North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

160 Ridge Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Called to Duty: Justice William J. Gaston

September 30, 2016

94 N.C. L. Rev. 2051 (2016) 


This Article examines the jurisprudence of Justice William J. Gaston (1778–1844), a revered member of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, who is best known for two opinions that furthered the rights of slaves. Previous scholars have written about Justice Gaston’s focus on the rights and humanity of slaves, but they have not looked deeply at Justice Gaston’s religious ideas and the support those ideas provided to his jurisprudence. Notably, Justice Gaston was Catholic during a time when there were very few Catholics and no cathedral in the state. This Article explores the extent to which Gaston’s Catholic faith informed his judicial decision making, as well as what to make of the apparent contradiction between his public position against slavery and his personal slave ownership. As such, this Article uses judicial biography to study in detail the interaction of religious and legal thought in a period of dramatic conflict. 



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