The Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts, 1821-1917

By Buettinger, Craig | The Journal of Southern History, February 2001 | Go to article overview

The Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts, 1821-1917


Buettinger, Craig, The Journal of Southern History


The Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts, 1821-1917. Edited by Walter W. Manley II, E. Canter Brown Jr., and Eric W. Rise. (Gainesville and other cities: University Press of Florida, c. 1997. Pp. xviii, 454. $49.95, ISBN 0-8130-1540-5.)

This timely study of Florida's supreme court examines the legal and structural evolution of the court, the lives of its justices, and a wide range of court decisions. It is the most comprehensive treatment of any state supreme court during the nineteenth century, when state constitutional law was preeminent. This book provides lengthy biographical sketches of all fifty-one men who served as territorial judges or supreme court justices between 1821 and 1917--groundbreaking research on most all of them--and devotes a substantial amount of space to social, economic, and political developments in order to demonstrate how they shaped and were shaped by the work of the court. This volume draws upon recent Florida historiography--much of it by this volume's co-editor, E. Canter Brown Jr.--that persuasively links regional economic development, contests for political power, and race relations within the state. The Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts also makes an important contribution to both Florida and southern history.

President James Monroe appointed Florida's first district judges in 1821. In 1824 the U.S. Congress established Florida's territorial court of appeals that consisted of district judges. Federal control of judicial appointments gave way in 1845, with the arrival of statehood, and was replaced by the state legislature's election of judges. Florida's supreme court became an "independent" body in 1851, with its three justices separate from the circuit court bench. Florida then undertook a brief experiment with the popular election of its supreme court and circuit court judges that lasted from 1853 until the advent of the Civil War. The secession convention feared unionist strength in some areas and modified the state constitution to give the governor appointment powers to the supreme and circuit courts. …

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