Vanderbilt Law Review


Kermit L. Hall

First Page



Between 1829 and 1861 antebellum presidents nominated 200 judges to the federal lower courts. Earlier administrations had appointed another forty jurists who held their positions during part or all of the era. Of these judges, 108 served in the federal district courts, 126 in the territorial courts, five in the Court of Claims, and one in a special circuit court established in 1855 for the northern district of California. The number of appointments available to an administration involved fate and the pace of territorial expansion;thus, during the first eight years of the period, Jackson nominated thirty-two judges, while in the last eight years, Pierce and Buchanan nominated eighty-seven judges." This article seeks to investigate this neglected aspect of antebellum politics by examining the result of the selection process as mirrored in the collective backgrounds of judicial nominees. In so doing, the answers to three questions will be explored. First, what were the social bases of the selection process? Secondly, how well prepared by education and experience were antebellum lower court judges? Thirdly, what was the role of partisanship in the process and did the Whigs and Democrats differ in the kinds of judges they recruited?