Thomas Ruffin

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Thomas Ruffin Thomas Ruffin.jpg
Thomas Ruffin

Thomas Ruffin (1787–1870) was an American jurist and Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1829 to 1852 and again from 1858 to 1859. He was Chief Justice of that Court from 1833 to 1852.

North Carolina Supreme Court the highest court in the U.S. state of North Carolina

The Supreme Court of the State of North Carolina is the state's highest appellate court. Until the creation of the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the 1960s, it was the state's only appellate court. The Supreme Court consists of six associate justices and one chief justice, although the number of justices has varied from time to time. The primary function of the Supreme Court is to decide questions of law that have arisen in the lower courts and before state administrative agencies.



Thomas Ruffin was born on November 17, 1787 at the residence of his maternal grandfather Thomas Roane at Newington in King and Queen County, Virginia. Ruffin graduated from Princeton University and studied law in North Carolina under Archibald Murphey. He commenced the practice of law in Hillsborough, North Carolina, where he also farmed. He was elected to several terms in the North Carolina House of Commons and served as a Superior Court judge from 1816 to 1818 and from 1825 to 1828. In 1828, the state called upon Ruffin to bring the State Bank of North Carolina out of debt as its new President, which he did in one year. The legislature then named him to the state Supreme Court.

King and Queen County, Virginia County in the United States

King and Queen County is a county in the U.S. state of Virginia, located in that state's Middle Peninsula on the eastern edge of the Richmond, VA metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 6,945. Its county seat is King and Queen Court House.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" due to its status as the first English colonial possession established in mainland North America and "Mother of Presidents" because eight U.S. presidents were born there, more than any other state. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2017 is over 8.4 million.

Princeton University University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The institution moved to Newark in 1747, then to the current site nine years later, and renamed itself Princeton University in 1896.

"The election of former Superior Court Judge and State Bank President Ruffin to the bench in 1829 effectively ensured the North Carolina Supreme Court's survival", according to Martin Brinkley (see link below). Ranked by Harvard Law School Dean Roscoe Pound as one of the ten greatest jurists in American history, Ruffin singlehandedly transformed the common law of North Carolina into an instrument of economic change. His writings on the subject of eminent domain--the right of the state to seize private property for the public good—paved the way for the expansion of railroads into North Carolina, enabling the "Rip Van Winkle State" to embrace the industrial revolution. Ruffin's opinions were cited as persuasive authority by appellate tribunals throughout the United States. The influence his decisions exercised upon the nascent jurisprudence of the states then known as the Southwest (Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi), which were settled by emigrating North Carolinians in large numbers, made Ruffin a celebrated figure at home. Public veneration of the "stern prophet," as Ruffin was called, preserved his Court from destruction by populist politicians.

Roscoe Pound American legal scholar and educator

Nathan Roscoe Pound was a distinguished American legal scholar and educator. He was Dean of University of Nebraska College of Law from 1903 to 1911 and then Dean of Harvard Law School from 1916 to 1936. He was a member of the faculty at UCLA School of Law in the school's first years, from 1949 to 1952. The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Pound as one of the most cited legal scholars of the 20th century.

Common law law developed by judges

In law, common law, is that body of law derived from judicial decisions of courts and similar tribunals. The defining characteristic of “common law” is that it arises as precedent. In cases where the parties disagree on what the law is, a common law court looks to past precedential decisions of relevant courts, and synthesizes the principles of those past cases as applicable to the current facts. If a similar dispute has been resolved in the past, the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision. If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases, and legislative statutes are either silent or ambiguous on the question, judges have the authority and duty to resolve the issue. The court states an opinion that gives reasons for the decision, and those reasons agglomerate with past decisions as precedent to bind future judges and litigants. Common law, as the body of law made by judges, stands in contrast to and on equal footing with statutes which are adopted through the legislative process, and regulations which are promulgated by the executive branch. Stare decisis, the principle that cases should be decided according to consistent principled rules so that similar facts will yield similar results, lies at the heart of all common law systems.

Eminent domain the power of a state or a national government to take private property for public use

Eminent domain, land acquisition, compulsory purchase, resumption, resumption/compulsory acquisition (Australia), or expropriation is the power of a state, provincial, or national government to take private property for public use. However, this power can be legislatively delegated by the state to municipalities, government subdivisions, or even to private persons or corporations, when they are authorized by the legislature to exercise the functions of public character.

Ruffin in the early 1860s Judge Thomas Ruffin (Col., C.S.A.) - NARA - 525615.jpg
Ruffin in the early 1860s

Together, Justice William Gaston and Ruffin, whom his colleagues elected Chief Justice in 1833 (by a coin toss, according to a popular but probably apocryphal account), dominated their less-talented brother judges, rendering treatise-like opinions that inspired one contemporary to exclaim: "No State of the Union . . . not even the United States, ever had a superior Bench; few ever had its equal."

William Gaston American judge

William J. Gaston was a jurist and United States Representative from North Carolina. Gaston is the author of the official state song of North Carolina, "The Old North State". Gaston County, North Carolina is named after him, as are Lake Gaston, the city of Gastonia, North Carolina, and Gaston Hall within Healy Hall at Georgetown University.

Ruffin wrote the decision in the case of North Carolina v. Mann (1829), which sanctioned the "absolute" power of a master over a slave. [1]

<i>North Carolina v. Mann</i>

North Carolina v. Mann, 13 N.C. 263, is a decision in which the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that slave owners had absolute authority over their slaves and could not be found guilty of committing violence against them.

Ruffin was also the author of Dougherty v. Stepp (1835), [2] a staple of first-year Torts classes in American law schools used to teach students about the tort of trespass upon real property. [3]

Dougherty v. Stepp, 18 N.C. 371 is a decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court authored by Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin. For at least a century, this case has been used in first-year Torts classes in American law schools to teach students about the tort of trespass upon real property.

Law school in the United States

In the United States, a law school is an institution where students obtain a professional education in law after first obtaining an undergraduate degree.

Trespass is an area of criminal law or tort law broadly divided into three groups: trespass to the person, trespass to chattels and trespass to land.

Ruffin retired in 1852 to his plantation in Alamance County, but the legislature called him back to the Court in 1858. He retired again after about one year, at the age of 78. His home after the end of the American Civil War until his death in 1870, the Ruffin-Roulhac House at Hillsborough, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. [4] [5]

In addition to his legal and political career, Ruffin was an innovative farmer, and was president of the state's Agricultural Society from 1854 to 1860.

Ruffin was also a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for some 24 years.

The unincorporated community of Ruffin, in Rockingham Co., is named for Thomas Ruffin.

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  1. "GreeneSpace: Judging history at UNC". 2006-05-02. Retrieved 2012-10-17.
  2. Dougherty v. Stepp18 N.C. 371 (N.C. 1835).
  3. See, e.g., James Barr Ames and Jeremiah Smith, A Selection of Cases on the Law of Torts (3rd ed., 1910), Vol. 1, pp. 59-60; Richard Epstein, Cases and Materials on Torts (8th ed., 2004), pp. 9-10.
  4. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.
  5. John B. Wells, III (July 1971). "Ruffin-Roulhac House" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved 2015-02-01.

Further reading

Legal offices
Preceded by
Leonard Henderson
Chief Justice of North Carolina Supreme Court
1833 - 1852
Succeeded by
Frederick Nash