Friday, May 29, 2009

Priest on the Death of the Fee Tail

David Schraub, serial student blogger on legal history at the University of Chicago Law School, has a post on the presentation of Claire Priest, (soon-to-be) Yale Law School, to Chicago's American Legal History Workshop. His post, on The University of Chicago's Law Faculty Blog, commences:
The fee tail, as any first year property student knows (or knew, then promptly forgot), is a type of interest in property that renders it inalienable, instead automatically passing on to the owner's heirs upon his death. Though a long standing component of English property law, the fee tail is no longer enforceable in the United States, and indeed was relatively quickly subject to attack after the Revolutionary War. The common explanation for the fee tail's death was that it offended America's incipient republican spirit -- enabling the creation of large hereditary estates which too closely resembled European aristocracies.

In her presentation to the last session of this year's American Legal History Workshop, Northwestern Law Professor (joining Yale's faculty this summer) Claire Priest sought to complicate that explanation and offer a different picture for why the fee tail withered away soon after the revolution. Acknowledging that republican ideals may have played some role, Priest focused her inquiry on a different aspect of entailed estates -- their shielded status from creditors -- and how that affected the way that fee tails were employed in the revolutionary era.