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Any attempt to assemble a detailed picture of society must take into consideration the legal structures that function within that culture. A court system works in two ways: judges influence society through its rulings as often as society at large influences the judicial system. Michael Grossberg's "Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America" is a work that combines a comprehensive examination of early American law with aspects of social history in an attempt to arrive at an overarching theme of the development of family law--what would later become "domestic relations" law--and its influence on the larger society. Grossberg relies heavily on legal sources, including appellate court rulings and legal tracts, to construct a three-stage progression of American family law.
According to the book, colonial family law was patriarchal in structure, tied closely to the state, and relegated women and children to the control of men. The American Revolution threw the colonial legal system, already under stress from a variety of factors including but not limited to the ability of settlers to leave for new lands, into chaos. What appeared in its place after a lengthy period of legal transformation involving an amalgamation of English legal principles and an emerging belief in American common law was a form Grossberg calls the republican family. The republican unit displaced the old patriarchal legal system in favor of laws that recognized individuals within the family. Too, this new form believed that state intervention in domestic matters was an evil best avoided. From the middle to the end of the nineteenth century, family laws across the board came under frequent assault from social reformers seeking to increase the role of the state in every aspect of the family.Read more ›
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