1 minute read

James Fenimore Cooper Libel Trials: 1839-45

The Legal Suits

At this point, Cooper launched what became one of the most bizarre if now forgotten series of legal battles in American literary history. He revived his earlier suits against the three editors who had commented on the Three Mile Point dispute; he started libel suits against the editors of newspapers that printed the disparaging reviews of Home As Found; he sued an editor for a negative review of another of his books, History of the Navy of the United States; he initiated still new suits when the editors reported or commented on the previous suits; and he then sued the editors when they reported on their own trials.

One by one, between February 1839 and December 1845, these suits came before grand juries, judges, trial juries, arbitrators, or appeals courts. Although on occasion Cooper spoke in court on his own behalf, he relied throughout the proceedings on his lawyer-nephew, Richard Cooper. The defendants hired their own lawyers. The trials were held in various upstate New York county courts; the appeals were held in Albany. All the juried trials were presided over by either Justice John Willard or Justice Philo Gridley, who from the outset would allow the defendants to enter little extenuating evidence. Rather, the judges consistently ruled that all the juries had to consider was whether they regarded the editors' articles as having gone beyond criticism of the author's works to become libels on Cooper the man.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882James Fenimore Cooper Libel Trials: 1839-45 - The First Trespassers, The Legal Suits, Sideshows And Footnotes, Settling Up, Suggestions For Further Reading