Light house, New Castle NH

Like the district and circuit court system, the Office of the United States Attorney was created with the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789; and, like the court system, it was a product of the "federal issue."

Under the Judiciary Act, the United States Attorneys were limited to handling legal matters for the federal government within their own districts, while the Attorney General handled only the litigation which went to the Supreme Court.  The Attorney General was primarily counselor to the President and department heads. Therefore, individual District Attorneys (United States Attorneys) were autonomous but isolated. This was a deliberate move by Congress and can be seen as part of the compromise that the Federalists and the Anti-federalists were trying to forge.

United States Attorneys were paid by a system of fees based upon the types of legal services rendered, sums of money from which they also had to deduct the expenses of their staffs and offices.  As may be imagined, it was difficult to find worthy candidates for these positions in this climate. President George Washington was forced to promote the office on the basis of prestige alone.  The United States Attorneys and the Attorney General had to be allowed to retain their private practices in order to make ends meet.

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