Jason Twede

Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Bruce Dicristina


This research explores factors that may have influenced the transition from private prosecution to public prosecution in Georgia during the late-eighteenth century—a transition that eventually happened in every jurisdiction in the United States. There are numerous people, both inside and outside academia, who are calling for a change to the current system of prosecution in the United States. One possible change that is being advocated is a return to a system of private prosecution. Understanding the reasons the system changed from a system of private prosecution in the first instance is important when determining whether such a return is appropriate.

The little research that does exist in this area has focused on northern states. This research focuses on Georgia—a southern state—to determine if the factors that influenced the transition there were similar or dissimilar to those in the North. The nature of this research is primarily qualitative. Where the subject matter is historical, the primary method of data collection was through the compilation and analysis of historical documents. These include court records, census records, tax records, newspaper articles, personal correspondences, county histories and other histories.

The findings of this research indicate that slavery abolition societies’ willingness and financial ability to prosecute slaveholders posed a threat to slaveholders that a system of private prosecution was not adequate to protect against. Public prosecution appears to have been initiated in Georgia—at least in part—to safeguard those slaveholder interests by taking away the ability of private parties to prosecute and vesting that authority in an appointed government official—the public prosecutor. The method of appointing public prosecutors in Georgia from its inception in the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century appears to have been designed to create a corps of public prosecutors that were sympathetic to slaveholder interests. There is evidence to show that public prosecutors in Georgia during this time were in fact sympathetic to slaveholder interests and that they enforced the law in a way that favored slaveholders.