ISBN : 9780190880804
The colonies that comprised pre-revolutionary America had thirteen legal systems and governments. Given their diversity, how did they evolve into a single nation? In E Pluribus Unum, the eminent legal historian William E. Nelson explains how this diverse array of legal orders gradually converged over time, laying the groundwork for the founding of the United States.
From their inception, the colonies exercised a range of approaches to the law. For instance, while New England based its legal system around the word of God, Maryland followed the common law tradition, and New York adhered to Dutch law. Over time, though, the British crown standardized legal procedure in an effort to more uniformly and efficiently exert control over the Empire. But, while the common law emerged as the dominant system across the colonies, its effects were far from what English rulers had envisioned.
E Pluribus Unum highlights the political context in which the common law developed and how it influenced the United States Constitution. In practice, the triumph of the common law over competing approaches gave lawyers more authority than governing officials. By the end of the eighteenth century, many colonial legal professionals began to espouse constitutional ideology that would mature into the doctrine of judicial review. In turn, laypeople came to accept constitutional doctrine by the time of independence in 1776.
Ultimately, Nelson shows that the colonies' gradual embrace of the common law was instrumental to the establishment of the United States. Not simply a masterful legal history of colonial America, Nelson's magnum opus fundamentally reshapes our understanding of the sources of both the American Revolution and the Founding.
Table of Contents
Part One: The Initial Settlements, 1607-1660
Chapter 1: The Chesapeake
Chapter 2: New England
Chapter 3: New Netherland
Part Two: The Forging of Empire, 1660-1750
Chapter 4: The Crown's Imposition of the Common Law and Colonial Resistance
Chapter 5: The End of Resistance and the Triumph of the Common Law
Chapter 6: Ready Acceptance of the Common Law: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the South
Chapter 7: The Emergence of the Legal Profession
Chapter 8: Property, Commercial Law, Labor Law, and Slavery
Part Three: Altering Empire to Defeat France, 1689-1750
Chapter 9: The Local Structure of Power
Chapter 10: The Law of Religion
Chapter 11: Criminal and Regulatory Law
Part Four: The Collapse of Empire, 1750-1776
Chapter 12: The Well-Functioning Empire of the Mid-Eighteenth Century
Chapter 13: Weakening the Bonds of Empire
Chapter 14: Testing the Bonds of Empire
Chapter 15: Severing the Ties of Empire
Chapter 16: An Historian's Postscript