This book began a long time ago. As a teenager growing up in a lower- middle-class suburb, I was struck by the difference between the ideals about law we were taught in school and the realities of law in daily life. In the classroom, our teachers talked at length about democracy and consent, the manner in which the people chose their leaders, and how the laws they made served and protected us all. But outside the schoolhouse people expressed mostly contempt for their leaders, few participated in politics or government in a meaningful way, and for many of my friends, the law was something to be feared and avoided. Our relationship with most of its representatives was antagonistic, even hostile.
The tension between the commitment to, and respect for, law and the disregard of law in favor of competing values is a recurrent and intensifying theme in modern American life. Sadly, by the end of the Reagan era, disregard and contempt of the law seems to have reached even the highest levels of the state. The role of law in everyday life is, like other things, something that has changed over the course of the United States' two centuries, and it is worth asking whether its hold on the nation has always been this tenuous.
Although a study of primarily obscure people and minor crimes in one city in the nineteenth century, this book concerns the origins of the alienation, antagonism, and disrespect for law that is a prominent part of the relationship between the citizenry and the modern American state. The book has been taking shape for over a decade, and many people have contributed along the way. My parents, William and Beatrice Steinberg, have offered constant support and encouragement. David Rothman suggested the original topic and directed the research from which it is derived. During my years at Columbia University, I also benefited from the guidance of James Shenton, Eric McKitrick, and especially Eric Foner, who gave the manuscript an extremely useful and critical reading.
At various stages of my work, a number of friends and colleagues read parts of it. Jeannie Attie, Elizabeth Blackmar, and Joshua Brown provided me with helpful criticism and conversation. My good friends Michael Merrill and Leonard Wallock have watched this project develop from its inception, encouraged me to take it where I believed it should go, and have continuously