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The St. Louis Courts
The nineteenth-century St. Louis judicial system was complex and changed constantly as St. Louis evolved erratically under the impact of forces that transformed it from a French colonial village into America's fourth largest city. Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, a federally governed court, under a series of territorial administrative organizations - the Louisiana District [1804-1805], the Territory of Louisiana [1805-1812], and the Missouri Territory [1812-1821] - undertook the burden of untangling an array of complex problems arising from the French and Spanish colonial past. The first St. Louis Circuit Court was created in 1815. By the time Missouri entered the union in 1821, the judicial system had been reshaped and reorganized several times.
During the antebellum era, immigration, improved transportation, and eastern capital investment made St. Louis a booming economic center. These developments, coupled with periodic downturns in the national economy, resulted in increased litigation, especially suits involving debt. In wake of the Panic of 1837, the court was overwhelmed with cases, which led to a court expansion that included specific jurisdictions for different actions. These courts continued, with minor additions, until 1865, when a new state constitution created a single circuit court. In 1875, at the end of the Reconstruction era, the constitution was again revised. It provided for an administrative separation between the city, including its court system, which retained all previous court records, and the county of St. Louis, located in Clayton.
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