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Monday, November 30, 2020

Early Minnesota Law in the Scholarship Repository

The Riesenfeld Center has a series of early titles on Minnesota law that are now digitized in the Law School's scholarship repository. The Center holds an outstanding collection of early Minnesota law and some of the earliest state imprints. Statutes, orders, and other law-related materials are predominant among the early printed works of each US state, and Minnesota is no exception. 

During the woolly days of Minnesota's territorial government, James Goodhue, printer and editor of the state's first newspaper, also published its first legal works. As the first territorial printer, Goodhue filled an important role, circulating necessary information to a growing population. He was also a colorful character, with sharp opinions and strong politics. In one incident, from early 1851, he heatedly attacked two public figures (one of which was an associate justice on the territorial Supreme Court, David Cooper) in an editorial in his Minnesota Pioneer. The piece drew a sharp reaction: Justice Cooper's own brother confronted Goodhue over it on a St. Paul street. The altercation led to a fight in which Goodhue was stabbed and badly injured, and the other man was shot (both survived).

The early Minnesota law digitized in the scholarship repository is not (yet) the earliest, from the short-lived press of Goodhue, but represents other interesting material from the territorial era and early statehood. Included are a series of attorney general's reports to the legislature, which feature statistics on crime and notes on criminal cases. There is a copy of Minnesota's first constitution, Zebulon Pike's extremely rare 1805 treaty with the Sioux (printed in a government report), and other interesting Minnesotiana, including a grant for railroads and an elections case. We will continue to add early Minnesota law and other material.

I'm very grateful to my colleague, Scott Uhl, the Technology, Innovation & Reference Librarian, for setting up this dedicated section of the scholarship repository for rare collections. Finally many thanks are due to Alec Shaw ('19) for his good work in organizing and scanning these materials. 

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

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