Ohio History Journal

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The Early Judiciary of Ohio

The Early Judiciary of Ohio.          141






A proper study of the early judicial system and early laws

of our State carries us to a period when, as a part of the great

Northwest Territory, we were under control of the Federal


On the 13th day of July, 1787, the Congress of the United

States passed the ordinance for "The Government of the Terri-

tory of the United States, Northwest of the River Ohio."

Relative to the judiciary, the ordinance provided, "There shall

be appointed a Court to consist of three Judges, any two of

whom to form a Court, who shall have a common law jurisdic-

tion, and reside in the district, and have each therein a freehold

estate in five hundred acres of land, while in the exercise of

their offices, and their commissions shall continue in force dur-

ing good behavior. The Governor and Judges, or a majority of

them, shall adopt and publish in the district, such laws of the

original States, criminal and civil, as may be necessary, and best

suited to the circumstances of the district, and report them to

Congress, from time to time, which laws shall be in force in the

district until the organization of the General Assembly therein

unless disapproved of by Congress; but afterward, the Legisla-

ture shall have authority to alter them as they shall see fit."

The ordinance conferred no authority on the Governor and

Judges to make laws, but only to adopt and publish such of

those in force in the original States, as might be necessary and

suitable to the circumstances of the district. Acting under the

provisions of the ordinance, Congress on the 16th day of Octo-

ber, 1787, just one hundred and three years ago yesterday, ap-

pointed Samuel H. Parsons, John Armstrong and James M.

Varnum, Judges for the new territory. Judge Parsons was a

native of Connecticut, and a graduate of Harvard University.

He was admitted to the bar in 1759, and afterward served many

years as a member of the Connecticut Legislature. His bi-

ography credits him with the distinction of having "originated

the plan of forming the first Congress," which was the forerun-