This work examines the intellectual motivations behind the concept of “legal science”—the first coherent American jurisprudential movement after Independence. Drawing mainly upon public, but also private, sources, this book considers the goals of the bar’s professional leaders who were most adamant and deliberate in setting out their visions of legal science. It argues that these legal scientists viewed the realm of law as the means through which they could express their hopes and fears associated with the social and cultural promises and perils of the early republic. Law, perhaps more so than literature or even the natural sciences, provided the surest path to both national stability and international acclaim. While legal science yielded the methodological tools needed to achieve these lofty goals, its naturalistic foundations, more importantly, were at least partly responsible for the grand impulses in the first place. This book first considers the content of legal science and then explores its application by several of the most articulate legal scientists working and writing in the early republic.
For decades the study of American legal history before the Civil War has been dominated by two themes—the economic effect of judicial decisions and the (largely quantitative) study of law and society. In this important book Steven Macias revives a third major theme: the intellectual history of law in the early nineteenth century. Extending themes of Perry Miller, Robert Ferguson, and Michael Hoeflich about law as a science, Macias focuses on four leading legal scientists: Gulian Verplanck, Thomas Cooper, Hugh Legaré, and Joseph Story. He reveals a range of sophisticated ideas about law, from Roman law to commercial law, to jurisprudence held by writers from Massachusetts and New York to South Carolina. Legal Science in the Early Republic recovers the intellectual world of people who saw law as a science and sought to use it to bring rationality and economic and moral progress to the United States. This book expands dramatically the territory of pre-Civil War legal history. These thinkers and their ideas need to be talked about alongside the judges whose opinions pushed economic growth and the humble people whose lives were shaped by criminal prosecutions and civil adjudications. Only now can we see how the entire world of law—from ideas to reality on the ground—fits together. -- Alfred L. BrophyMore information is available here.
Professor Stephen Macias has written an important and masterful account of the development of legal science in antebellum America. His use of new sources combined with a superb critical analysis make this book a must read for anyone interested in the history of law. The book should be read by every American historian concerned with the antebellum period and should be assigned in every class concerned with the development of the legal system in the United States. -- Michael H. Hoeflich