Hans Christian Schmidt finished his judicial career as an appellate court justice at Göta Court of Appeals, (Göta hovrätt). He had four sons, three of whom became lawyers.
Hans Isak Schmidt (1786–1826) ended up as a fiscal, which is an assistant to the judiciary in the Göta Court of Appeals. The other two brothers in the legal profession became well-reputed jurists. Carl Christian Schmidt (1792–1872) ended his career as a Swedish Supreme Court Justice, and Gustavus Adolph Schmidt (1795-1877) became a well-known lawyer in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Hans Christian, the father, as well as two of his sons, Hans and Carl, received their legal education and degrees at the Lund University Faculty of Law. Carl and Gustavus played an interesting role in the increasingly boundless intercultural communication and transatlantic legal transfers of the 19th century.
The Rise of a Legend
Gustavus Schmidt was three years younger than his brother Carl. He enlisted in the Swedish navy as a teenager, and around the age of 25 (in the 1820s), he caught the “wanderlust” and immigrated to America.
He arrived in New York, but traveled south along the east coast and stopped in Richmond, the capital of Virginia. There, he took up an apprenticeship with a judge of the Virginia Court of Appeals, William Brokenbrough (1778–1838). Gustavus was subsequently admitted to the bar and worked for several years as a lawyer in Richmond.
While Schmidt lived and practiced in Richmond, one of the most famous U.S. Supreme Court Justices of the 19th century, Chief Justice John Marshall (1755–1835), frequently visited the home of Judge Brokenbrough. Gustavus was noticed by Chief Justice Marshall, whose attention later landed Gustavus a clerkship with Chief Justice Marshall.
Gustav Schmidt later made the following statement about his employer:
“Mr. Marshall can hardly be regarded as a learned lawyer. His acquaintance with the Roman jurisprudence as well as with the laws of foreign countries was not very extensive. He was what is called a common lawyer in the best and noblest acceptation of that term.”
In 1827, John Marshall also appointed Schmidt, together with esteemed lawyer Benjamin Watkins Leigh (1781–1849), to represent three Spaniards charged with piracy and murders onboard the ship Crawford en route between Matanzas and New York. The Spaniards were condemned and executed. Gustavus Schmidt wrote a 51-page lampoon about the criminal case, which was well-disseminated throughout the country.
Chief Justice John Marshall and some other esteemed lawyers wrote Gustavus letters of recommendation when he left Virginia for New Orleans in 1829.
The Move to Louisiana
Gustavus’ move to New Orleans was well-chosen. The French civil law had been introduced in Louisiana in 1825, and their customary law was distinctly Francophile. In Louisiana, French and Spanish were spoken, and contacts with Mexico and the West Indies commenced in New Orleans. The city offered Antebellum America unparalleled legal opportunities in the frontier West.
“New Orleans, with its port, its banks, its railroads, its steamboats, and its commerce, became a magnet for a disproportionate share of bright legal talents.”
Gustavus Schmidt was one of those bright legal talents. In December 1829, he opened a law firm and was established as a lawyer. Soon, he also worked as a law teacher, and he founded the Louisiana Law School in 1844—often referred to as “Schmidt’s Law School”—that later merged into the law department of the University of Louisiana, which, even further, became Tulane University of Louisiana.
Gustavus Schmidt is therefore considered to be one of the founders of the contemporary law department at Tulane University School of Law.
Moreover, he published the first law journal in Louisiana, Louisiana Law Review, which was praised by authorities, such as Judge Joseph Story (1779–1845) and Chancellor James Kent (1763–1847). Because the publishing house closed down in 1842, only one volume with four numbers was ever published.
However, Gustavus published several articles in judicial magazines, the last one—about the federal courts—when he was over 80 years old. When he died in 1877, he was one of the most prestigious and respected lawyers in the state.