John McKinley and the Antebellum Supreme Court
Circuit Riding in the Old Southwest
328 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 1.10 in, 8 B&W FIGURES - 3 MAPS
- Published: May 2023
- Published: October 2012
- Published: October 2012
Provides a penetrating analysis of US Supreme Court justice John McKinley
Steven P. Brown rescues from obscurity John McKinley, one of the three Alabama justices, along with John Archibald Campbell and Hugo Black, who have served on the US Supreme Court. A native Kentuckian who moved in 1819 to northern Alabama as a land speculator and lawyer, McKinley was elected to the state legislature three times and became first a senator and then a representative in the US Congress before being elevated to the Supreme Court in 1837. He spent his first five years on the court presiding over the newly created Ninth Circuit, which covered Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. His was not only the newest circuit, encompassing a region that, because of its recent settlement, included a huge number of legal claims related to property, but it was also the largest, the furthest from Washington, DC, and by far the most difficult to traverse.
While this is a thorough biography of McKinley’s life, it also details early Alabama state politics and provides one of the most exhaustive accounts available of the internal workings of the antebellum Supreme Court and the very real challenges that accompanied the now-abandoned practice of circuit riding. In providing the first in depth assessment of the life and Supreme Court career of Justice John McKinley, Brown has given us a compelling portrait of a man active in the leading financial, legal, and political circles of his day.
“Professor Steven Brown sets out to rehabilitate McKinley's reputation and historical legacy in this engaging and accessible biography. The portrait that emerges is one of a dedicated public servant and thoughtful jurist, a far cry from the surly and unimpressive caricature that has defined McKinley's modern-day perception. . . . [Brown] also provides a rare look into the workings of the antebellum Supreme Court, particularly the travails of circuit riding prior to the development of a robust interstate transportation infrastructure. . . . Brown persuasively argues that McKinley's career and legacy deserve another look.”
—Harvard Law Review
“Steven Brown's splendid new work is the only book-length account of the Alabama Justice's life and years of public service--not only as a Justice, but as a practicing attouney, state legislator, state university trustee, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and U.S. Senator. The book refutes the usual assessment that McKinley was at best a very average jurist who failed to carry his share of the judicial burden and was unable to hold his own among his judicial colleagues.”
—Journal of Supreme Court History
“Students of southern history and Alabama history, as well as legal scholars and the state and national legal communities, will appreciate this longoverdue revision of Justice John McKinley’s historical reputation. With this book, Steven Brown has established himself as the authority on the life and times of Justice McKinley and, to a significant degree, the antebellum US Supreme Court.”
—R. Volney Riser, author of Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890–1908