I know, according to this site here: , in Indiana on 9/3/1857 (see note below), a man was accused of being a Federalist, sued for libel, and won a thousand dollars. The site describes

"Joshua Harlan, plaintiff, and John Allen, defendant. Judge Sparks was at the time President Judge, but was not on the bench until after the verdict was returned. The case was tried before the Associates. General James Noble was counsel for the plaintiffs, and John Test for the defendant." quod.lib.umich.edu

I can't find the name of this case, and which court it was tried in. Presumably, the name would be Harlan vs. Allen, but I've searched for that online and can't find anything. This leads to my confusion over which court it was tried in- obviously not the Supreme Court, but I don't know if it was in a county court or the Indiana state court, since I can't find the case name to search for it. What's the name and where was it tried?

My research:

  • Lots of books about the fall of federalism, in which it would presumably make sense to mention how far Federalism had fallen out of the public opinion
  • The site mentioned above
  • Various government databases of Indiana state trials
  • Just searching Google for "Harlan vs Allen"
  • Just searching Google for "federalist libel Indiana case 1857", and things like it
  • Searching Google for "indiana franklin county third circuit trials 1857", and things like it
  • Etc.


  • Seems like it's in Franklin County, Indiana, in the 3rd Circuit, but I've tried searching for that too and can't find the name still.
  • "Assuming it's the same John Allen, it's in the 3rd circuit on Sep 3rd 1857 if the doc you linked to is anything to go by." – Denis de Bernardy
  • "Date is wrong. Judge Sparks appointed 1813-died April 1815. Your information is from a memoir written in 1857. The trial would have to be between 1811 and July 1813. – justCal

**NEW INFORMATION!!!!!! I also found it in the periodical Case and Comment, Volume 17 (pp 116-117). The book is a lawyer's magazine, and Volume 17 goes from June 1910-May 1911.

---So- I still have no idea what date this is or what the name is- any thoughts?

  • Assuming it's the same John Allen, it's in the 3rd circuit on Sep 3rd 1857 if the doc you linked to is anything to go by. That should hopefully narrow things down for your research. Mar 24, 2019 at 20:47
  • James Noble died 1831, John Test in 1849.
    – justCal
    Mar 25, 2019 at 23:01
  • justCal- thank you! Just made a typo and copied it without thinking the other times.
    – 米凯乐
    Mar 29, 2019 at 21:14
  • If you have a subscription to Newspapers.com, the Indianapolis Star, from Indianapolis, Indiana, seems to have covered the case on the front page on Sunday, March 19, 1911. Mar 29, 2019 at 21:55
  • @sempaiscuba you can see the article here, another retelling 'in the early days of the court' about the case described by Smith.
    – justCal
    Mar 29, 2019 at 22:12

2 Answers 2


Finding this case in actual court records will be difficult. All searches I have made, seem to circle back to the original source material which occurs in Early Indiana Trials and Sketches: Reminiscences, By Oliver Hampton Smith Pg 120. Later references all seem to focus back to this article, and none reference the actual trial. This is with good reason.

A particular phrase in the entry by Smith caught my eye early on, but I dismissed it as a different speech pattern, or perhaps some distinction of a legalese jargon:

In early times there was tried in the Franklin Circuit Court an action for libel of some importance to the reading politicians of the country and especially to those who have some recollection of the great political contest between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson for President I call the parties to the suit Joshua Harlan plaintiff and John Allen defendant Judge Sparks was at the time President Judge but was not on the bench until after the verdict was returned The case was tried before the Associates General James Noble was counsel for the plaintiffs and John Test for the defendant

The line which caught my eye was "I call the parties to the suit Joshua Harlan plaintiff and John Allen defendant". The part that threw me was, when I resarched the names of the judges and lawyers listed in the case, they all came back with valid histories from this time frame, and provided the ability to narrow the date to the early 1800s, probably between 1811 and Judge Sparks death in 1815 since when the case occured

Judge Sparks was at the time President Judge but was not on the bench until after the verdict was returned

Last night I sat down and started reading the book, and a pattern became apparent.

  • Page 19 The landlord I call Perry Landen.
  • Page 25 I call him John Lindsay...a man I call Jim Boice
  • Page 48 I call the parties John Jones and James Backhouse
  • Page 334 for the sake of a name, I call Dodrige Alley

and more clearly still on page 122:

I sketch another case of high importance in the same court names of parties immaterial A lawyer I call John Mattocks Jr one of the most learned men in early Indiana a graduate of old Yale with Latin Greek Hebrew and divers technical terms at his tongue's end a partial acquaintance with the legal learning of the old English authors at ready command for plaintiff and General Noble for the defendant

(Searching this book for the phrase 'I call' finds 93 entries...)

So, from this I conclude, Smith has done the Dragnet thing,

"Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

So, as I said, it will be difficult to find more information on this case, since the names *'Joshua Harlan, plaintiff, and John Allen, defendant.'*, are probably not the original names of the individuals involved.

(A location at the national archives, Records of District Courts of the United States shows some information concerning holdings of Indiana court records, but it only seem to cover the time from 1819-1974, and these holdings are in Chicago-apparently not digitized- so this probably does not help you either.)


Justcal has noted that the actual trial (not the memoirs) took place in 1813-15. This is important because Indiana was not a state until 1816. That's why the citation would be hard to find, because it would be "pre-statehood."

In 1813-15, it was the Indiana territory, with a seat of government at the city of Corydon on the Ohio River, the most likely place for such a trial. This was near future "Confederate" territory, where many people were, in fact, pro South. It's mainly in this context that calling someone a "Federalist" was "libel."

By then, "pro Federalists" were limited mainly to New England and New York, with the rest of the country, particularly the "new"states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, the future Indiana), and all of the South being "anti-federalist. A polite synonym might be a "Yankee," although the term had the connotation of "Tory," or traitor. This is because it referred to a British sympathizer during the War of 1812 in a part of the country that was strongly anti-British.

At any rate, this source mentioned the fact that people would just as soon associate with an Indian (Native American) or horse thief as with a Federalist, which was a measure of why calling someone a "Federalist" would be considered "libel."

  • This is great! I didn't realize the piece about Indiana not being a state yet, so that's definitely very helpful, and I appreciate the well-thought-out answer! Any ideas on date or case name, though?
    – 米凯乐
    Mar 28, 2019 at 22:18

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