Five Questions with Jack McGregor Campbell, Author of "The Great Magness Trial"

Posted by BrayBree Publishing on 11/25/2016 to Jack MacGregor (Mac) Campbell
Five Questions with Jack McGregor Campbell, Author of
We’re excited to present a series of blog posts that will introduce readers to our talented authors and the books they’ve written, as well as learn about their motivations to write them and their creative and research processes.


Q. Why did you choose to write about the Great Magness Trial?

I had long thought that the coordination of Andrew Jackson’s network in Tennessee to viciously prosecute the Magnesses was a story worth telling. But when I realized that I had discovered a volume of original documents associated with some significant Americans, including Jackson and three US Senators, and that these documents had not likely been seen or considered in some 200 years, I considered it a duty. 

Q. How long did it take for you to research and write it?

It is hard to say exactly how long I researched the book.  For a different project, I had cataloged references to the trial and copied source documents for more than a decade.  After discovering new and previously unsourced documents related to the proceedings and  deciding to write the book, it took about four years to transcribe the trial notes and documents, research the historical and legal context of the trial, study the biographies of the characters, and organize the sources.  It took about four months to draft the text after that.

Q. Can you tell us a few interesting discoveries you made in your research?

I learned a great many interesting things while researching this book. Too many to recount. In general, I was impressed by the wild toughness, ambition, and brilliance of the men and women who were settling the American frontier at the turn of the 19th century. The post-Revolution land schemes that helped settle Tennessee were rife with speculation, tension, and fraud and even the finest of citizens, even future U.S. Presidents and Senators, had to be ready to survive drunken brawls, duels, and knife attacks. It was interesting to read incisive questions and scholarly petitions put to intellectual witnesses and jurors who had once had body parts bitten off in fights. 

It was also fascinating to me how American lawyers in the era of 1810 were actively balancing the precedential applicability of the U.S. Constitution, the common law of Great Britain, and the laws of their newly established states. Ultimately, these early attorneys established the framework of American law in the courthouses and capitols of the American frontier. At the time of the Magness trials in Tennessee, for instance, a person who was acquitted of a crime could be legally held in jail for the costs of their criminal trial. That is something that would be shocking and inconceivable to modern jurists, but it was something that was debated and ultimately changed in Tennessee as a result of the Magness trials.

Q. What does your book offer that no other book or publication has before?

There have been many oblique mentions and partially sourced descriptions of the Magness trials printed, but this book is the first telling of the trial story that benefits from a complete record including the lawyers’ arguments, judges’ rulings, and witnesses’ testimony. This book puts in print the thoughts and arguments of important men in American history, and for the first time as it relates to these trials, it presents them in their own words.  

Q. What do you hope your book will accomplish regarding the memory of the Great Magness Trial?

I hope the book will be interesting and entertaining to readers and will provide some detail to the historical record of an age in America that is becoming remote to average observers.  I also hope that the book will serve as a well-documented starting point of research for people studying an otherwise thinly explored era in the life of Andrew Jackson, the careers of Felix Grundy, Thomas Hart Benton, and the other participants in the trial, and the migration of the Magness family in the United States.

To learn more about his book, be sure to like Mr. Campbell's Facebook page about The Great Magness Trial.

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