The Great Yazoo Lands Sale
The Case of Fletcher v. Peck
Charles F. Hobson
Finalist, David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History
In 1795, the Georgia legislature sold the state’s western lands (present-day Alabama and Mississippi) to four private land companies. A year later, amid revelations of bribery, a newly elected legislature revoked the sale. This book tells the story of how the great Yazoo lands sale gave rise to the 1810 case in which the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice John Marshall, for the first time ruled the action of a state to be in violation of the Constitution, specifically the contract clause.
“Hobson provides a tour de force analysis of an important early 19th-century case, Fletcher v. Peck. [This] book is much more than a study of the Marshall Court’s work. The author spends considerable time discussing the role Congress played in the unfolding of the case. The text also gives insight into political activities of companies and the impact of the court’s decision on members of Congress.”
“One of our nation’s leading scholars offers a cohesive study on one of the Marshall Court’s three most important cases—Fletcher v. Peck. Perceived by some as a ‘feigned case,’ Hobson reveals the case’s legitimacy.”
—William E. Nelson, author of The Colonial Law in America and Marbury v. Madison: The Origins and Legacy of Judicial Review
“Charles F. Hobson, the longtime editor of The Papers of John Marshall, brings his unsurpassed familiarity with John Marshall to bear on the Marshall Court’s first decision invaliding a state law as inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution. Dr. Hobson’sThe Great Yazoo Land Sale: The Case of Fletcher v. Peck is a terrific companion to his highly regardedThe Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law.”
—Scott Douglas Gerber, author of A Distinct Judicial Power: The Origins of an Independent Judiciary, 1606–1787
“Hobson offers an excellent synthesis of Fletcher v. Peck—creating a distinguished addition to the Landmark Law series. ”
—Herbert A. Johnson, author of Gibbons v. Ogden: John Marshall, Steamboats and the Commerce ClauseSee fewer reviews...
Truly a landmark case, Fletcher v. Peck established judicial review of state legislative proceedings, provided a gloss on the contract clause, and established the preeminent role of the Supreme Court in private law matters. Beneath the case’s dry legal proceedings lay a tangle of speculating mania, corruption, and political rivalry, which Charles Hobson unravels with narrative aplomb. As the scene shifts from the frontier to the courtroom, and from Georgia to New England, the cast of characters includes sharp dealers like Robert Morris, hot-headed politicians like James Jackson, and able counsel like John Quincy Adams, along with, of course, John Marshall himself. The improbably dramatic tale opens a window on land transactions, Indian relations, and the politics of the early nation, thereby revealing how the controversy over the Yazoo lands sale reflected a deeper crisis over the meaning of republicanism. Hobson, a leading scholar of the Marshall Court, lays out the details of the litigation with great clarity even as he presents a longer view of the implications and consequences of Fletcher v. Peck.