One of the books of the past year or so not to miss is clearly Holly Brewer's
By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority (UNC Press, 2005), which just picked up the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation prize at the American Society for Legal History conference, after winning the Willard Hurst Prize at the Law and Society Association meeting last summer.
Lorri Glover begins her H-Net review this way:
Combining a fresh analysis of the writings of well-known political theorists from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with rigorous interrogation of court records, legal commentaries, theological texts, and even an occasional work of fiction or art, Holly Brewer advances a provocative argument about the intersections between perceptions of childhood and the evolution of political values in England and America. According to Brewer, by the late eighteenth century, as contractual relations based on mutual consent replaced inherited status as the foundation for civic authority, childhood became a more distinct and monolithic construct. Children were no longer born into a class status, but into a stage of life--one that denied them political and legal power until they achieved adulthood and the ability to reason and consent. As Brewer argues, "childhood itself was redefined as a consequence of the shift in political legitimacy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" (p. 8).
The rest is here.