Joseph Henry Lumpkin: Georgia's First Chief Justice

Joseph Henry Lumpkin: Georgia's First Chief Justice

Joseph Henry Lumpkin: Georgia's First Chief Justice

Joseph Henry Lumpkin: Georgia's First Chief Justice

Excerpt

Roscoe Pound, a former dean of the Harvard Law School, described the period from the Revolution to the Civil War as the “golden age of American law,” when the bar was led by illustrious lawyers like Daniel Webster and Rufus Choate and the judiciary claimed such eminent judges as John Marshall and Joseph Story on the United States Supreme Court as well as James Kent of New York and Lemuel Shaw of Massachusetts. More recently, however, Peter Karsten has noted the tendency “of those who have written of this Golden Age of American Law… to focus on a relatively small number of well-known jurists and jurisdictions.” Of the ten judges who were ranked by Pound “first in American judicial history,” eight were from northern states (five from Massachusetts and New York combined) and only two, John Marshall of Virginia and Thomas Ruffin of North Carolina, were southerners. Similarly, the six individuals named by Charles Warren in A History of the American Bar as “the Chief Justices who have left a marked impress upon the course of legal development” were all northerners.

Until recently, there has been little written about the southern appellate judges who also influenced our country’s legal history during that formative period. Timothy Huebner’s useful book, The Southern Judicial Tradition, has begun to fill in some of the missing pieces by examining the lives and work of six individuals who headed the highest court in six different southern states during the antebellum period, including Joseph Henry Lumpkin, Georgia’s first chief justice. After earning a distinguished reputation as a lawyer and orator, Lumpkin played a major role in the development of Georgia’s jurisprudence while heading its supreme court for more than twenty years (1845–1867).

It would seem that those accomplishments alone would have made Lumpkin an excellent subject for a full biography before now. Moreover, his remarkable energy and evangelical Presbyterian convictions helped him gain broader regional and even national prominence as a leader of numerous benevolent reform . . .

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