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Gibbons v. Ogden Focus of Inaugural Brian Simpson Lecture March 13

March 6, 2015

The inaugural talk in a new lecture series honoring the late Michigan Law Professor Brian Simpson will focus on an "alternative history" of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gibbons v. Ogden.

"Gibbons v. Ogden, without the Commerce Clause: Of Steamboats, a River, Slaves, a Quarrelsome Family, a Bank, and the Legal Lives of Two Old Men" will be held on Friday, March 13, at 4 p.m. in Hutchins Hall 132. The event is free and open to the public.

Professor Hendrik HartogHendrik Hartog, the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty and director of the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, will present the talk. Hartog, whose scholarship focuses on the social history of American law, has worked in a variety of areas of American legal history, including the history of city life, constitutional rights claims, and marriage, and on the historiography of legal change. His most recent book, Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age (Harvard University Press, 2012), is a study of inheritance conflicts in 19th- and 20th-century New Jersey.

Gibbons (1824), commonly known as the "steamboat case," held that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce, including navigation, through the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Hartog, however, won't focus on the usual facts of the case.

"In this sketch of a book in progress," he said, "I will develop an alternative history of the case as the culmination of a dark family quarrel and of the relentlessly litigious behavior of two old men in early 19th-century New Jersey. Evolving understandings of 'monopoly,' of 'interstate commerce,' and of theories of federalism were part of their story, although a smaller part than most have thought. I focus instead on the inheritance claims, divorce settlements, bank frauds, escaped slaves, libels, illegitimate children, and much forum shopping that were central to the course of the case."

The biennial Brian Simpson Lectures in Legal History bring distinguished scholars to campus and reinforce the longstanding ties between the U-M Law School and the Department of History. The series honors the late Simpson, a Michigan Law faculty member from 1987 to 2011, who was internationally recognized as one of the most gifted and wide-ranging historians of the English common law.

"Brian's work spans the medieval to modern eras, focused on the social, economic, and broadly intellectual currents that shaped the law and were, in turn, shaped by it," said former colleague Rebecca Scott, the Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law at U-M. "With a career that took him across three continents (Europe, Africa, and North America), Brian embodied erudite and cosmopolitan scholarship, culminating in his final powerful book Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention."

The Brian Simpson Lectures in Legal History are made possible by the generous support of the Thomas and Ruth Green Legal History Endowment.

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