Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee

(1816)

Context

In the seventeenth century, English monarchs such as James I and Charles I granted large North American land tracts to loyal political supporters like the Fairfax family. Well-established social patterns of paternalism and deference allowed large, landholding families to wield considerable power over the landless masses in colonial Virginia. But increasing tensions over taxation between the British government and the American colonies led to the 1775 outbreak of the American Revolution, with many of the colonies divided between Patriot and Loyalist camps. Many Loyalists like Lord Fairfax escaped the conflict to Canada or Britain. In 1779 Thomas Jefferson, a leading advocate of independence, became Virginia's wartime governor. Under his administration, the state legislature passed a series of acts confiscating abandoned Loyalist land. These confiscation acts were often upheld by state courts that were eager to pay down Virginia's war debts and strike a blow against...

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Joseph Story (Library of Congress)

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