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By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia) [Paperback]

by Holly Brewer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

February 26, 2007 0807858323 978-0807858325
In England in the middle of the sixteenth century, people were born into authority and responsibility based on their social status. Thus even the children of the elite could designate property or serve in Parliament, while children of the poorer sort might be forced to sign labor contracts or be hanged for arson or picking pockets. By the late eighteenth century, however, English and American law began to emphasize contractual relations based on informed consent rather than on status. In By Birth or Consent, Holly Brewer explores how the changing legal status of children illuminates the struggle over consent and status in England and America. The concept of meaningful consent, as it emerged through religious, political, and legal debates, challenged the older order of birthright and became central to the development of democratic political theory.

This struggle over meaningful consent had tremendous political and social consequences, affecting the whole order of society. It granted new powers to fathers and guardians at the same time that it challenged those of masters and kings. Brewer's analysis reshapes the debate about the origins of modern political ideology and makes connections between Reformation religious debates, Enlightenment philosophy, and democratic political theory.

Frequently Bought Together

By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia) + Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History + Documents of American Constitutional and Legal History: Volume 1: From the Founding to 1896 (Documents of American Constitutional & Legal History)
Price for all three: $85.22

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Editorial Reviews


"First, I assign the book in my graduate reading seminar because I regard it as one of the two or three most significant works in Early American History to appear in the past decade. My goal in that seminar is to acquaint beginning graduate students in American History with the important works in the field, and for that reason alone I'd assign it. Moreover, its breadth of historical reach is such that although my seminar attracts students studying gender history, Early Modern British history, legal history, American history, and intellectual history, it has something for everyone. It affords me an exemplary work to discuss with dissertation writers, especially, in demonstrating how one combines apparently unrelated historical phenomena into a seamless account of a profound revolution that touched all aspects of social relations.

Students respond uniformly in the most positive way. The book causes lightbulbs to go on on their minds.

My experiences with undergraduates using the book are similar. Our students--who are very good, indeed--respond to the material with a sense of having discovered something about human relationships that they never had thought of."
-- David Konig, Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies, Director, Legal Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis

"Brewer's focus on the changing legal status of children in England and British North America offers students a fascinating prism through which to understand the origins of the American political tradition. By Birth or Consent changes the way students think about the meaning of representative government, political authority, and the role of the individual in the era prior to the American Revolution."
-- Rosemarie Zagarri, Professor of History, George Mason University

"Holly Brewer's important and prizewinning book transcends subdisciplinary specializations. Its portrayal of the construction of a new understanding of childhood in Revolutionary America is one that speaks to core problems in American legal history, in the history of political thought, in early modern history (American and European), and in family history. The writing is clear and vigorous, and the argument is accessible. It strikes me as being an ideal work to be assigned in advanced undergraduate courses. It offers student a model of the educated historical imagination. I have myself assigned it with great success in an undergraduate seminar in family history and in a graduate seminar in legal history. I plan to assign it in my undergraduate lecture course in American legal history the next time I teach the course."
-- Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University

"[A] thought-provoking study of a neglected and yet immensely important topic."
-- Canadian Journal of History

A powerful and persuasive argument that challenges our understanding of American revolutionary ideology.

--Michael Grossberg, Indiana University

Strikingly original book . . . with a clarity of style and a sustained intellectual vitality.

--J. R. Pole, St. Catherine's College, Oxford

This remarkable book breaks much new ground.

--Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

From the Publisher

Winner of the following awards:

2008 Order of the Coif Book Award, Order of the Coif
2006 James Willard Hurst Prize, Law and Society Association
2006 Cromwell Prize, American Society for Legal History --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (February 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807858323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807858325
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars By Birth or Consent - a deep read February 17, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is extremely detailed and a help to historians or genealogists. It is not a fast read; there's a lot of material here which is most helpful.
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