional, but Cheshire demonstrates that they are also poignant and suggestive documents—items that transform this copy of a long-forgotten book into a unique archival object. Taylor (1851-1922) was a politician, lawyer, and prolific author associated with Mobile and Washington, D.C. We at Litera Scripta have long regarded him as an interesting and collectible writer (the subject, also, of a well-constructed biography).

Hannis Taylor’s Science of Jurisprudence: Book as Text, Book as Object, Book as Legacy

In any physical book there are multiple stories at work.

Of course, there is the text itself: the words and sentences and paragraphs through which the author communicates his ideas. But in addition to the text, the history surrounding the text also tells a story. One might think of Harper Lee’s childhood in conjunction with her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. But every text is also influenced by other texts. Doubtless, Go Set a Watchman changed the way most readers see the stoic, justice-seeking attorney, Atticus Finch. Finally, the physical object of a book also tells a story: with time, any physical book may be dog-eared, annotated, or otherwise marked by its readers. Through these physical traces we are given glimpses of another story still. Perhaps the greatest allure of opening an old book is the chance to observe all of these different stories as they intersect and intertwine.

The subject of this blog post is a 108-year-old copy of a little-known book: The Science of Jurisprudence, by Hannis Taylor. Title page, The Science of JurisprudenceThe book is noteworthy in its own right as the work of a once important Alabama resident advancing a unique theory about American history. The library’s particular copy of the book is interesting for what are pasted onto its end sheets: two shamelessly self-promotional letters from the author to a professor overseas. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the collection, however, is what happened only months after the letters were penned.

To say the least, there are many different stories buried in this particular old book. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the book’s author: Hannis Taylor. Though nearly forgotten in contemporary scholarship, Taylor was an important figure in his own time, not only for his published writings, but also for his influence as both a lawyer and political figure. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Note: Civil War Alabama by Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.

The editors of Litera Scripta have taken pleasure, over a number of years, in talking about Alabama’s Civil War and Reconstruction with University of Alabama Law School alumnus Christopher McIlwain. Throughout many conversations and exchanges of emails, we have been impressed at the range of Chris’ knowledge and astonished at the all-inclusive scope of his research. It was clear to us that his book, when published, would be an original contribution to Alabama history. Specifically, Civil War Alabama is a long-overdue assessment of Alabama Unionists, a surprisingly numerous group whose fate has hitherto been either to be maligned or to be ignored. In this connection we are delighted to publish a second book note by G. Ward Hubbs of Birmingham-Southern College, author of Searching for Freedom after the Civil War: Klansman, Carpetbagger, Scalawag, and Freedman.

Civil War Alabama

By Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.

Generations of Alabamians have had but one account of the Civil War in Alabama: Walter Lynwood Fleming’s 1905 Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama. While those steeped in the Lost Cause found it reassuring, even uplifting, modern readers and especially historians blush. Oddly enough, the war itself is but the opening act for Fleming’s real interest: Reconstruction. The first 57 pages of Fleming’s tome are devoted to the sectional crisis and secession; the war engages 186 pages; and an extraordinary 552 pages, the rest of the book, is spent painstakingly detailing the atrocities said to have been committed on white Alabamians during Reconstruction. Fleming’s topical approach—which highlights certain events while de-emphasizing, obscuring, or even omitting others—allows him to pick and choose how the former Confederates (nearly all the white population, according to him) endured those years at the hands of an oppressive occupying government. That Alabama’s citizens were overwhelmingly united in supporting the Confederacy is taken as a given. Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama may be the most emblematic example of the Dunning School (named for William A. Dunning of Columbia University, Fleming’s graduate-school professor) that held sway nationally during the first half of the twentieth century. And it held sway in Alabama for even longer as no one has published a comprehensive study challenging Fleming’s interpretation.

Civil War AlabamaUntil now.

After over two decades of careful research into primary documents, Chris McIlwain’s Civil War Alabama could not be more different from Fleming’s Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama. To begin with, McIlwain does not present the war topically but rather as a narrative—warts and all—from William Lowndes Yancey agitating in Montgomery to Mayor Robert Slough surrendering in Mobile. The result is more complex, even, than we might have expected. McIlwain, himself a lawyer, points to the crucial role that Alabama’s bar played in moving the state towards disunion. He also amasses indisputable evidence regarding the centrality of the institution of slavery in the decision to secede. McIlwain’s narrative approach becomes especially important in tracing the war itself because it allows him to integrate political, economic, social, and military events in ways that Fleming never could or would. We see repeatedly, for example, how home front morale fell with battlefield reverses and economic losses. But lukewarm support for, and even antagonism towards, the Confederacy did not begin with battlefield losses or the confiscation of crops.

This point is crucial and represents the book’s main contribution. McIlwain wisely refuses to estimate exactly how many Alabamians were committed to the new government and how many were not. Support and resistance was constantly shifting. About 40 percent of the Secession Convention were Unionists—a fact disguised by their adoption of the name “Cooperationists.” While Fleming and others insist that Cooperationists were mostly just go-slow secessionists, McIlwain reminds us that the term had been used by those who in 1850 resisted secession and that in 1861 the out-and-out secessionists saw no difference between Cooperationists and Unionists.

Confederate fervor soared after the bombs fell on Fort Sumter, yet early Confederate victories did not kill Unionism. Far more than previously acknowledged, a significant portion of the citizenry consistently opposed those who took over the state government and held power for those four years. And that opposition was not confined to isolated Winston County farmers. Dissenters were to be found throughout the state, from the Shoals to Mobile Bay, from the Tombigbee to the Chattahoochee. They were to be found in every profession, from farmers to judges. And they were to be found in every economic stratum, from poor to wealthy. At times it was as if two civil wars were being fought in Alabama. The campaigns would be led in the newspapers by the “generals of the press” as well as on the battlefields by the generals of the armies; the battles would be waged with ballots as well as with bullets. Pleas for peace were made privately as early as 1861 and became increasingly public as the death toll mounted and Union victories in Alabama’s sister states created intense fears of destructive invasions. “The war was very popular,” remembered a west Alabama minister, “until the coffins began to come back from Richmond.” After McIlwain places Alabama’s peace movement in its proper context, he explains its failure to extract Alabama from the war. And he posits the multiple lost opportunities open to Confederate leadership that might have averted destruction of the state’s industrial base and railroad infrastructure—opportunities that came even after Confederate independence had obviously become a hopeless cause.

In discussing the many factors that raised and lowered Alabamians’ morale, McIlwain deftly integrates military events, shortages, inflation, and human loss with passages from letters, diaries, and newspapers. His detailed documentation, which amounts to over a third of the book, represents only a part of what he originally included but had to edit out in order to make the book accessible. A great many of the extant sources about Alabama Unionists have never been used. These new sources generally fall into three categories: articles in out-of-state newspapers or other publications, letters written to individuals living in the North, and materials republished (in southern or northern journals) from Alabama newspapers that were not preserved.

That others have not used these sources raises a tantalizing question. Why, if Unionism was as strong as McIlwain makes it out to be, did it take this long for the evidence to emerge? Although McIlwain does not discuss it in his book, he is convinced that former Confederates intentionally eliminated materials that criticized the Confederacy, the war, or Democratic government. In-state newspapers during the war scarcely mention the Peace Party or troubles with motivation. And I myself have yet to find copies of Republican newspapers printed in Tuscaloosa during Reconstruction, although they probably enjoyed a healthy readership at the time.

If indeed the lack of in-state sources for Alabama Unionism are largely, as he believes, the result of deliberate acts of elimination, then that raises yet another question: Why? Why go to all the trouble of suppressing the record? The answer: To avoid Responsibility. Surely blame for those dead, the untold suffering, and the state’s disastrous economic downturn should not be directed at the Democratic Party and its hothead lawyers? All white Alabamians were in it together, surely? And indeed the defense of the state was a noble, if lost, cause. When all are guilty, then (in practical terms) none is to blame.

But Alabamians were divided, and not united, in leaving the Union and fighting the war. And they would reconstruct Alabama as a state no less divided. Responsibility cannot so easily be cast off. 

G. Ward Hubbs

Birmingham-Southern College

 

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

The following post is a fine example of student research in legal history. Its author is Kaylin Oldham, a rising third-year law student and a 2013 graduate in English of the University of Kentucky. Her paper is titled “Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians: An Analysis of Women’s Rights in Anglo-Saxon England from the Perspective of a Warrior Queen.” The essay examines, from a legal standpoint, the extraordinary career of Aethelflaed (d. 918), daughter of Alfred the Great. Ms. Oldham’s paper was written for the class “From the Dark Ages to the Black Death: History of English Law.”

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians: An Analysis of Women’s Rights in Anglo-Saxon England from the Perspective of a Warrior Queen

Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of King Alfred the Great and sister of King Edward the Elder, was a heroine of Anglo-Saxon England and played a significant role in the unification of the nation. However, despite her lasting contributions to Edward’s campaigns against the Danes, the details of her life and exploits (even the year of her birth) are largely missing from the historical record.

Aethelflaed, Worcester Cathedral

Aethelflaed, Worcester Cathedral

In his twelfth-century Gesta Regum Angelorum, for example, William of Malmesbury wrote, “Aethelflaed, sister of the king and widow of Aethelred, ought not to be forgotten, as she was a powerful accession to his [Edward’s] party.”

However, the happenstance of history has ensured that her role is subject of little scholarship and review.[1] Despite this neglect, at least one modern historian has concluded that Aethelflaed “play[ed] a vital role in England during the first quarter of the tenth century.”[2] In light of her blighted reputation and the lack of historical sources concerning her, this essay examines the available record of Aethelflaed’s life in a manner that exposes the legal status of women of the time. Though Aethelflaed was royal by birth and marriage, this essay uses original sources to examine her own role in contrast to the position of the everyday Anglo-Saxon woman. Using examples from Aethelflaed’s own life, we consider how the role of one “miraculous” woman may represent the unknown achievements of less visible women.

Part I of the essay analyzes the role of family in Anglo-Saxon England and provides known biographical details about Aethelflaed’s life. Then, using those details, the essay compares Aethelflaed’s own life experiences to the laws and codes concerning women and examines the female influence on Anglo-Saxon family life. Part II scrutinizes the status of widows in Anglo-Saxon England and considers how Aethelflaed’s own widowhood acted as a catalyst for her military achievements. Read the rest of this entry »