The Law of the Commonwealth and Chief Justice Shaw


During his thirty years as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, from 1830 to 1860, Lemuel Shaw wrote approximately 2,200 opinions, probably setting a record. His writings covered the entire domain of jurisprudence, excepting admiralty, and no other state judge through his opinions alone had so great an influence on the course of American law. Through a critical study of Shaw's opinions, noted historian Leonard Levy reveals what Shaw's generation thought about the relation of the individual to the state, and of states to the nation, and how his peers perceived rights, duties, and liabilities, the roles of government, and the character of law itself. Each chapter stands as a selected aspect of American legal history--some cover the response of the law to a great social issue such as fugitive slavery or trade unionism, others attempt to show how and why changes in American industrial life necessitated accommodations in the law, and still others are concerned with the growth of legal doctrines of great consequence such as police power. Overall, the opinions of Justice Shaw illuminate how liberty and order were comparatively valued, which interests were deemed important enough to secure in legal moorings, and where the points of social tension, growth, and power were rooted.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1986