Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Legal History: Crime and Punishment Research Guide

This guide details primary English and American resources on the history of crime and punishment.

Primary American Legal Sources

These are general sources of materials, including Federal and state statutes and codes, case reports and digests, surveys of American legal history during certain periods, contemporary works and bibliographies. There are many of these sources available generally, so only a few are listed here. More can be found doing a subject search using words such as Law-United States (or a particular state).

A. Early American Federal Statutes

The Statutes at Large is the official source of laws and resolutions passed by the U.S. Congress since 1789. It is a compilation of statutes, by date of passage; these statutes are later codified in the United States Code. It also includes the text of amendments to the Constitution, and of presidential proclamations, and all treaties and international agreements approved by the U.S. Senate, up to 1948.

KF50 .U5
United States. United States Statutes at Large. Buffalo, N.Y.: Dennis, 1961-; Washington, D.C.: GPO. Vol. 1 [1789 to March 3, 1845]-.

Dennis has reprinted volumes for 1789-1918. The U.S. Government Printing Office. publishes the volumes after 1918. Early titles include Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (vols. 1-8), and Statutes at Large of the United States of America (vols. 9-49).

The volumes for the first 42 congresses (1789-1873) are also available online through the Library of Congress web site.

B. Early State Statutes & Session Laws

Until the American Revolution, the original 13 American colonies were governed by the laws of England. Consult the English statutes for more information. There were colonial laws enacted by some of the local legislatures, more and more so with the approach of the American Revolution. Many were not printed or published officially, but they were often announced in the local newspapers, such as the Maryland Gazette, or the Virginia Gazette. Debates surrounding these local laws were also printed in the local newspapers, so colonial newspapers are often excellent sources of information regarding colonial laws in the making.

Session laws were published more regularly, but each colony and then state varied how and when it issued them. After the Revolution, each state continued this sporadic printing of state statutes, and many states did not start to codify their laws until well into the 19th century.

All early printed state statutes published before 1840 are housed in Special Collections, and must be used there. State statutes published after 1840 and that are superseded, are housed in the Historic Code Collection, in closed compact stacks. Check the library catalog for call numbers and locations. Contact a staff member at the Circulation Desk, in Access Services for access to the historic statutes in the compact stacks. The law library does have some early American newspapers on microfilm in the Media section of the Library, but it is an incomplete set. Complete sets of early American newspapers on microfilm, often with indexes are available for research at the Library of Congress Periodical Reading Room in the Madison Building, and also at local universities and state archives.

All printed state and colonial statutes at large are available on microfilm in Media Services on the third floor of the Library, East side. There are generally no indexes to these state statutes and the quality of the film is uneven.

C. Early Federal Law Reports & Digests

KF101 .A2
United States. Supreme Court. United States Reports: Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court. Volumes 1-90. Various publishers, 1790-1874.

The title varies, especially with the first 4 volumes by Dallas:

Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Courts of Pennsylvania Before and Since the Revolution (1 Dallas) covers cases from 1754 to 1789.

Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States and of Pennsylvania held at the Seat of the Federal Government (2-4 Dallas) cover cases from 1781 to 1806.

The U.S. Supreme Court was created in 1789 by the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789 (1 Stat.73), and organized in 1790. The first U.S. Reports, however, were reports of cases in the courts of Pennsylvania and ,the several courts of the U.S., and did not become the reports of the Supreme Court until 1804. The first 90 volumes are named reports, from 1790 to 1874; they were reported by specific individuals, and are often called by the name of the reporter: 1 Cranch, or 4 Dallas. Here is a list of the first 90 volumes and their corresponding named reports:

1-4 Dallas 1-4 U.S. Reports
1-9 Cranch 5-13 U.S. Reports
1-12 Wheaton 14-25 U.S. Reports
1-41 Peters 26-41 U.S. Reports
1-24 Howard 42-65 U.S. Reports
1-2 Black 66-67 U.S. Reports
1-23 Wallace 68-90 U.S. Reports

KF105 .F2
The Federal Cases, Comprising Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Federal reporter [1789-1880]. 31 vols. St. Paul: West, 1894-97.

This set includes an index, tables and a digest.

KF130 .A2
The American Decisions, Containing All the Cases of General Value and Authority Decided in the Courts of the Several States, From the Earliest Issue of the State Reports [1760] to the Year 1869. 103 vols. San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Company, 1870.

Each volume is actually 2 volumes in 1. Includes a 3 volume index.

KF130 .A3
The American Reports Containing All Decisions of General Interest Decided in the Courts of Last Resort of the Several States, With Notes and References ... [1869-1887]. 102 volumes. San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1871-88

Includes an index.

D. Colonial & Early State Law Reports & Digests

The original 13 American colonies reported court cases unofficially in a variety of ways, depending on the time period and the colonial governments of each area. For original colonial cases, early newspapers are often the only available sources. Most colonial governments controlled the local papers, and used them to report on court proceedings. Some colonies established early case reporting, but none of it is official or printed in any consistent fashion. After the American Revolution, each state published its reports of cases individually, and often reprinted earlier case reports. Many of the early ,reporters were also reporters for the early Federal reports. For a list of the earliest colonial and state case reports, consult the Finding aid to Early American Court Reporters, available in Special Collections. The library has almost all the early state reports, either reprinted and in the Library by state, or in original form, in Special Collections.

The digest listed below is a good tool for researching early cases across more than 1 state.

KF141 1658
Century Edition of The American Digest; a Complete Digest of All Reported American Cases From the Earliest Times [1658] to 1896. 50 vols. St. Paul: West, 1897-1904.

Also now available online at HeinOnline.

E. Collections of Trials

Just a few are listed here.

The Making of Modern Law
Clinton, Henry Lauren. Celebrated Trials, With Nine Portraits. New York: Harper & Bros., 1897.

Includes such trials as the trial of A. Oakley Hall, Mayor of New York and the Cunningham-Burdell murder case.

HV6524 .D75 1991
Duke, Thomas Samuel. Celebrated Criminal Cases of America. Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith, 1991.

Reprint of the original 1910 edition.

KF220 .F76 1997
Frost-Knappman, Elizabeth & Kathryn Cullen-DuPont. Women's Rights on Trial: 101 Historic Trials From Anne Hutchinson to the Virginia Military Institute Cadets. Detroit: Gale, 1997.

KF220 .A4
Lawson, John Davison, ed. American State Trials: A Collection of the Important and Interesting Criminal Trials Which Have Taken Place in the United States From the Beginning of Our Government to the Present Day. 16 vols. St. Louis: Thomas Law Books, 1914-1936.
Includes an index to the first 14 vols.

KF220 .W48 1849 Quarto
Wharton, Francis. State Trials of the United States During the Administrations of Washington and Adams With References, Historical and Professional, and Preliminary Notes on the Politics of the Times. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1849.

F. Individual Trials

Check under individual defendants names in the Library's catalog for individual trials availability.

KF223.S4 L55 1807 Quarto
Lloyd, Thomas. The Trials of William S. Smith, and Samuel G. Ogden, For Misdemeanours, Had in the Circuit Court of the United States For the New-York District, in July, 1806. With a Preliminary Account of the Proceedings of the Same Court Against Messrs. Smith & Ogden, in the Preceding April Term. New York: Printed by and for I. Riley and Co., 1807.