Join the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello for a virtual Fellow's Forum with Matthew Steilen, Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, State University of New York.


Click here to join us on Zoom on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. ET!



In the decades preceding the American Revolution an elite body of lawyers developed around Virginia’s central courts. Among them were Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, St. George Tucker, and Edmund Randolph. After the Revolution, as they sought to reform Virginia’s colonial judicial system, they drew on this experience and the understanding of law it nurtured. A central idea in their reform movement was peace. Proceedings in courts, under the counsel of learned lawyers, were peaceful, in contrast to the political violence of the legislature. This talk will explore how Virginia federalists later took up these ideas in an effort to channel disputes out of the legislature and into the courts where they practiced. With respect to the ownership of land, in particular, suits were manufactured or “feigned” to ensure they could be resolved with finality in a court of law. In some cases, judges sought to protect their own speculative investments against interference by the legislature.


About the Speaker


Matthew Steilen is a Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, State University of New York.  His central research interest is the development of legal institutions and ideas. His articles have examined judicial review, due process, royal prerogative, presidential powers of non-enforcement, constitutional conventions, and legislative attainders in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia during the American Revolution, among other topics. Steilen was previously a fellow at the Smith Center in 2017, and research from that visit appeared in an article published in Law and History Review, titled “The Legislature at War: Bandits, Runaways, and the Emergence of a Virginia Doctrine of Separation of Powers.” He is currently at work on a monograph on the early history of legislatures.