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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Upcoming Fall Exhibit: Racial Justice and the Law

This fall, the Riesenfeld Center will open a new exhibit on racial justice and the law, continuing a number of ongoing conversations at the Law School regarding race and criminal and civil law in American society. The exhibit will consider the struggle for equal rights through legal cases and events that saw those rights denied, limited, or advanced, amidst determined and continuing movements for equality.

The Center's rare book collection holds an important set of titles related to 19th-century anti-slavery movements, and to civil rights movements in the late 19th and 20th centuries. As leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois remarked in the early 20th century, while Reconstruction had real but limited effects, civil rights movements suffered a grave setback with the end of Reconstruction in 1877. 

At the same time, organizations dedicated to the achievement of equal civil rights emerged. The Afro-American League, led by Timothy Thomas Fortune, and the Afro-American Council - the latter of which held its annual meeting in 1902 in St. Paul - were eventually succeeded by the NAACP, founded in 1909 by W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Mary White Ovington, and Moorfield Storey, among others. These and other organizations arose in response to segregation enforced by law, and lawless violence, including lynching, faced by African-Americans. In the late 19th century, many states passed segregationist Jim Crow laws, and with the moral blindness of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) segregation was ruled a constitutionally-protected principle.   

The NAACP initiated lawsuits targeting segregation and discriminatory laws, and made progress in some cases. It pursued anti-lynching laws, and lawsuits following race riots, which eventually resulted in some expansion of federal jurisdiction over states' criminal justice systems. A prominent case with strong NAACP support was that of Dr. Ossian Sweet, which features in our collection and reflects on the history of segregation in America. The following description is based on the excellent, detailed account of the Sweet trials by Mike Hannon for our Clarence Darrow Digital Collection

In 1925, Dr. Sweet, an African-American medical doctor, moved with his family into a segregated white neighborhood in Detroit. Throughout America, segregation was maintained informally and formally. Often racial covenants prevented African-Americans from owning houses in white neighborhoods (the practice flourished in Minneapolis, for example)The 1920s were a time of nation-leading demographic growth in Detroit, which saw an influx of African-Americans and Caucasians looking for work and housing. The Ku Klux Klan also had a presence in the city and local political clout. In the case of Sweet, as in other cases, white neighbors resorted to tactics of intimidation and violence to drive African-Americans from their homes. 

In September 1925, just after moving into a house on Garland Street, the Sweet family faced a mob massing outside their home. Family members and friends were called to help while the crowd began to hit the house with rocks and yelled epithets. Shots rang out from the house and struck two people, one of whom was killed. In the subsequent trials of Dr. Sweet, his family and friends, only Henry Sweet, Ossian's brother, would admit firing into the crowd.

The defense of Sweet, his family and friends was organized by the NAACP, which recruited the services of the nationally-renowned trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow. (Darrow's storied career is preserved in our library, which holds the largest collection of his letters, and material from his life and cases. Darrow was friends with founders of the NAACP and served as a member of its general committee.) At the first trial, for conspiracy to commit murder and to commit assault, Darrow and the defense team consistently argued that the Sweet family acted in self-defense while in direct fear of their lives. 

One aspect of Darrow's argument was that the 'reasonable man' standard, applied to gauge the fear of the defendants, had to be that of a black man in a similar situation of violence and threatened violence. The arguments at the first trial were bolstered by the testimony of several other African-Americans, who had been chased from their Detroit homes by fear of violence and threats; and others who testified that between 400 and 500 people were present outside the Sweet home on the fateful day. 

In a long closing argument, Darrow argued that suffering due to race and deep inequality were at the heart of the case, appealing to a white jury to see past their own racial prejudice. In his jury instructions, Judge Frank Murphy noted that a black man's home was his castle in the same way as that of a white man: there was no right to invade or assail it (familiar as the 'castle doctrine,' with its long provenance). The jury deliberated for 46 hours and came back deadlocked; the judge declared a mistrial.  
Jury in the Henry Sweet trial

The prosecution vigorously pursued a retrial, and Darrow filed for the defendants to be tried separately. The first tried was Henry Sweet. This trial followed similar lines of argument, though Darrow arguably had more success now in hounding prosecution witnesses. In part, he pressed for admissions that a neighborhood homeowners association was organized to keep African-Americans away and would use violence to do so. During the closing argument, attended by hundreds inside a packed courthouse, Darrow asked the all-white jurors again to set their prejudices aside and put themselves in the shoes of Sweet and the Sweet family. He attacked the prosecution's case for eight hours, and asked jurors to understand the defendant's plight and the history behind it. This time, after jury instructions of more than two hours, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty in three hours; no further cases were tried.

The case was a notable victory for the NAACP and for Darrow, and reflected on issues of race and justice in 1925 that are still with us today. Racial covenants were not struck down until 1948, and de facto segregated communities have left their legacy across urban and suburban American landscapes. Self-defense doctrines have come back into the spotlight more recently in broader debates over lethal force used by police and private citizens, particularly when victims are minorities. In all of these, the problems of racial injustice that we still struggle with, and must continue to struggle with for a more equitable future, have come directly back to the foreground.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections  

Monday, June 8, 2020

Announcement: Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition

The Legal History and Rare Books Section (LHRB) of the American Association of Law Libraries, in cooperation with Gale Cengage Learning, announces the annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. The competition is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School. Professor Cohen’s scholarly work was in the fields of legal research, rare books, and historical bibliography.

The purpose of the competition is to encourage scholarship in the areas of legal history, rare law books, and legal archives, and to acquaint students with the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and law librarianship. Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The competition is open to students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, and related fields. Both full- and part-time students are eligible. Membership in AALL is not required.


The winner will receive a $500 prize from Cengage Learning and will present the essay at an LH&RB sponsored webinar. The winner and runner-up will have the opportunity to publish their essays in LH&RB’s online scholarly journal Unbound: A Review of Legal History and Rare Books.

For more information and deadlines, please see the announcement, full rules, and application.

The deadline for application is July 31, 2020.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

From Our Spring Exhibits: Law in Times of Crisis, II

Our current spring exhibits feature several works that were born in moments of crisis (see an earlier post for two of these).  Lawmaking at these moments often calls forth extraordinary legislation and sometimes emergency procedures to enact that legislation.  Sometimes convening in one place can also be difficult.  In the face of the current pandemic, the Supreme Court recently opted to hear arguments remotely and livestreamed them for the benefit of the public.  In the Senate, in-person meetings have continued, while the House has recently moved to allow remote voting.

The earliest national Congresses were no stranger to the problem of convening lawmakers in one place, though due to armed conflict rather than a virus.  The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774 to discuss grievances over unpopular British laws and to prepare the colonial American response, which was agreed first to take written form.  The Second Continental Congress convened to conduct national policy amidst the Revolutionary War, a circumstance that forced it to relocate several times in the face of an advancing British army.  Meeting in Philadelphia, Congress was forced to move to Baltimore in 1776 and to flee again in September 1777 as the British prepared to take Philadelphia.  As a result, it met in Lancaster and subsequently in York, Pennsylvania.  The drafting of the Articles of Confederation was completed in York, but its early and most important printing was by Francis Bailey, who quickly printed 300 copies in Lancaster in 1777.  The copy of the Articles in our collection, also from 1777, is the Boston reprint of Bailey's first edition.

In July 1778, Congress moved back to Philadelphia, after the British had abandoned it.  It was here that two brothers of the Lee family of Virginia, Richard Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee, both signers of the Declaration of Independence, met with the other delegates.  It may be that during this time they also purchased a work from the notable Robert Bell, a Scottish-born printer who set up shop not far from Independence Hall.  Our copy of Cesare Beccaria's famous Essay on Crimes and Punishments, in its first true American printing by Bell in 1778 (we also hold a false Philadelphia imprint of the work from 1766), shows the name of Francis L. Lee on its title page, which may be Francis Lightfoot Lee himself, or his brother Richard Henry Lee's son. Richard Henry Lee and another brother, Arthur Lee, quoted from Beccaria's work and perhaps from this family copy. 

In such times of crisis, the law must still be made (and published), and it's little surprise that lawmakers should need material for reflection, particularly on issues as important as criminal law reform.


   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Friday, April 10, 2020

Answers to Our Virtual Rare Books Quiz

Below are the answers to our first virtual rare books quiz.  Thanks to everyone for participating, and congratulations to the winners!

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1.  At first we were looking for Diderot or Montesquieu (the picture is supposed to be Diderot); but we also accepted the wigless Gracchus Babeuf.  It's not for us to argue a likeness!   

Babeuf is the subject of a beautifully illustrated collection item in our current spring exhibit.  He was a radical firebrand journalist and could be considered generally a philosophe.  Perhaps figures like Rousseau, Voltaire, d'Alembert - even Jefferson and Franklin - should not be so exclusive!

2.  This incunable was published on January 8, 1498 in Venice.  (Venice was probably the most famous early center of printing.  The most famous Venetian printer, Aldus Manutius, also has the most famous printer's device, a dolphin entwined with an anchor.  It relates to his motto: "make haste slowly."  The Latin original, festina lente, might be a good motto during our current moment.)

3.  The answer is "D.  Answers A and B only."  Richard Tottel (or variously Tottill, Tothill, Tottle, etc.) had an exclusive royal patent to publish English common law books from 1553.  Some early legislation on unlicensed printing is in acts of 1637, 1649, 1662 and the famous Statute of Anne (copyright).  Roman type is a big thing in the history of typography.

4. Justice O'Conner grew up on Lazy B cattle ranch in Arizona (incidentally, the cow's head also bobbles).  See her great book on growing up (and Majesty of the Law if you have not read it). 


Justice Breyer's five sheep (and a cow, on the bike's other side) are a reference to his opinion in Public Lands Council v. Babbitt: "[T]he Department would issue a permit measuring grazing privileges in terms of 'animal unit months' (AUMs), i.e., the right to obtain the forage needed to sustain one cow (or five sheep) for one month.... [R]egulations in effect from 1938 to the present day made clear that the Department retained the power to modify, fail to renew, or cancel a permit or lease for various reasons." Public Lands Council v. Babbitt, 529 U.S. 728, 735 (2000).

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Our First Virtual Rare Books Quiz!

Welcome to our first virtual rare books quiz!  Take a break from studies (and incessant news) - allow yourselves a diversion! 

Take a few moments to answer the questions below, and be entered to win prizes from the UMN bookstore (when it reopens).  

The two most correct entries win, drawing in case of (more than two) ties, prizes $25 each.  The prizes are the usual: hats, mugs, keychains, t-shirts, or some combination.  UMN Law School students only are eligible.


1.  Which noted French Enlightenment philosophe is this an image of?  (Several answers accepted; note the figure is wigless!)






The great etching, by artist Thomas Cornell, is from this book, in our current exhibits. 












   

2.  The design at bottom here is the printer's device of Baptista de Tortis.  These were common in early printed books, and offered quick recognition and a proud authenticity.  What year, month, day, and city was this book published in?





This volume of Roman law in the collection is an incunable, printed before 1501. (That's a hint, at least.)


















 



3.  What is significant about the book below? (All that apply.)

A.  It is a copy of the first printed edition of Bracton's De Legibus, considered the greatest treatise on (medieval) English law.
B.  It is an early example of the use of Roman type in English law books.
C.  It is a pirated copy, printed without license.
D.  Answers A and B only.
E.  Answers A, B, and C.






Fun fact: the printer of the book, Richard Tottel, spelled his name about a dozen different ways in his works (thanks to my colleague Mike Widener for this observation)! 











4.  A last one, from our Supreme Court Bobblehead collection.  Why is there a cow at the feet of Justice O'Connor, and why are there sheep at the feet of Justice Breyer?  (Short answer will do.)




Friday, March 27, 2020

From Our Spring Exhibits: Law in Times of Crisis

In times of crisis, governments often produce a succession of orders, legislation, and judgments in response to rapidly changing events. Below are two selections from our spring exhibits that reflect on law in these kinds of situations. One can easily imagine the need for a Massachusetts Act to Prevent Monopoly and Oppression (1777), in response to price gouging during wartime. Eliminating 'public threats' during periods of civil unrest is often more suspect, as arguably in the case of Gracchus Babeuf. In all these cases, governments intervene in extraordinary ways to strengthen authority and maintain order, with various effects. The old Latin legal maxim, necessitas non habet legem ('necessity knows no law'), can perhaps be reinterpreted at these moments as 'necessity makes its own law (necessitas facit suam legem). Of course, laws enacted in times of crisis and under emergency justifications still need analysis and critique from the perspectives of law and justice.  


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In the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Seven: An Act to Prevent Monopoly and Oppression (Boston: Printed by B. Edes and Sons, 1777).

During the American Revolution, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law to regulate prices in the face of limited supplies and increasingly “avaricious conduct.” The single act, published for immediate distribution, sets prices for a range of colonial goods named in it. At the back of our copy, in a clear and elegant hand, a selection of the goods and their prices is arranged according to common measures (per bushel, per pound, etc.). The items listed were those used in cooking and maintaining a household: mentioned are things like tallow, women’s shoes, and cloth for spinning. No ownership information tells us who wrote the list; one guess may be a colonial woman who ran a household. The pamphlet provides a direct and vivid window into daily economics in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Despite the crisis, the owner has organized the items with a sense of practical care necessary in the face of adversity.

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The Trial of Gracchus Babeuf before the High Court of Vendome, ed. and trans. by John Anthony Scott (Northhampton, MA: The Gehenna Press, 1964).

François-Noël Babeuf (1760-1797), known as Gracchus Babeuf, was a French revolutionary and reputedly one of the first communists, who advocated the abolition of private property. A prolific writer, he rose to prominence as a new
French government faced economic crisis and widespread suffering, with little effective remedy. He was tried and executed in 1797 for fomenting rebellion. The Defense is a modern translation of Babeuf’s apologia on his own behalf at his trial, where he invoked intellectual fathers of the French Revolution Rousseau and Diderot. 

The copy in our collection is a modern, beautifully illustrated edition featuring twenty-one etched portraits, including French Enlightenment figures and Babeuf himself. The outstanding illustrations are by Thomas Cornell (1937-2012), who signed each image in pencil in the lower right. The etchings were printed by Emiliano Sorini in New York, on loose blue Fabriano paper that has been laid in; the text is gathered in unbound quires. The noted illustrator and artist Leonard Baskin, who founded the Gehenna Press, designed the book. Our copy is number 87 from a limited edition of 300, signed again at the back by Cornell. Our copy is a gift of Christa Cornell, the artist's wife.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections











Monday, March 2, 2020

Wednesday, March 4: Rare Books Open House!

Come out to the Riesenfeld Center's first rare books open house of the semester, this Wednesday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.!

Enjoy snacks and drinks, and see new treasures from the library's rare books and special collections:

When: Wednesday, March 4, 12 p.m - 3 p.m.
Where: Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center
What: Rare books, snacks and refreshments!


(*The Center is in N30, on the subplaza past Sullivan Cafe and N20.)