[Ads-l] Kangaroo Court - 1841

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 3 17:37:31 UTC 2017

Most sources list the earliest known use of "kangaroo court" to the 1853 book, "A Stray Yankee in Texas," about an after-hours informal proceeding conducted during regular court week:

"By an unanimous vote, Judge G. – the fattest and funniest of the assembly – was elected to the bench, and the “Mestang” or “Kangaroo Court” regularly organized."


Barry Popik posted some earlier examples (1851 and 1852) here in 2003.

I've found a few earlier examples, and some contemporary uses of "kangaroo" that may or not be related to the court.

All of the early examples I found are from Mississippi.

The earliest one was published in New Orleans, reprinted from a newspaper in Vidalia, Louisiana, which lies across the river from Natchez Mississippi.  An editorial comment suggest that the expression was not yet known in New Orleans:

"The Concordia Intelligencer says 'several loafers were lynched in Natchez last week upon various charges instituted by the Kangaroo court.  The times grow warm; we can see another storm coming, not unlike that which prevailed int he days of the Murrel excitement.  In Natchez, as in New Orleans, they are driving away all of the free negroes.' What is a Kangaroo court, neighbor?"

Times-Picayune, August 24, 1841, page 2 (Newspaper.com).

An example from Carrolton, Mississippi in 1845 refers to a "Kangaroo inquest" held, like the one in "A Stray Yankee," after hourse during court week:

"On the night after the adjournment of the Circuit Court, a grand Kangaroo Inquest was organized at the court-house, and a subject arraigned in the person of an intinerant exterminator of corns, and vender of a patent remedy for tooth-ache."

Mississippi Democrat (Carrollton, Mississippi), April 23, 1845, page 2 (Chronicling America).

>From Jackson Mississippi in 1849:

"On the evening succeeding the election, a meeting was gotten up some what in imitation of a 'Kangaroo Court,' for the purpose of trying three individuals, (not all who had voted for Taylor,) on charges preferred, that one of them H---, is ever loudest to proclaim his democratic sentiments, but has never been known to vote for one of the party for any office . . . ."

The Weekly Mississippian (Jackson, Mississippi), January 12, 1849, page 3 (Newspaper.com).

An article from Natchez, Mississippi about an attorney may or may not relate to the usage:

"In the course of his sage remarks, Simon took occasion to tell his fellow law makers, that although he was not bread a lawyer, he was never-less born one.  Now this assertion of Simon’s may be true, but if we were to judge from his speech and his strange and antic gesticulations, most of which are made with his body, we should as soon suppose that he was born a kangaroo, as a lawyer."

Mississippi Free Trader (Natchez, Mississippi), February 11, 1841, page 2 (Newspapers.com).

There are several articles about a newspaper editor in or near Natchez whose nickname was Kangaroo (actual name possible Koger) during the late 1830s, early 1840s, although it is unclear how or whether that would be related.

In politics, there are a few references to a "Kangaroo ticket" during the period.  A "Kangaroo ticket" is one in which the first person on the ballot is weaker than the second person - for example, Polk's first-announced Presidential ticket had a VP who was thought to be the stronger candidate - "a Kangaroo ticket by G---D---- stronger in the hind legs." Vicksburg Whig, June 24, 1844, page 1.

Is a Kangaroo court a people's court the real power behind the legitimate courts?  The Kangaroo legs of justice?

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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