In the antebellum Midwest, Americans looked to the law, and specifically to the jury, to navigate the uncertain terrain of a rapidly changing society. During this formative era of American law, the jury served as the most visible connector between law and society. Through an analysis of the composition of grand and trial juries and an examination of their courtroom experiences, Stacy Pratt McDermott demonstrates how central the law was for people who lived in Abraham Lincoln’s America. McDermott focuses on the status of the jury as a democratic institution as well as on the status of those who served as jurors. According to the 1860 census, the juries in Springfield and Sangamon County, Illinois, comprised an ethnically and racially diverse population of settlers from northern and southern states, representing both urban and rural mid-nineteenth-century America. It was in these counties that Lincoln developed his law practice, handling more than 5,200 cases in a legal career that spanned nearly twenty-five years. Drawing from a rich collection of legal records, docket books, county histories, and surviving newspapers, McDermott reveals the enormous power jurors wielded over the litigants and the character of their communities.
Stacy Pratt McDermott is the assistant director and associate editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, and the coeditor of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases and The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln.
“(The Jury in Lincoln’s America) provides an excellent account of the legal and social history of the region, especially in McDermott’s analysis of the records of the courts in Illinois and the historiography of the jury system.”
— Journal of Illinois History
“This in-depth analysis gives us an unparalleled sense of how juries worked, what juror worked, what juror status meant for the outcome of legal cases…and what it suggests about legal, political, and social culture in this county– and by extension in the larger Midwest. It is an impressive accomplishment.”
— The Annals of Iowa
“McDermott’s social history of the jury pushes past hoary glorification of the jury in Anglo-American liberty and digs up social history evidence about the kinds of constituencies that the jury actually represented.”
— The Journal of American History
“McDermott’s careful study, based on extensive primary source research…sheds fresh light on the legal history of nineteenth-century America.”
— Indiana Magazine of History
“The legal environment that shaped Lincoln provides the context of The Jury in Lincoln’s America, and Lincoln’s experiences with the law as an attorney, a litigant, a judge, and a juror provide a fascinating human connection to the history of law in pre-Civil War Illinois, the Midwest, and America.”
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