Ohio History Journal

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Timothy Walker: Blackstone

For the New Republic





In the generation before the Civil War, few persons within the state of Ohio were

as nationally renowned as Timothy Walker of Cincinnati. During the so-called

"Golden Age of American Law" between 1820 and 1860, Walker, from his

adopted home on the banks of the Ohio River, wrote probably the most widely

read legal treatise of nineteenth century America, the Introduction to American

Law. A founder of the Cincinnati Law School, the first permanent law school

west of the Appalachians, he almost single-handedly maintained the institution

throughout its first ten years. During the decade after October 1843, he also edited

the Western Law Journal, one of the most influential law journals published in

pre-Civil War America. It is no exaggeration to suggest that in the slightly over

twenty-five years that he lived in Cincinnati before his untimely death in early

1856, there was no one who did more to make the city known throughout the new

West as a center for legal scholarship or professional training in law than he.

Much has been written about the economic side of pre-Civil War Cincinnati as

"Porkopolis" incarnate; recently, however, historians have begun once again to

emphasize the many social, cultural, and intellectual aspects of those same ante-

bellum years.1 Ironically, the city's leadership throughout the West in the area of

innovative legal thinking, a vital part of the latter emphases, has all too often

been forgotten or severely slighted. Proper balance demands that the many con-

tributions made by western barristers be included in any study of the period be-

fore 1861. An appreciation of the life and work of Timothy Walker, a man whom

many of his contemporaries called "America's Blackstone," is fundamental since

so much of the groundwork in the legal field was laid out by him.

Like so many leaders of Cincinnati life in the early nineteenth century, Walker

was a New Englander by birth.2 Born in the rural town of Wilmington, Massa-

chusetts, on December 1, 1802,3 he had been largely self-educated before his ac-

ceptance into the Harvard College class of 1826 at the then late age of nineteen.

A brilliant student, he passed through the college with the highest honors, win-




1. See particularly Louis Leonard Tucker, "Cincinnati: Athens of the West, 1830-1861," Ohio His-

tory, LXXV, 11-25, 67-68.

2. Interestingly, though not altogether accurately, Catherine Beecher wrote to her sister Harriet

from Cincinnati in 1831, one year after Walker's arrival in the city, "This is a New England city in all

its habits, and its inhabitants are more than half from New England ...." Charles Beecher, ed., Auto-

biography and Correspondence of Lyman Beecher (New York, 1865), II, 268.

3. Many biographical sketches list the year of Walker's birth as 1806; Appleton's Cyclopaedia of

American Biography, VI, 331. It is evident from his personal papers on file at the Cincinnati Historical

Society, however, that the proper date is indeed 1802.


Professor Holsinger is an Associate Professor of History at Illinois State University.