Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 121 / Number 1
St. George Tucker, Spencer Roane, and the Virginia Court of Appeals, 1804–11
- Charles F. Hobson, pp. 2–43
St. George Tucker is best known to scholars for his Blackstone's Commentaries (1803), a leading law text of its day and an early treatise on the U.S. Constitution. Less familiar is the Tucker who held a long tenure as a state and federal judge in Virginia. This essay considers his career on the Virginia Court of Appeals from 1804 to 1811. It follows a narrative arc in which Tucker joined the court flush with the honor of being elected by the General Assembly to this high office, only to resign after seven years, bitterly disillusioned with the capriciousness of legislatures in a republican commonwealth. Not only had the General Assembly ignored his efforts to improve the judicial system but, worse, it also had shown a troubling disregard for the principle of judicial independence. Tucker’s years on the court were marked by growing tension with fellow judge Spencer Roane, culminating in an angry confrontation in the spring of 1809. Apart from shedding light on a bitter personal rivalry, a close examination of this episode yields valuable information about the institutional workings of the Court of Appeals during a time of transition.