George Dargo: Prominent Historian of Louisiana Law dies

I first met George Dargo only in November 2008. It was in New Orleans at a conference at Tulane organised by Vernon Palmer to mark the Bicentenary of the enactment of the Digest of the Civil Laws now in Force in the Territory of Orleans. In a sense, however, I had known Professor Dargo since I was a graduate student. This was because, a couple of years before I started work on my PhD in Edinburgh, he had published a major monograph, Jefferson’s Louisiana: Politics and the Clash of Legal Traditions (Cambridge Ma, 1975), based on his own Columbia PhD thesis. It is undoubtedly one of the most important studies ever of the Louisiana Purchase and its impact on the politics and legal culture of Louisiana. It was a major influence on my own work.

The importance of this book led to a revised edition by the Lawbook Exchange (2010), updated with a new introduction. To mark its publication, along with Georgia Chadwick, Director of the Law Library of Louisiana, who had encouraged the enterprise, the Lawbook Exchange organised a lunch at Antoine’s in New Orleans during the American Association of Law School’s Conference in January 2010.


width=320(At Antoine’s: Professor Dargo is on the left, with Olivier Moreteau, Vernon Palmer, and Claire Germaine. Photo courtesy of Valerie Horowitz, Lawbook Exchange.)

In the intervening years, Professor Dargo had studied law and moved from being a Professor of History to one of Law. He was to have a distinguished career at the New England Law School, where he maintained a notable interest in legal history, while also teaching Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Freedom of Expression, and Law and Literature. It is worth noting that his collected essays, Colony to Empire: Episodes in American Legal History, will be published in the Spring, again by the Lawbook Exchange.

At the Tulane Conference Professor Dargo gave a lively historical paper on the context of the Digest. I spoke on the same panel. On the evening of that day, at a reception in the house of a benefactor of the Tulane Law School, I had my first long chat with him. He was interesting and witty with a wry attitude (he waswidth=240 keen on Seinfeld), and entirely charming. I took to him immediately.

(Professor Dargo signing copies of Jefferson’s Louisiana in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Valerie Horowitz, Lawbook Exchange.)


In May, 2010 I organised in Edinburgh a Workshop on the history of the law of Louisiana. As one of the most noted scholars of the early territorial period in Lousiana, George was of course invited. He planned to come with his wife. Unfortunately, this ultimately proved impossible.

Despite illness, Professor Dargo taught through the last semester (a mark of the man), dying at home on the evening of 5 January. He will be much missed and our thoughts go to his wife, children and grandchildren. Further obituaries may be found at