Course Catalog

Legal History Seminar: Maryland Prize Court Decisions in the U. S. Supreme Court--1789--1856 (3)

Under the nineteenth century maritime law enemy ships and their cargoes might lawfully be captured as prizes of war. Prizes were seized not only by the navies of warring nations but also by privateers who were specially commissioned to capture enemy ships and enemy goods. Once captured ships were taken to a nearby friendly port city where a Prize Court considered the questions of “prize” or “no prize” and the division of the bounty. During the era of fighting sail (1750-1850) private fortunes were made and lost at sea.

Baltimore was a favorite base of operations for ship owners who sought and received federal permission to capture French vessels during the “quasi-war” in 1798-1800, and British vessels during the War of 1812. The port developed an international reputation as a “net of pirates.” Hundreds of captured vessels were brought back to the home port of the Baltimore privateers for prize adjudication.

After adoption of the U.S. Constitution the federal circuit courts of the various States were given exclusive original jurisdiction over prize cases heard in the United States. Between 1789 and 1856 the docket of the federal circuit court for the district of Maryland included hundreds of prize cases many of which were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. International customs and usages, and not the laws or precedents, of any one country constituted the governing rule of law.

The seminar will consider this all but forgotten chapter of maritime history. It will consider U.S. Supreme Court Prize case decisions that had originated as cases in the Maryland circuit court. Attention will be paid to the swashbuckling back stories of deception, false colors, gunnery and capture on the High Seas. The governing Law of Nations (as interpreted and applied by Justice Joseph Story and the other Justices of the Supreme Court) will be examined and analyzed. The practice of admiralty law by the close knit Maryland Bar (William Pinkney, Robert Goodloe Harper, William Winder, Luther Martin, David Hoffman and others) will be studied.

Students will be assigned one of the Prize Cases. They will be encouraged to use as primary sources the legal documents found in the Baltimore and Maryland and National Archives, and on digital data bases. Their attention will be directed toward the legal documentation involved in the case’s resolution (the dockets, transcripts, depositions, exhibits and working papers, etc.). Each student will be called upon to prepare a case study that puts their Supreme Court decision in its social, economic and political context.

Students may use their papers in satisfaction of the law school’s Advanced Writing Requirement.

Current & Previous Instructors:
Frederick Leiner; Edward Papenfuse; Garrett Power;

This course is not currently scheduled.


Key to Codes in Course Descriptions
P: Prerequisite
C: Prerequisite or Concurrent Requirement
R: Recommended Prior or Concurrent Course

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500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-1786 PHONE: (410) 706-7214 FAX: (410) 706-4045 / TDD: (410) 706-7714

Copyright © 2014, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved