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Law in American History: Volume 1: From the Colonial Years Through the Civil War Hardcover – February 20, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195102479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195102475
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.9 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #667,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"G. Edward White's first volume of Law in American History is an outstanding contribution to legal history. The book surveys the history of American law through the end of the Civil War in remarkable detail for a single-volume work." --Journal of American History

"This is a magisterial account of a series of dramatic legal developments. Essential." --CHOICE

"Never before has a work on American legal history engaged so profoundly with the
distinctiveness of America's displacement of Indians and enslavement of Africans. This
fascinating and original book will change the way the category 'American law' is defined."--Noah Feldman, Harvard Law School

"In this ambitious and sweeping narrative of a formative era in American legal and constitutional history, White takes us a large step forward in our thinking about the relationships among law, politics, and culture."--Alison la Croix, University of Chicago Law School

"Ted White is one of the few legal historians whose broad and deep knowledge of
American law from the earliest years to the present might enable him to synthesize the
American legal experience. This magnificent first volume of a multivolume history
takes us up to the Civil War, and provides a compelling, coherent, challenging,
and readable account of the first half of American legal history. Law in American
History is the welcome culmination of a lifetime of scholarship."--Stanley n. Katz, Princeton University

"White embeds American law in our culture and thus links legal doctrine and institutions to the ideas of freedom central to our nation's development. This is an authoritative work of American history, told through the framework of law."--Alfred L. Brophy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"In this wonderful volume, we see a masterful historian at the top of his game. White synthesizes and makes accessible a truly immense amount of material-making coherent evolving developments in (and interactions between) public and private law, courts and politics, and government and society."--Larry D. Kramer, Stanford Law School

"White's first volume is as crisp and elegant a statement of the central themes in the history
of American law as any I know. The pages move seamlessly from the law of everyday
life in the household and the workplace to the great constitutional controversies of the day.
This is a book that proceeds with refreshing candor and good common sense."--John Witt, Yale Law School

"G. Edward White's first volume of Law in American History is an outstanding contribution to legal history. ... White's focus on legal, popular, and elite cultures permeates the entire tale told in this volume. He extends his inquiry to examine lawyers' professional culture, slave culture, their masters' culture, and that of abolitionists, workingmen, and indentured servants. It is these cultural themes that allow even the most seasoned of legal historians reading this book to see events in a new light. That altered vision whets the appetite for White's planned second volume to complete the story." --Journal of American History

"G. Edward White is one of America's most eminent legal historians... [and] we now know more and have a truer understanding of the history of the law in America than we did before White began writing legal history forty years ago." --The New Republic

About the Author

G. Edward White is David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law and University Professor at the University of Virginia. His fifteen books include The American Judicial Tradition and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. White is also the editor of the John Harvard Library edition of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on July 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
White's introduction provides a more playful and accurate, alternate title: "Some Arguably Central Themes of American History and How Law Is Seen to Relate To Them, Offered With Deference...." In other words, this volume is not what the title seems to suggest it might be, a Friedmanesque (or rather, a counter-Friedmanesque) survey of American legal theory and practice. Instead, White emphasizes a few major themes in early American history, such as European dispossession of Indians from tribal lands, the causes of the American Revolution, the increasing political importance of the Supreme Court, the significance of American entrepreneurship, and, perhaps most importantly, the polarizing effects of African slavery. In other words, White leans heavily towards the public/constitutional side of legal history (though he promises to redress the balance somewhat in the next volume).

The prose is careful and sound, if not sparkling; and White includes many unexpected excursions, including summaries of the post-Jacksonian party system, Frederick Douglas's childhood and escape from slavery, and (perhaps most surprisingly for a book on legal history) a ten-page military overview of the Civil War. Hopefully Oxford University Press has a better notion of the target audience than I do. The book doesn't appear to be intended as a text or a reference, legal historians will find little new here, and the length and discursiveness of the book may put off general readers.
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