Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Nelson on the Common Law in Colonial America

In 2018, Oxford University Press published The Common Law in Colonial America, Vol.IV: Law and the Constitution on the Eve of Independence, 1735-1776 by William E. Nelson, New York University. This is the fourth and final volume in Nelson's series. From the publisher:
The eminent legal historian William E. Nelson's magisterial four-volume The Common Law in Colonial America traces how the many legal orders of Britain's thirteen North American colonies gradually evolved into one American system. Initially established on divergent political, economic, and religious grounds, the various colonial systems slowly converged until it became possible by the 1770s to imagine that all thirteen participated in a common American legal order, which diverged in its details but differed far more substantially from English common law. 
This fourth and final volume begins where volume three ended. It focuses on the laws of the thirteen colonies in the mid-eighteenth century and on constitutional events leading up to the American Revolution. Nelson first examines procedural and substantive law and looks at important shifts in the law to show how the mid-eighteenth- century colonial legal system in large part functioned effectively in the interests both of Great Britain and of its thirteen colonies. 
Nelson then turns to constitutional events leading to the Revolution. Here he shows how lawyers deployed ideological arguments not for their own sake, but in order to protect colonial institutional structures and the socio-economic interests of their clients. As lawyers deployed the arguments, they developed them into a constitutional theory that gave primacy to common-law constitutional rights and local self-government. In the process, the lawyers became leaders of the revolutionary movement and a dominant political force in the new United States.
Here's the Table of Contents:

Introduction
Chapter 1: Common Law Constitutionalism
Chapter 2: Localist Constitutionalism
Chapter 3: Uncontested Legal Practices
Chapter 4: The Well-Functioning Empire of the Mid-Eighteenth Century
Chapter 5: Government Failure in Two Colonies
Chapter 6: Weakening the Bonds of Empire
Chapter 7: Testing the Bonds of Empire
Chapter 8: Terminating the Ties of Empire
Chapter 9: Conclusion: Legal and Constitutional Legacies

Further information is available here

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