The Magic Mirror: Law in American History

The Magic Mirror: Law in American History

The Magic Mirror: Law in American History

The Magic Mirror: Law in American History

Synopsis

Chronicling American law from its English origins to the present, and offering for the first time comprehensive treatment of twentieth-century developments, this book sets American law and legal institutions in the broad context of social, economic, and political events, weaving together themes from the history of both constitutional and private law. The Magic Mirror treats law in society, and the legal implications of social change in areas such as criminal justice, the rights of women, blacks, the family, and children. It further examines regional differences in American legal culture, the creation of the administrative and security states, the development of American federalism, and the rise of the legal profession. Hall pays close attention to the evolution of substantive law categories--such as contracts, torts, negotiable instruments, real property, trusts and estates, and civil procedure--and addresses the intellectual evolution of American law, surveying movements such as legal realism and critical legal studies. Hall concludes that over its history American law has been remarkably fluid, adapting in form and substance to each successive generation without ever fully resolving the underlying social and economic conflicts that first provoke demands for legal change.

Excerpt

This book is about the history of American legal culture and the law in action. It is not a technical history of substantive law, nor is it an intensive study of case law development in either private or public law. That important task remains to be done, and surely we would know a good deal more about American legal culture if we had a better understanding of the law's technical interstices. This book, however, has a different purpose: to elucidate the interaction of law and society as revealed over time through the main lines of development in American legal culture. Thus, much of what follows seeks to fit legal change with social, economic, and political developments from the first English settlement to the present.

This is a book of synthesis and interpretation. What follows expresses, I hope, our best current understanding about the evolution of American legal culture. One of the reasons it is possible to write such a book is that since World War II, and especially since the early 1960s, research and writing in legal history--of both private and public law, of legal and judicial institutions, and of attitudes and values toward the law--have exploded. Yet much remains to be done. There are huge gaps in our knowledge about the nation's legal past. We have no history of substantive criminal law, and only the beginnings of work in contract, tort, and procedure. We know far more about the functioning of the Supreme Court than we do about the day-to-day business in the thousands of lower state and local courts that mete out justice in matters such as medical malpractice, homicide, and speeding automobiles. Moreover, although legal historians have lavished attention on courts and judges, we still have no good history of the rise and impact of regulatory bodies and of administrative law. American historians have preferred, despite the repeated admonitions of James Willard Hurst, to treat legislatures--one of the greatest sources of lawmaking authority in the American system--as political rather than legal entities. We know the most about nineteenth- century legal culture; we know far less about the beginnings of American law in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and its more recent manifestations in the twen tieth century . . .

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