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Making Legal HistoryEssays in Honor of William E. Nelson$
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Daniel J. Hulsebosch and R. B. Bernstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780814725269

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814725269.001.0001

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A Mania for Accumulation

A Mania for Accumulation

The Plea of Moral Insanity in Gilded Age Will Contests

(p.181) 8 A Mania for Accumulation
Making Legal History

Susanna L. Blumenthal

NYU Press

This chapter explores one of the most fascinating civil trials of the late nineteenth century, i.e. the attempt to probate the will of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, the controversial railroad magnate who died as the nation's wealthiest man. The family fight over his fortune was a source of almost obsessive popular interest owing to the murky circumstances of his last days. The legal and journalistic controversies swirling around the clashing attempts to challenge and to defend Vanderbilt's ability to make a will sheds new and unsettling light on evolving ideas of testamentary capacity, the effects of enormous wealth on the values and psychology of testators, and the roles of courts and psychological experts in resolving disputes over the dispositions of vast estates.

Keywords:   civil trials, American legal history, wills, probate, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, testamentary capacity

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