The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $29.40
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (3) from $29.40   
  • New (1) from $999.11   
  • Used (2) from $29.13   
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any coupons and promotions
Seller since 2008

Feedback rating:



New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.


Ships from: Chicago, IL

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Sort by


Awarded the Bancroft Prize in American History in 1978, Morton J. Horwitz's The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 is considered one of the most significant works ever published in American legal history. Since its publication in 1977, it has become the standard source on early nineteenth-century American law. In this monumental book, Morton J. Horwitz offers a sweeping overview of the emergence of our national (and modern) legal system from English and colonial antecedents. He begins with the common law, which emerged during the eighteenth century as the standard doctrine with which to solve disputes in an egalitarian manner. He shows that the turning point in the use of common law came after 1790, when the law was slowly transformed to favor economic growth and development, and the courts began to spur economic competition rather than circumscribe it. This new instrumental law would flourish during the nineteenth century as the legal profession and the mercantile elite forged a mutually beneficial alliance to gain wealth and power. Horwitz also demonstrates how the emergence of contract law corresponded to the development of economic and legal institutions of exchange. And he discusses how the rise of the market economy influenced legal practices, how contracts became ways to negate preexisting common law duties, and how (to the benefit of entrepreneurs and commercial groups) the courts were able to overthrow earlier anticommercial legal rules. Previous historical studies have viewed law and policy as an accurate reflection of the needs of an undifferentiated society. In The Transformation of American Law, Horwitz successfully challenges this misconception and shows how, in the eighty years after the American Revolution, a major change in law took place in which aspects of social struggle turned to legal channels for resolution. Looking into the distribution of wealth and power during this time, Horwitz finds indeed that the change in legal ideology en
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Kermit Hall
Morton Horwitz's first book, THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN LAW, 1780-1860, has become a landmark in American legal history. Few books have either so profoundly shaped the course of debate about the nation's legal past or stirred so much controversy. Now Horwitz has produced a second book with the same title as his first, but covering the years 1870 to 1960, a period during which prevailing legal orthodoxy was thrown into crisis. We have, therefore, TRANSFORMATION ONE and TRANSFORMATION TWO. One might speculate that Professor Horwitz, who teaches at the Harvard Law School, will eventually produce TRANSFORMATION THREE to cover the ten-year period of the Civil War and Reconstruction, an era considered by most legal historians of unparalleled importance to the definition of modern legal culture yet resolutely ignored by Horwitz. Readers expecting in this new book an interpretive rehash of TRANSFORMATION ONE will be surprised, perhaps even disappointed. In some ways, of course, the two share much in common. Like the first volume, this newest work is less a book than a collection of essays roughly stitched together. Like the first, Horwitz draws randomly from a wide range of cases, social changes, and cultural developments without making explicit connections among them. Moreover, he continues, as he did in the first book, to rely on the case method of analysis, even when that means playing fast and loose with chronology. More than TRANSFORMATION ONE, however, TWO is definitely not an inquiry into the socio-economic basis of law. Horwitz's earlier work stressed that the antebellum legal system indirectly subsidized capital formation and economic development. Judges and lawyers, according to this view, used legal rules to redistribute the costs of economic growth away from business and toward laborers and farmers. The legal system became an instrument to foster capital development by placing the costs of capital formation on those least able to shoulder them. TRANSFORMATION TWO explicitly eschews this approach. It seeks instead to link legal and cultural, rather than economic, change. Horwitz's perspective has become post-modern as he attempts to assess developments between the late nineteenth century and the Age of Aquarius. He has embraced the idea that any rendering of history must be partial and reflect the views of the historian as much as the subject being investigated. TRANSFORMATION TWO, therefore, fits more with the emerging school of pragmatic hermeneutics in intellectual history than with either critical legal studies or mainline intellectual history. At the heart of TRANSFORMATION TWO is Horwitz's explanation of the shift from classical legal thought, the emergence of which figured in the closing chapters of TRANSFORMATION ONE, to Progressive legal thought. Classical legal theory -- the old orthodoxy -- stressed neutrality and objectivity; it dominated American legal culture until the mid-1930s. Progressive legal theory, on the other hand, arose in response to ever increasing social and economic inequality, and its adherents claimed that, in the face of this inequality, arguments about the law's autonomy -- of a government of laws and not persons -- was bogus, a sham. Progressive legal thought took its boldest expression in the Legal Realist movement of the 1920s and 1930s. The cumulated weight of the realist movement, the Great Depression, and the New Deal brought on the collapse of classical legal theory and with it the idea that law was neutral. For example, Horwitz explains how the natural entity theory of corporations came to replace the notion that corporations were merely driven by competitive pressures. One of the Page 61 follows: book's most important sections argues that the consolidation of big business under the natural entity theory had the unintended consequence of demonstrating that all claims to rights were artificial and therefore subject to regulation by the state. Arguments inside the law about the proper definition of the corporation were complemented and reinforced by arguments outside the law on issues involving the rise of the joint stock company and the emergence of critical social science. Horwitz's richly textured analysis shows that "legal theory does powerfully influence the direction of legal understanding." (p. 106-7) The attack on classical legal theory began in the late nineteenth century and accelerated rapidly in the early twentieth under the prodding of Progressive thinkers. They urged reform of the law in light of their contention that lawmakers acted politically, not objectively. Progressives complained, for example, that the notion of freedom to contract, which was sanctified in LOCHNER v. NEW YORK (1905), assumed equality among all individuals bargaining in the market place. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who dissented in LOCHNER, was among those Progressive legal thinkers who understood that such an assumption was neither supported in theory nor in social scientific evidence. Instead, Holmes stressed, proper analysis of legal relations depended on understanding the interdependence not the independence of persons engaged in bargaining. Legal scholars have long appreciated the important role that Holmes played in the shift from classical to Progressive legal theory. Horwitz invokes Holmes's legal career to brilliant advantage. Holmes, Horwitz writes, moved from an early position that gave credence to the idea of law as an objective force to a more mature view that treated the entire matter of objectivity in law and social science with a skepticism bordering on cynicism. Horwitz argues that the appearance in 1894 of Holmes's pivotal essay, "Privilege, Malice, and Intent," marked "the moment we should identify as the beginning of modernism in American legal theory." (p. 131) Holmes concluded that there was simply no objective or neutral way to reconcile the competing claims of labor and capital. Such a conclusion, of course, echoed the pragmatism of Henry James and John Dewey, who Horwitz argues had a powerful influence on Progressive legal theorists such as Holmes. Horwitz also concludes that the Progressive approach to law meant that the state had an inescapable responsibility in redistributing wealth. The early chapters treating these developments provide the foundation for the book's most important contribution: its nuanced treatment of the rise of Legal Realism. Horwitz argues that realism grew directly from Progressive legal theory and that it was, in the end, more a mood than a movement. Horwitz explains that the realists are better appreciated for their diversity than their similarity. Much recent writing on the realists, of course, has stressed their commitment to the methods of social science and value-free empiricism. Yet Horwitz correctly points out that Karl Llewellyn, perhaps the best known proponent among the realists of a scientific and positivistic methodological approach to the law, was the exception and not the rule. More central to the tradition of Progressive legal thought and, therefore, to our own time, was the committed reformism of Louis Brandeis, Roscoe Pound, and Benjamin Cardozo. Horwitz significantly rehabilitates these three as major forces in developing American legal theory and as the exponents of the "real" Legal Realism. The notion that all realists were without values and that they were ethical relativists, Horwitz goes on to argue, is simply wrong. Indeed, a good number of realists were what he calls cognitive relativists, meaning that they appreciated that thought processes were such that law could not be understood as self- executing and non-discretionary. Hence, any methodology that sought to categorize and compartmentalize the law, as Llewellyn argued was one of the realists chief goals, was not only suspect, because it contained debatable political and moral assumptions, but contrary to the authentic meaning of realism. Legal Realism and the Page 62 follows: Progressive tradition that informed it, Horwitz concludes, did not die with World War II, the alleged victims of an ethical relativism rooted in objective social science. Instead, both continue as major intellectual forces in the law today, with schools of legal thought as diverse as the Law and Economics movement and Critical Legal Studies claiming them as intellectual ancestors. Horwitz notes that such competing claims merely underscore the tension between value-neutral empiricism and committed reformism, a tension created by the Progressives' continuing efforts to reform American law. TRANSFORMATION TWO is an important book. It offers a bold reinterpretation of modern legal history, it elevates the discussion of legal change above the level of the "people" versus the "interests," and it affirms the value of taking legal doctrine seriously. TRANSFORMATION TWO, however, is unlikely to have the same success enjoyed by TRANSFORMATION ONE. Part of the reason has to do with the increased sophistication of legal history as a discipline since the latter appeared sixteen years ago. The behavioral, law-and-society approach associated with Lawrence Friedman has captured a broad following, one that heavily discounts the importance of ideas and stresses instead the wisdom of studying the law in action. There is among legal historians renewed interest in the history of legal doctrine, as TRANSFORMATION TWO so eloquently testifies. Yet the new book, while sophisticated in the ways of intellectual history, does little to explain legal behavior, one of the chief concerns of Friedman and his adherents. Horwitz has demonstrated the value of taking doctrine seriously, but he has hardly addressed the concern of behavioralist scholars that such attention to the intellectual life of American law actually obscures its day-to-day workings. Second, Horwitz himself has failed to come to terms with recent scholarly assessments that stress the variegated nature of the Progressive movement. For example, he rests much of his discussion of modern constitutional history on Charles Beard's now thoroughly exploded assertion that the Constitution was originally written to protect property rights and enforce inequality. This view seems antique, even wooden given the mountain of neo- Progressive and republican interpretations of the document's origins by scholars such as Gordon Wood. Horwitz's Beardian interpretation also flies in the face of what is an otherwise sophisticated explanation by Horwitz of the futility of approaching American legal history as the story of how law and politics are separated from one another. TRANSFORMATION TWO's worst enemy is itself. Much of the success of TRANSFORMATION ONE stemmed from its direct and not so subtle argument. The Horwitz thesis was elegantly stated and easily tested by other scholars. Indeed, a host of historians have complained that in the first book Horwitz failed to connect changes in legal doctrine to observable changes in economic behavior. Horwitz, of course, was not so much interested in proving this point as in stating it. TRANSFORMATION TWO, however, has substituted abstraction for simple elegance in attempting to tell its quite complex and not easily grasped story. Surely, one would think, the same concrete interests and groups that Horwitz identified in the first book would have their parallels in the second. If anything, industrialization in the late nineteenth century created more not fewer threats to workers and farmers, the so-called producing classes. Most of the twentieth century's concrete issues -- minimum wage laws, collective bargaining, consumer protection, farm subsidy policies, and social security -- are largely ignored by Horwitz. Moreover, Horwitz's focus is on figures such as Holmes, Jerome Frank, and Llewellyn, the elite of the legal profession and the abstruse ideas with which they played. The result is brilliant analysis but petrified history. Horwitz speaks with much insight to the evolution of legal theory but little force to changing social behavior through and under the law.
Yale Law Journal
He has read widely in many fields...[and] has gathered a rich harvest for any reader...a remarkable achievement.
New York Review of Books
It is to be hoped that a wide audience will read it since the issues it raises are indispensable...Horwitz's book is written with a passion.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Morton J. Horwitz is Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at the Harvard Law School. He is the author of The Transformation of American Law, 1870-1960.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

I The Emergence of an Instrumental Conception of Law 1
II The Transformation in the Conception of Property 31
III Subsidization of Economic Growth through the Legal System 63
IV Competition and Economic Development 109
V The Relation between the Bar and Commercial Interests 140
VI The Triumph of Contract 160
The Equitable Conception of Contract in the Eighteenth Century
The Rise of a Market Economy and the Development of the Will Theory of Contract
Custom and Contract
Tort and Contract
VII The Development of Commercial Law 211
The Rise of Negotiability
The Law of Insurance: The Development of Actuarial Conceptions of Risk
Swift v. Tyson: The Rise of a General Commercial Law
VIII The Rise of Legal Formalism 253
Notes 269
Index 349
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)