Gustavus Schmidt, Swedish-American legal scholar

The Louisiana Research Collection was pleased to welcome Swedish legal scholar Kjell Å Modéer during his recent trip to New Orleans. Dr. Modéer, Senior Professor of Legal History at Lund University in Sweden, gave a talk entitled “’Young Man Go West!’ The Brethren Carl and Gustavus Schmidt as Examples of Legal Transfers Between Sweden and Louisiana in the Nineteenth Century” at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law on Thursday, April 12, 2012.
Gustavus Schmidt was a central figure in the nineteenth-century legal history of Louisiana. He emigrated from Sweden to the United States, where he became a prominent lawyer and legal scholar. A protégé of Chief Justice John Marshall in Virginia in the 1820s, Schmidt later moved to New Orleans in 1829.
Gustavus’s brother, Carl Christian, remained in Sweden, and rose to become a Justice of the Swedish Supreme Court. The two brothers maintained an extensive trans-Atlantic Swedish-language correspondence between 1830 and Carl Christian’s death in 1872. This correspondence served as a means for exchange of Swedish and American legal developments and debates between two influential jurists in their two countries. They regularly exchanged Swedish and American legal books and journals along with their correspondence. The original correspondence between Gustavus Schmidt and his brother are part of the Gustavus Schmidt family papers, held here at the Louisiana Research Collection.
Inspired by his brother’s law journal in Sweden, Gustavus began publishing his own Louisiana Law Journal in 1841, which was the first law journal in the state. From the outset, Schmidt’s Louisiana Law Journal was also one of the earliest American legal journals with a strong comparative and international orientation. In this journal, Gustavus regularly compared Louisiana legal theory and practice with that of other states and countries, including Sweden, often using insights gleaned from his correspondence with his brother. The first issue of the journal contained discussion of legal developments in Scotland, France, Spain, Russia, and Sweden. Schmidt also founded the Louisiana Law School in New Orleans in 1844, which was one of the predecessors of Tulane’s School of Law.
Posted by Sean Benjamin
Photo of Dr. Modéer taken by Georgia Chadwick. Portrait of Gustavus Schmidt from the Gustavus Schmidt papers, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University. Images may not be reproduced without permission.


  1. I am so glad Professor Modeer had a chance to see the Schmidt letters in person. Thank you Sean for making that very convenient for him. And from my good friend Lynn Becnel, Manager of Publications, at Tulane Law School:
    I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Modeer's talk. It was fascinating and well presented. I learned much about the roots of comparative law in Louisiana and am much taken with the brothers' foresight in creating law journals and sharing materials and insights across continents at that early time. Professor Modeer was an engaging speaker, and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to have met him. I thank him, Loyola, and the New Orleans Historical Society for making it possible.


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