The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America

The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America

The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America

The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America


Gerard W. Gawalt has collected essays that explore the critical period in the development of the legal profession from 1865 to 1900, when law replaced religion as the controlling element in American society and lawyers clearly established themselves as the formulators, advocates, and arbiters of the law. The authors of these essays explore the extent of the legal profession's involvement in the growth of industrial America, focusing on the state of the profession in various geographic regions and on the profession's institutions and plans for education, regulation, reform, and practice in the period after the Civil War. They address the central question of how the nature and structure of the legal profession was molded by the growth of urban-industrial society and argue that the profession not only adapted, but pioneered and adopted many of the aspects of the new industrialism.


Gerard W. Gawalt

Lawyers are now the dominant profession in American society. Where once they were often distrusted and occasionally outlawed, professional attorneys now hold sway from courtroom to boardroom. They affect our destinies from before our birth to long after our death. How and when did this profession move from a scattering of largely ill-trained practitioners on the periphery of society in the eighteenth century to the present, enormous, highly trained profession with extensive political, economic, social, and legal power? This book of historical essays examines the most critical period of this process of professionalization-- the post-Civil War period of America--when law replaced religion as the controlling element in American society, and lawyers clearly established their role as formulators, advocates, and arbiters of the law. Brandishing their view of the "scientific" nature of the law as a justification for their power, lawyers became the new high priests of an increasingly legalistic, industrial society.

By 1900, American society had shifted from a largely rural, homogeneous population of British ancestry clustered on the eastern seaboard and centered in small towns and commercial centers to a heterogeneous, industrial society of increasingly variant ethnic stock spread across a continent and concentrated in urban areas and industrial-commercial centers. Statistical and documentary evidence indicates that the legal profession not only adjusted to this transformation, but pioneered or adopted many aspects of industrialization for use in the teaching and practice of law. Rather than opposing the rise of this new dominant force in society, the legal profession joined with the business community on many levels and consequently shared in both its socioeconomic advances and its increasingly national outlook at the expense of professional and individual autonomy.

An important element of the legal profession moved toward the formation of a national profession as it seized on the ethos of the emerging industrial society. Despite some regional variations in recruitment, training, office practice, and professional structure the most influential or elite part of the profession acquired . . .

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