The Better Class of People: Judge Jacob Trieber and a New Perspective on Judicial Abandonment

Scapellati, Ethan, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Scapellati, Ethan, Arts & Sciences Graduate-sasg, University of Virginia

In United States v. Morris (1903), Judge Jacob Trieber of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found that the Thirteenth Amendment justified federal prosecution of private individuals who violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866’s recognition of the right to make or enforce contracts through the Enforcement Act of 1870—a finding overturned by the Supreme Court in Hodges v. United States (1906). I argue that Trieber’s use of the Thirteenth Amendment reflected an understanding of federalism that has profound implications for the way that legal historians should read the judicial abandonment narrative, which can only be fully captured by drawing upon Southern Progressivism. Understanding the Hodges story through these mutually constitutive lens necessarily reframes the abandonment narrative, taking into account how contemporaries on the ground actually understood “abandonment.” Thus, I argue for a shifting of the narrative’s discourse away from a fixation on its timeline and instead toward the motivations of Southern Progressive judges such as Jacob Trieber who believed in some federal enforcement—thereby putting into question whether this era should be labeled as an “abandonment” story at all.

MA (Master of Arts)
judicial abandonment, Southern Progressivism
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