American Legal History: Cases and Materials

American Legal History: Cases and Materials

American Legal History: Cases and Materials

American Legal History: Cases and Materials


Revised and expanded in this third edition, American Legal History now features a new coauthor, James Ely, who is a specialist in the history of property rights. This highly acclaimed text provides a comprehensive selection of the most important documents in the field, which integrates the history of public and private law from America's colonial origins to the present. Devoting special attention to the interaction of social and legal change, it shows how legal ideas developed in tandem with specific historical events and reveals a rich legal culture unique to America. The book also deals with state and federal courts and looks at the relationship between the development of American society, politics, and economy, and how it relates to the evolution of American law. Introductions and instructive headnotes accompany each document, tying legal developments to broader historical themes and providing a social and political context essential to an understanding of the history of law in America.

American Legal History, Third Edition, offers fresh material throughout and increased coverage of cases on such topics as slave law, politics, and terrorism. The authors have incorporated more cases dealing with minority rights, including Native American and Asian American rights, women's rights, and gender and gay rights. Two new chapters have been added to this edition: one on law and economics in modern America, including a discussion of the new federalism, and the other on law, politics, and terrorism, including a full discussion of the USA PATRIOT Act. The "since 1945" portion includes up-to-date material and current cases. The section on English background and colonial America has been expanded. In addition, there is new material on the most recent developments in American constitutional and legal history. Setting the legal challenges of the twenty-first century in a broad context, American Legal History, Third Edition, is an essential text for students and teachers of constitutional and legal history, the judicial process, and the effects of society on law.


When we wrote the first edition of American Legal History: Cases and Materials in 1990, legal history was still a relatively new and emerging field. A growing number of law schools and some history departments offered courses, albeit sporadically, in the history of private law and legal institutions. When law was studied in its historical context, the emphasis was almost always on public law generally and the work of the Supreme Court specifically. Courses in either constitutional history or, in political science departments and law schools, its twin, constitutional law, were the closest brush that most undergraduates and law students had with the nation’s legal past. The history of American law was often a reprise on major Supreme Court cases and the justices who delivered them. Today, however, American legal history has become a mature field, with many professors in law schools and history departments teaching courses and producing scholarship in the field. Thanks in part to a more expansive and scholarly approach to legal education in law schools and to the impact of social history on the undergraduate history curriculum, American legal history is now taught at almost every law school and in a good number of history departments. And it is increasingly taught with an eye to merging rather than separating themes of private and public law development.

This new edition of American Legal History reflects the growing interest in the field. The book is much longer than the first and second editions. We have added new material, especially on the law of property and in the modern period. We have expanded our coverage of colonial America. We have taken into account new developments in law and tried to put into greater context the legal challenges that will confront us in the twenty-first century.

This book is designed to serve undergraduate and graduate courses in history and political science while fitting comfortably in legal history courses taught in law schools. However, in many ways, we departed from the usual structure of both law school casebooks and traditional documentary collections used in history and political science courses. We have made a particular effort to meet the needs of instructors and students, whatever their academic discipline, by including extensive headnotes that place documents in their historical context. We have excluded perplexing questions and small-change notecases that overwhelm many law school casebooks. We have also provided excerpts of cases that are longer than those typically found in documentary collections and many law school casebooks. Finally, we have used materials from secondary sources, such as articles from law reviews and journals, only sparingly. Our goal is to let the documents of legal history speak for themselves.

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