The Ancient and Honorable Court of Dover: Mock Trials, Fraternal Orders, and Solemn Foolery in Nineteenth-Century New York State
84 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2011
Date Written: January 17, 2011
This article is about a fraternal order operating in the first half of the Nineteenth Century in New York called “The Ancient and Honorable Court of Dover.” This group organized a mock trial, probably in 1834, to prosecute one of its members. A prosecutor was appointed and the President of the group gave a long speech. At issue was whether or not non-members could participate in the trial. After a description of these records and an account of their discovery, this article explains who the individuals involved in the trial were, Jacksonian politicians and lawyers with connections to the Custom House and the Tammany Society in New York City. It then describes what a “Court of Dover” was, asks about what the offence here was, and explores the connections between this group and the most famous “Ancient and Honorable” society, the Freemasons. It argues that the records of a group like this should be understood as a kind of “legal literature” that is best understood in relationship to the notion of “solemn foolery,” a phrase that has been used in connection to the legally-themed theatricals at the Inns of Court.
Keywords: legal history, law and humanities
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