Abiel Leonard: Yankee Slaveholder, Eminent Jurist, and Passionate Unionist

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This study details the career of a prominent 19th century Missouri lawyer and Whig politician. As a lawyer, Leonard tried thousands of cases before county circuit courts, the Missouri Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court. Leonard’s legal career furnishes insight into the daily lives, special difficulties, and duties of frontier lawyers, circuit attorneys, and supreme court justices. The biography also illuminates the political culture of Missouri from the beginning of the Age of Jackson into the Civil War period. Elected to the House of Representatives, Leonard’s efforts demonstrate how politicians participated in their caucuses, developed legislative strategies, and built consensus. Finally, it furnishes greater understanding of the complex emotional, cultural, political and economic factors that led to sharp divisions over the issues of secession and civil war in a border state. Leonard and his family experienced many of war’s hardships. Despite being a slaveholder, Leonard supported emancipation as a necessary measure to hasten Union victory.


“. . . . a well researched and capably written scholarly biography that will be of interest and use to historians of 19th century American biography. . . . He presents authoritatively discussion, debate, and the intriguing bafflement that has characterized scholarship on Leonard whose influence far outweighed his visible presence in public office. . . . Boman understands that the most interesting biographies identify something like a mystery, or at least a conundrum, at the center of their subjects’ internal and/or external lives. In making the foregoing mystery about Leonard’s significance one of the underpinnings of this life, Boman articulates a curiosity and motivation for the biography, one that both justifies his project and successfully engages the reader. . . . The prose style is lucid and rhythmic, the architecture of the chapters sturdy, and the author’s decisions about how to integrate scholarly analysis and debate with a historical narrative adept. . . . a solid contribution to American biography, a thoughtfully conceived, well shaped, and serious piece of work that is also a pleasure to read.” – Catherine N. Parke

“Having consulted the necessary secondary and original materials and with good use of the extensive Leonard family papers and interviews with descendants, Dennis K. Boman has produced a very personal account of Abiel Leonard’s professional, business, and public life, all of which he sets within the framework of a detailed picture of the Leonard family life … Boman has produced a solid biography of Abiel Leonard and ably described the lifestyle of an upper-class family in central Missouri during the first forty years of statehood.” – The State Historical Society of Missouri

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