Tag Archives: Legal History

John Jay’s Manhattan Historic Walking Tour


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John Jay’s Manhattan, an historic walking tour sponsored by John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, will take place Saturday, May 21. Participants will meet in lower Manhattan, and step off promptly at 10:00 a.m., rain or shine. The cost of participation is $20.00 per person; members of the Friends of John Jay Homestead can participate for $15.00.

Founding Father John Jay, America’s first Chief Justice, was born and educated in New York City, and spent much of his life there. The walking tour will trace his haunts, visiting the locations of the places where he lived and worked as one of New York’s leading lawyers and politicians, as well as U.S. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chief Justice of the United States, and Governor of New York. The tour will recall the time when New York was the capitol city of a young republic, and present a reminder of how the geography and architecture of Manhattan Island have changed since the arrival of the first European settlers in the 17th century.

The walk will cover approximately 1¾ miles and take about two hours, proceeding at a leisurely pace over mostly level terrain. Comfortable footwear is highly recommended. The tour will both begin and end in lower Manhattan, convenient to several subway lines. Attendance is limited, and advance registration is required; payment is due in advance, and is non-refundable. To reserve your place and learn the tour’s initial gathering place, call John Jay Homestead at (914) 232-5651, extension 100.

John Jay Homestead State Historic Site is located at 400 Route 22, Katonah, N.Y. It is regularly open for guided tours Sunday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and at other times by appointment.

Illustration: Portrait of John Jay painted by Gilbert Stuart.

A Livingston Family Secret: Arsenic and Clam Chowder


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Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss.

The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral.

In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and William Randolph Hearst’s Journal.

The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life.

The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder.

In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Women and Divorce: 19th Century Outrage-21st Century Strategies


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The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, in collaboration with co-sponsors Adrienne Rothstein Grace, Certified Financial Planner, and the Western New York Women’s Bar Association, will present “Women and Divorce: 19th Century Outrage/21st Century Strategies,” an evening of speakers on the topic of the changing rights and history of women and divorce in New York State on Thursday, August 26, at 7 p.m.
at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, 25 Nottingham Court (at Elmwood Ave.).

Keynote speaker Dr. Ilyon Woo is the author of The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times (Atlantic Monthly Press). The book tells the story of Eunice Hawley Chapman, whose husband left her, taking their children, and joined the Shakers, a reclusive religious sect. At the time, a married woman in her circumstances had few rights and no legal identity. Chapman sought unprecedented intervention, and fought hard for the return of her children, rallying even the State legislature. Dr. Woo will speak on the topics addressed in her book. She will also sign copies of the book, which is available in the Museum’s gift shop

Attorney Carol A. Condon will address present-day New York State divorce law. New York is the last state in America to consider putting no-fault divorce laws on its books. Condon is a member of the Family Law Committee of the Bar Association of Erie County, and of the New York State Bar Association. She is a frequent speaker and author on topics related to divorce and family law. Condon is the past president of the Western New York Chapter of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York.

Co-sponsor Adrienne Rothstein Grace, Certified Financial Planner and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, will present information specifically on the topic of divorce financial planning. Rothstein Grace has a widely varied background in financial services. She is currently with Mass Mutual/The Buffalo Agency. In concert with attorneys and mediators, Rothstein Grace helps clients in divorce gain clear ideas of their financial position, outline different settlement scenarios, and forecast long term effects.

The event is $7.00; Free to Historical Society and Western New York Women’s Bar Association members. For more information log on to www.buffalohistory.org, e-mail bechspr@bechs.org, or call 873-9644 x319.

Madison Rediscovered Through Lost Law Notes


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The unearthing of law notes made by a young James Madison sheds new light on the shaping of the mind of the man. Rediscovered by Mary Sarah Bilder, Professor of Law at Boston College, the 39 sewn-together pages of notes on common law cases were found among the papers of Thomas Jefferson at the Library of Congress.

Long thought to be Jefferson’s notes, Bilder’s painstaking study of the handwriting, style of language, summarising technique, paper watermarks and numbering system has led her to conclude that the notes were in fact Madison’s. Madison served as the 4th United States President; his Vice President was New YOrk State’s first Governor, George Clinton.

Bilder’s account of the discovery, and what it reveals about Madison, is published in the latest edition of the legal history journal Law and History Review, published on behalf of the American Society for Legal History by Cambridge University Press. Bilder contends that the law notes demand a reassessment of Madison who, unlike other important early national leaders such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, had been thought to have had little interest in law beyond some desultory early studies.

The notes cover a wide range of topics including criminal law, the make-up of courts, elections, how to accurately measure time and even sex and relationships.

The error of assuming the notes were made by Jefferson is not surprising, writes Bilder, as the two men’s handwriting was very similar: “Late in life, Madison successfully ‘faked’ Jefferson’s handwriting in altering a letter….and the two men exchanged numerous letters.”

Provenance is also supportive of Madison’s authorship of the notes, which came to the Library of Congress in 1931 from Mary M. McGuire of New York City, grandchild of James C. McGuire, the administrator of the Dolley Payne Madison estate and the largest collector of Madison manuscripts.

In revealing something of the ‘mind of Madison’ Bilder admits that there is disappointment for any reader, “looking for a protoconstitutional mind”. But she does find a foreshadowing of the Fifth Amendment in Madison’s notes on a case of an indictment for treason: “you shall not ask a witness or a juror any question yt wd make a man discover what tends to his shame, crime, infamy or misdemeanor.” He also made notes on cases relating to Habeas Corpus, legislatures and elections.

Many of the notes relate to Madison’s contemporary concerns during his work in the Virginia legislature, including the possible make-up of court systems. He avoided anything that was not relevant to post-revolutionary America such as uniquely English forms of property law.

The private Madison also emerges from the notes as he appears to seek enlightenment on matters in his personal situation. As an eldest son, he would become his father’s executor and the two lengthiest notes involve the settling of estates. Given his dependence on the Virginia legislature for a living, he was, not surprisingly, interested in cases about salaries for various offices.

That the Notes have survived at all Bilder describes as ‘serendipitous’, for, at the end of his life, Madison destroyed many of his papers. She argues that the restoration of the notes to the authorship of Madison reveals the inaccuracy of the long-held view that he had little interest in law: “These notes have been missing for over a century, and their loss contributed to the sense that Madison must not have been that interested in law. Now located, these notes reveal Madison’s significant grasp of law.

Madison also made a surprising number of notes on cases relating to sex and relationships. Perhaps recalling erstwhile love, Kitty Floyd, who broke off their engagement, he made notes on breaches of promise to marry. He also made notes on cases involving cohabitation and seemed particularly interested in bastards. Bilder concludes wryly: “What motivated his fascination with the subject has to remain purely speculative.”

David B. Mattern, Research Professor and Senior Associate Editor of the Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia, refers to the research as “a remarkable feat of detective work”.

The entire article is available free of charge at http://journals.cambridge.org/bilder.

Portrait of James Madison from the White House Collection.

Lecture: Law, Justice, And The Holocaust


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The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York in partnership with US Holocaust Memorial Museum will hold an event on May 11th, 6:00 PM, at The New York City Bar (42 West 44th Street, NYC). The program, Law, Justice, and the Holocaust: Lessons for the Courts Today, will include a presentation by a US Holocaust Memorial Museum historian, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The panelists are: Albert M. Rosenblatt, Former Associate Judge, New York Court of Appeals, John Q. Barrett, Professor of Law, St. John’s University and Elizabeth S. Lenna Fellow; Robert H. Jackson Center; and William F. Meinecke, Jr., PH.D., Historian, National Institute for Holocaust Education, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The program will conclude with a reading of remarks by the late Matthew Jasen, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals (1968-1985) who was formerly a judge of the United States Military government Court at Heidelberg, Germany.

The program is free of charge and open to the public but an RSVP is essential. Information about the program and online registration can be found at http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/

Documenting Leadership: Symposium on Public Executive Records


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The New York State Archives Partnership Trust and the Albany Law School’s Government Law Center have joined forces to sponsor a two-day event focused on the need for effective record keeping by elected government executives. Entitled Documenting Leadership: A Symposium on Public Executive Records in the 21st Century, the program is designed to explore the importance of the records generated by governors and other
high ranking elected public executives, such as presidents, attorneys general, and mayors. The symposium will be held on the Albany Law School campus, New Scotland Avenue, Albany, NY on May 20-21.

Panelists for the program are coming from throughout the nation and represent government, the media, academia, and law. Among the presenters will be former U.S. Attorney General and former Governor of Pennsylvania Richard Thornburgh, nationally renowned presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, and former NYS Comptroller Ned Regan.

Sessions will include: Public Policy and the Public Interest; Transparency, Executive Records, and the Media; Executive Records: Access and Disclosure; Access in the Digital Age; and Executive Records as Legacy.

The event is free and open to the public. For information about the program and to register, go to www.albanylaw.edu/executiverecords/

NYS Archives: Rights of Women in Early New York


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The New York State Archives is providing teachers and students with online access to historical records that illuminate the history of women’s rights in New York State from its earliest days as New Netherland through the mid 19th century through it’s quarterly online Document Showcase program which highlights a topic from state history using records from the Archives.

Each Showcase includes sample documents, an historical sketch and links to educational activities for classroom use. The topics are based upon the State Education Department’s core curriculum for 7th and 8th grade social studies as well as special events of that quarter. The educational activities are created by a teacher and correlate to New York State learning standards. Each Showcase also provides links within the State Archives’ website for further information on the topic.

In addition, because many early documents are difficult to read, translations and transcriptions are provided where necessary. This quarter’s Document Showcase on women’s rights can be found on the Archives website at www.archives.nysed.gov, and includes an excerpt of a marriage contract from 1643, a petition by a widow’s sons that she be granted a letter of administration from 1670, a law excerpt from 1710 classifying women as equals of minors and those “not of Sound mind,” and a law excerpt from 1848 protecting the property of married women.

Photo: Excerpt from the Laws of New York from 1848, Chapter 200, allowing women to own and manage real property separate from their husbands. Courtesy the New York State Archives.

John Jay Descendent Makes Gift of Early Historic Drawings


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John Clarkson Jay, Jr. of Massachusetts, a direct descendant of Founding Father, John Jay, together with his wife Emily, has donated two original family drawings to the permanent collection of the Jay Heritage Center. One is a watercolor and the other a pencil sketch; both depict the Jay family’s original home, “The Locusts” and its landscape in Rye circa 1745. John Jay’s family moved to Rye from Manhattan when he was only 3 months old and purchased an expanse of 250 acres between Long Island Sound and the Boston Post Road.

From his childhood upbringing in Rye, John Jay went on to serve in every branch of US government including roles as first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, two term governor of New York State, co-author of the Federalist Papers and negotiator of the Jay Treaty. He is buried in Rye with his family and descendants in a private cemetery. Upon visiting the Jay Property in 1976, the late Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun said, “It was a place that struck me then as symbolic of what was impressive about certain aspects of the latter part of the 18th century—gracious living and status to be sure, but coupled with a sense of responsibility, particularly to government and to the art of getting along together…I am certain that all of us who are here today join in saluting the Jay family for its significant contributions that meant so much when this Nation that we all love was in its precarious infancy.”

“The Locusts” farmhouse will be a recognizable subject to those familiar with another artist’s work, that of renowned American modernist painter Guy Pene du Bois (1884-1958). Du Bois was a student of Robert Henri and a contemporary of Edward Hopper. Since 1938, du Bois’ mural of John Jay and “The Locusts” has adorned the interior of the Caroline O’Day Post Office in Rye. The composition of this WPA work was based on the very same 19th century sketches of the Jay home that have now been donated to the Jay Heritage Center.

While “The Locusts” no longer exists –the 1838 Peter Augustus Jay House was built atop its footprint– builders of the Greek Revival mansion salvaged original nails and timbers from the earlier farmhouse and used them in the new construction. The house is currently open for Sunday tours and visitors can see where these fragments were reincorporated into the building.

The newly acquired Jay drawings will be unveiled to the public on Saturday, October 3, 2009 at “Jay Day!” 1:00- 5:00pm. Several of the Jay descendants will also be on hand for this celebration of a legacy preserved. The JHC hopes that the community will be able to see firsthand how beautiful the Jays’ Rye estate once was and imagine it restored to glory and usefulness again.

1965 NYC Landmarks Preservation Law Lecture


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Anthony M. Tung, author of Preserving the World’s Great Cities: The Destruction and Renewal of the Historic Metropolis and former New York City Landmarks Preservation Commissioner, will present a talk that envisions the state of urban preservation on different continents at the moment when Mayor Robert F. Wagner signed the New York City Landmarks Preservation statute in 1965. With the process of civilization unfolding at varying speeds, igniting the upheaval of urban modernization, how did the heritage of London, Beijing, Mexico City, Rome, and Warsaw fare? Mr. Tung will show accompanying photographs to complement his lecture.

The event will be held Wednesday, December 10th at 6:30 PM at Grace Church School, 84 Fourth Avenue, NYC; admission is free but reservations are required. RSVP to hdc@hdc.org or (212) 614-9107. This event is co-sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Neighborhood Preservation Center.