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American Legal History: A Very Short Introduction [#375]
American Legal History: A Very Short Introduction [#375]
  • New short and accessible format on topics that have only been dealt with in densely academic texts before
  • Useful to legal professionals as well as general readers
  • Deals with the historic role of law throughout American history, including issues of property, contracts, crime, business, and race

Law has played a central role in American history. From colonial times to the present, law has not just reflected the changing society in which legal decisions have been made-it has played a powerful role in shaping that society, though not always in positive ways. 

In this Very Short Introduction, eminent legal scholar G. Edward White-author of the ongoing, multi-volume Law in American History-offers a compact overview that sheds light on the impact of law on a number of key social issues. Rather than offer a straight chronological history, the book instead traces important threads woven throughout our nation's past, looking at how law shaped Native American affairs, slavery, business, and home life, as well as how it has dealt with criminal and civil offenses. White shows that law has not always been used to exemplary ends. For instance, a series of decisions by the Marshall court essentially marginalized Amerindians, indigenous people of the Americas, reducing tribes to wards of the government. Likewise, law initially legitimated slavery in the United States, and legal institutions, including the Supreme Court, failed to resolve the tensions stirred up by the westward expansion of slavery, eventually sparking the Civil War. White also looks at the expansion of laws regarding property rights, which were vitally important to the colonists, many of whom left Europe hoping to become land owners; the evolution of criminal punishment from a public display (the stocks, the gallows) to a private prison system; the rise of tort law after the Civil War; and the progress in legal education, moving from informal apprenticeships and lax standards to modern law schools and rigorous bar exams.

In this illuminating look at the pivotal role of law in American life, White offers us an excellent first step to a better appreciation of the function of law in our society.


List of illustrations
Chapter 1: The legal history of Indian tribes
Chapter 2: Law and African-American slavery
Chapter 3: Rights of property and their regulation
Chapter 4: Law and entrepreneurship
Chapter 5: Criminal law and the treatment of criminals
Chapter 6: Law and domestic relations
Chapter 7: Civil injuries and the law of torts
Chapter 8: Legal education and the legal profession
Further reading

About the author: 

G. Edward White is David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law and University Professor at the University of Virginia. His 15 books include The American Judicial Tradition, Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and the Inner Self. White is the editor of the John Harvard Library edition of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s The Common Law (2009) and is currently writing a three-volume history of American law, the first volume of which, Law in American History, From the Colonial Years Through the Civil War, appeared in 2012.

Product details

ISBN : 9780199766000

G. Edward White
168 Pages
111 x 174 mm
Pub date
Dec 2013
Very Short Introductions
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American Legal History: A Very Short Introduction [#375]

American Legal History: A Very Short Introduction [#375]

American Legal History: A Very Short Introduction [#375]