Friday, November 12, 2010

Justice of the Peace and His Oath of Office

Justices of the peace in early Kentucky were usually prominent and influential men of the community and wielded a great deal of power. Collectively, they formed the county court and oversaw such cases as the granting of licenses for ferries and taverns,  appointing county officials, guardians and estate administrators, road surveyors, setting fees for ferries and also sat in judgment in cases of minor crimes.

In selecting  new justices of the peace, the county court offered  the names of two candidates, which were submitted to the Governor, who then appointed  one of the candidates.  After being chosen, the new justice of the peace was required to take the oath of office, which included promising to suppress dueling. This anti-dueling oath was established by the General Assembly by statute in 1812 and is a requirement for all officers, legislators and lawyers. The oath was later revised to state the person had never engaged in a duel. Today there is a movement to eliminate the oath against dueling.

The following entry was found among Caldwell County loose court papers in a bundle marked "Oaths." It reads as follows:

"State of Kentucky Caldwell County to wit
This day Abner Smith Came before me and produced a Commission from his Excellency The Governor of Kantucky appointing him and other Jestises of the peas for said county and and [sic] Took the oath to Seport the Constitution of The United states the oath of fidilety as well as the oath moore affectualy to Sepress Dueling as the oath of office  Given under my hand this 15th July 1816.  [signed] James Morse J.P."


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