A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States - Vol. 1

By Melvin I. Urofsky; Paul Finkelman | Go to book overview

2

Law in Colonial America

Settler and Indian Views of Land • Simplifying Property Law •
Personal Status: Women • Laborers • Slaves • Religion •
Criminal Law • Lawyers and Practice • The Privy Council
and Imperial Courts • Witchcraft and Press Freedom • For
Further Reading

THE THEME OF American law in the colonial period is change, as the needs of a rapidly growing frontier society adapted the English heritage to meet new conditions. Changes took place in all areas, ranging from property to personal status, reflecting the social, economic, and political transformation of the colonies. By the eve of the American Revolution, the legal systems of the thirteen colonies, although reflecting their common English origin, had evolved along distinctly American lines.

The colonies also laid the groundwork for the creation of constitutional government in the late eighteenth century. Struggles between colonial governors and popularly elected assemblies led to an almost innate sense among Americans of the need for separation of powers. The arbitrary removal of judges by high-handed royal governors helped lay the groundwork for a constitution that made judges immune from political pressures. The excesses of the Salem witch trials in the 1690s were sometimes mentioned in the debates over the Constitution in the late 1780s, when Americans demanded a bill of rights that protected fundamental due process in criminal trials. The Antifederalists who demanded a bill of rights, and the Federalists in Congress like James Madison who wrote the Bill of Rights, drew on many more immediate sources in creating a system of due process. But, at least some of the participants in this debate recalled the witch trials, using them to illustrate an extreme example of the dangers of law and order without due process. Similarly, the attempt of the royal governor of New York to suppress the colonial newspaperman John Peter Zenger was remembered during the Revolution and during the debate over the Constitution, as Americans argued for explicit protections for a free press. The evolution of religious diversity in the colonies, which was deliberate in some places—like Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina—and accidental in others—like New York—set the stage for a constitution that prohibited religious tests for office holding and for a bill

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A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • For Susan and Byrgen—yet Again v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xiii
  • 1: From the Old World to the New 1
  • 2: Law in Colonial America 17
  • 3: The Road to Independence 39
  • 4: The Revolutionary Era 61
  • 5: The Crisis of Confederation 80
  • 6: A More Perfect Union 93
  • 7: Launching the Great Experiment 120
  • 8: The Supreme Court: the First Decade 147
  • 9: The Changing Face of the Law 165
  • 10: Adams, Jefferson, and the Courts 181
  • 11: The Marshall Court and National Power 207
  • 12: The Marshall Court and Economic Development 229
  • 13: A Law Made for the Times 248
  • 14: Politics, Nationalism, and Competition 271
  • 15: Jacksonian Democracy 296
  • 16: The Taney Court: Change and Continuity 320
  • 17: The Peculiar Laws of America's Peculiar Institution 337
  • 18: A House Dividing 366
  • 19: The Union Sundered 401
  • 20: The Union Unrestored 429
  • 21: Reconstruction 451
  • 22: The Court and Civil Rights 479
  • Appendixes - The Declaration of Independence 501
  • Articles of Confederation 505
  • Constitution of the United States 511
  • Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court 528
  • Case Index 537
  • Subject Index 542
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