Americanization of the Common Law: The Impact of Legal Change on Massachusetts Society, 1760-1830

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Americanization of the Common Law remains one of the standard works on the transformation of law in America from the late colonial period to the end of the early republic. In a straightforward manner, William E. Nelson analyzes the profound ideological movement that grew out of the American Revolution and caused substantial structural change in the legal and social order of Massachusetts and, by extension, in the nation at large. The Revolution, Nelson argues, transformed a hierarchical and communitarian legal and social order into an egalitarian and individualistic one.

For this edition, Nelson has written a new preface in which he discusses the book's initial reception and the relevant historiographical issues that have arisen since it was first published in 1975.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[This is] one of those exceptional first books that with the passage of time may become a classic of historical literature. . . . Even the curious first-time reader of American legal history will profit from the engaging and informative discussion of the impact of the Revolution upon Massachusetts law, as well as the economic and social life of the province."--Columbia Law Review

"Legal historians, and social historians as well, will be indebted to this monograph for the light it sheds upon the transformation of American law and for the responses of legal institutions to the changing economic ethos of a dynamic society."--American Journal of Legal History

"A subtle analysis of the transforming effects of the American Revolution on the development of American society . . . It will be important for anyone interested in the origins of modern America, for while the technical legal scholarship is masterful, the controlling ideas are not narrowly legal but broadly historical and imaginative, and the writing throughout is clear and concise."--Bernard Bailyn

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820315874
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1994
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

William E. Nelson is a professor of law at New York University. His book The Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Doctrine won the Littleton-Griswold Prize of the American Historical Association.
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Table of Contents

Preface to the 1994 Edition
Preface to the 1975 Edition
1 Law in a Changing Social Order 1
The Prerevolutionary Legal System, 1760-1775 11
2 The Legal Restraint of Power 13
3 The Law of a "Civil and Christian State" 36
4 Rules of Unity and Stability 46
The Postrevolutionary Legal System, 1780-1830 65
5 The Reform of Common Law Pleading 69
6 Law as the Guardian of Liberty 89
7 Liberty and the Breakdown of Stability 117
8 Economic Growth and the Law 145
9 Toward a Modern American Jurisprudence: Judges and Legislators as Makers of Law 165
Bibliography of Manuscript Sources 177
Notes 183
Index 259
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