The Transformation of American Law 1780 - 1860: Studies in Legal History (volume one of two)
by Morton Horwitz
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Publication Date: 1977
Publisher: Harvard U Press
Topics: Corporate Rule, Democracy: Theory & Practice, Economics, History: Local to Global, Social Movements, United States
Description: This is the first of two volumes of Morton Horwitz's monumental history of American law, universally acclaimed as one of the most significant works ever published in American legal history. The New Republic called it an "extremely valuable book." Library Journal praised it as "brilliant" and "convincing." And Eric Foner, in The New York Review of Books , wrote that "the issues it raises are indispensable for understanding nineteenth-century America." It won the coveted Bancroft Prize in American History and has since become the standard source on American law for the period between 1780 and 1860.
It is a sweeping overview of the emergence of a national (and modern) legal system from English and colonial antecedents. It treats the evolution of the common law as intellectual history, and also demonstrates how the shifting view of private law became a dynamic element in the economic growth of the United States.
Also available here at 100fires.com: Horwitz's second volume - 'The Transformation of American Law, 1870 to 1960' - the long-awaited sequel that brings his sweeping history to completion.
Horwitz's subtle and sophisticated explanation of societal change begins with the common law, which was intended to provide justice for all. The great breakpoint came after 1790 when the law was slowly transformed to favor economic growth and development. The courts spurred economic competition instead of circumscribing it. This new instrumental law flourished as the legal profession and the mercantile elite forged a mutually beneficial alliance to gain wealth and power.
The evolving law of the early republic interacted with political philosophy, Horwitz shows. The doctrine of laissez-faire, long considered the cloak for competition, is here seen as a shield for the newly rich. By the 1840s the overarching reach of the doctrine prevented further distribution of wealth and protected entrenched classes by disallowing the courts very much power to intervene in economic life.
This searching interpretation, which connects law and the courts to the real world, will engage historians in a new debate. For to view the law as an engine of vast economic transformation is to challenge in a stunning way previous interpretations of the eras of revolution and reform.
Morton J. Horwitz is a graduate of City College of New York and received a doctorate in Government and a law degree from Harvard University. Author of numerous articles in law and history, Mr. Horwitz is Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School, where he teaches legal history.
Review(s): "One of the five most significant books ever published in the field of American legal history." - William Nelson, New York University
"This volume is a marvelous achievement." - Journal of the American Bar Association