This Day in Legal History—Alabama Statehood and a New Era of Slavery Compromises

On December 14, 1819, Alabama was admitted to the Union as the twenty-second state. The admission itself was not especially remarkable. Various parts of present-day Alabama had been settled by the French (and later the British) since the early 1700s, and explored by the Spanish as early as the 1540s. The territory to the west, moreover, had already been admitted as the states of Mississippi (1817) and Louisiana (1814). Not least important, Alabama’s soil and climate were amenable to cotton production, which was accelerating due to technological innovation and increased demand, such that the years preceding Alabama’s statehood had seen substantial growth in the region’s population.

What made Alabama’s admission significant, politically and constitutionally, was the situation it then posed for Congress regarding the admission of subsequent states, particularly west of the Mississippi River. Specifically, the nation was now evenly divided between free and slave states, having eleven of each. Given a federal Senate based on equal voting for every state regardless of population, this resulting parity of free and slave states made the admission of any additional state an opportunity either to expand or to restrict slavery. The South especially perceived the need to maintain parity as its influence in the House of Representatives declined relative to the North, which was experiencing (and would continue to experience) more immigration as well as greater industrial and economic growth.

This dynamic, in turn, set the stage for a new era of anti- and pro-slavery compromises and eventually—as these compromises less and less alleviated sectional tensions—a rather bloody civil war. (more…)

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“Lincoln” and the Law

Reviewers of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” have rightfully praised the film for its faithfulness to history and for the fine acting of Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones, among others. As a “lifer” in legal academics, I was intrigued by the film’s engagement with law, lawmaking, and law-related ideology.

The most important “law” in the film is the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the film accurately suggests that the Amendment’s ratification in 1865 was more important in formally ending slavery than was the more famous Emancipation Proclamation. The latter, issued by President Lincoln in 1863, served only to free slaves in the ten Confederate states warring against the Union. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation chiefly as a war measure and hoped it would prompt slaves to take up arms against slave owners.   (more…)

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The Boden Lecture: The Reconstruction Era Birth of Our Concept of Citizenship

The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 – as great as the first two were, it was the third that put in place the concepts of American citizenship and the civil rights of all Americans that are part of the bedrock of American life, prominent historian Eric Foner said in a lecture at Eckstein Hall. Delivering Marquette Law School’s 2012 Robert F. Boden Lecture last week, Foner focused on the origins in American…

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The Law School’s Conference on the Wickersham Commission

On October 4 and 5, 2012, the Law School held its Conference on America’s First National Crime Commission and the Federalization of Law Enforcement. The conference was the brain child of Dean Strang, a member of our adjunct faculty, who was assisted in its planning by Professor Michael O’Hear and me. Attracting large audiences of academics, lawyers, students, and the public, the conference featured lectures by historians, law professors, political scientists, and criminal justice experts.

The conference began with Professor Frank Zimring’s (Berkeley, Law) lecture, “The Accident Crime Commission: Its Legacies and Lessons,” which was delivered under the auspices of the Law School’s Barrock lecture in criminal law. Professor Zimring provided historical insight into the composition, work, and legacy of the so-called Wickersham Commission. His lecture is summarized here.

On October 5 the conference continued with three panels. The first panel provided additional historical perspective on the Wickersham Commission. Delivering papers were James Calder (Texas-San Antonio, Political Science), who placed the Commission’s work in a paradigm of “brain” and “state.” Samuel Walker (Nebraska-Omaha, Criminology) provided an overview of President Herbert Hoover’s life, emphasizing how his support for the Commission was fully consistent with his role as an early twentieth-century Progressive. John M. Cooper, Jr., (Wisconsin, History) commented on the papers while offering additional insights into President Hoover’s progressivism.

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2012 Annual George and Margaret Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law: The Accidental Crime Commission: Its Legacies and Lessons

On October 4, 2012 Professor Franklin E. Zimring delivered the Annual George and Margaret Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law to a large audience of interested public, law students, faculty, and members of the legal profession. Professor Zimring is the William G. Simon Professor of Law and Wolfen Distinguished Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

His subject was the origins and legacies of the so-called Wickersham Commission of 1929-1931. Since the Commission’s work is largely forgotten today, Professor Zimring assumed the burden of explaining how “this hopeless venture ended up being viewed as a precedent setting and positive contribution to the ways in which the national government learns about crime and criminal justice.” In this he succeeded, his remarks serving as a timely, thoughtful introduction to the Law School’s day-long conference on the Wickersham Commission that was held on October 5, 2012. (More on the conference in my next blog.)

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