The Spirit of American Law

The Spirit of American Law

The Spirit of American Law

The Spirit of American Law


This collection of readings is intended as a broad introduction to the roots, practice, and future of law in America. Compiled from the recommended reading lists for first-year students from over eighty law schools, the selections in this anthology were chosen to explore broad subjects rather than specific niches of law. The readings have been selected largely from books with appeal to the general public; only the concluding section contains articles from legal periodicals. Professor Grossman has chosen readings that illustrate the defining characteristics of America's legal profession, the philosophical issues that underlie the day-to-day practice of law, and the social consequences of sometimes abstract legal decisions. The organization is largely chronological -- thirty-three readings divided into sections on the roots, growth, and future of an American institution.


The Law, wherein, as in a magic mirror, we see reflected, not only our own lives, but the lives of all men that have been! When I think on this majestic theme, my eyes dazzle.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Speech to the Suffolk Country Bar, 1913

Justice Holmes's oft-quoted metaphor of law as the magic mirror is at the same time strikingly accurate and surprisingly misleading. Rather than the hand-held mirror which Holmes is thought to have taken from Alfred Tennyson's The Lady of Shallott, the law's real mirror may be closer to the ones in carnival fun houses which shorten, lengthen, and distort images depending upon angle and light. I often think about Holmes Speech to the Suffolk County Bar because he also analogizes the legal process to a princess "mightier than she who once wrought at Bayeux, eternally weaving into her web dim figures of the ever-lasting past." It seems to me that today Holmes Princess and his mirror have become more likeLewis Carroll Little Alice from Wonderland stepping through our contemporary carnival funhouse. Nonetheless, they still prove that Holmes was right when he observed that the law is, in the final analysis, a great anthropological document reflective of all who have been a part of its dazzling life and spirit.

George Grossman in The Spirit of American Law has collected thirty-three essays which, taken together, tell us much about the magic mirror of law and the women and men whose experiences are reflected therein. Each selection in this anthology was carefully chosen from literally thousands of works on law. Professor Grossman, a distinguished author, bibliographer, and librarian, demonstrates what prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman meant when she said that great commentators search out hundreds of examples and then pre-

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