Mark Davidson 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Maintaining the Rule of Law During the Civil War Historians and fans of Sherlock Holmes both know that often the absence of something is more important than something that is visible. Galveston County Minute Book 5, covering the period from Dec. 1, 1859, through July 5, 1866, is proof of this maxim. During a tumultuous time in our state’s history, and an even more traumatic time in the history of Galveston Island, the minutes of the court reflect that the four judges that presided carried on and heard cases, apparently oblivious to the tumult around them. During the years covered by these minutes, no mention is made of the following: • the secession of Texas from the United States, • the capture of Galveston Island by Union soldiers in October 1862, • the death of a judge of the court during a trial, • the recapture of Galveston Island by Confederate soldiers in 1863, • the blockade of the Port of Galveston during the war, a fact of some significance to a port city, and • the conclusion of the war, overthrow of the government, and elimination of the “wealth” of citizens who owned little other than Confederate currency and slaves. Four judges sat in Galveston during these years: Judge Peter Gray, Judge Edwin Palmer, Judge James A. Baker, and Judge Colbert Coldwell. The minutes show a docket run timely, although the fall term of 1862 was not held, presumably due to the occupation of the island by federal forces. Given that the judges had to ride a circuit through a six-county district and made an appearance in each county for only two months a year, it is understandable that they would try to hold as many trials as possible during that time. Throughout the war, the beginning of each term was spent trying to find enough jurors to conduct trials. At a time in which only males could serve as jurors, but in which most young men were off fighting the war, this must have been a difficult task. In 1863 and 1864, trials were put off to the next term because of a shortage of jurors. At the beginning of the Reconstruction period, a more serious shortage occurred — there were no licensed attorneys. The Federal Reconstruction Act had voided the law license of all attorneys who had taken a loyalty oath to the Confederacy. All persons seeking to practice were required to appear before the judge and take an oath that they had not taken part in activities hostile to the Union. Several attorneys were able to take that oath on the first day of the term of court. For others, such as former Judge Peter Gray, it was necessary to obtain a presidential pardon in order to restart his career. Minute Book 5 from Galveston County shows that, in the most unsettled of times, the courts provided stability to society and continued to perform their tasks. As such, the books are a monument to the judges and the system they served. By Judge Mark Davidson
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