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Americanization of the Common Law: The Impact of Legal Change on Massachusetts Society, 1760-1830 Paperback – January 1, 1979

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Paperback, January 1, 1979
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 1, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674029720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674029729
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,519,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


This perceptive and deeply researched monograph adds a significant dimension to the corpus of knowledge about the transformation of American society which began with the American Revolutionary Era, as well as about the transformation of American law. (Richard B. Morris American Journal of Legal History)

This synthesis of the legal history of Massachusetts in the era of the American Revolution is one of those exceptional first books that with the passage of time may become a classic of historical literature. (Herbert A. Johnson Columbia Law Review)

About the Author

William E. Nelson is Professor of Law and History, New York University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on March 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
Since its original publication in 1975, this study by William E. Nelson has become recognized as a classic and a model of research in American legal history. This 1994 reissue by the University of Georgia Press makes the study more easily available. With the exception of an additional new preface, the book is a duplicate of the original version, which means all the page numbers are identical, an important consideration given how often this book is cited in journals and other books. Georgia has put out a first-quallity paperback reprint, with fine paper and durable binding.

Nelson's goal is to study how American common law changed between 1760 and 1830, in the wake of the Revolution. His initial chapter ["Law in a Changing Social Order"] summarizes the design of the study and his findings--this is helpful in gaining an orientation to the analysis that follows. Nelson divides his discussion into two main sections, the first dealing with the pre-revolutionary legal system. Here he talks about the judicial system, the roles of precedent, juries, and custom in defining legal obligation, and the limited authority of judges. Nelson argues that the emphasis during this period was on unity and stability, and this helped shape the legal system. There was, as a result, not too much extensive evolution in the common law; for example, not much development of the ideas of tort and contract as we know them today. In short, this was not a dynamic, capitalistic society and the legal system reflected this.

The second section of the book deals with the postrevolutonary legal system during 1780-1830. Nelson argues that with the growth of the Massachusetts economy and enterpreneurial demands, significant changes occurred in the legal system.
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