Paul Halliday's sweeping, scrupulously researched Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire examines the capacities and contradictions of this remarkable legal device. A historian at the University of Virginia and an occasional contributor to amicus briefs in noteworthy habeas cases, Halliday dismisses conventional paeans to the writ. Focusing less on landmark decisions than on thousands of quotidian cases from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, recorded on parchment and bound with leather thongs, he pieces together an ambivalent story with unexpected origins. Rather than heralding habeas corpus as a "palladium of liberty," he shows how, over the course of centuries, habeas has extended state power as well as constricted it, facilitated empire as well as regulated its reach, and how, in periods of crisis and demagoguery, princes and parliamentarians have muffled the "sighs of prisoners" despite the venerable writ's promise to hear them.Read the rest here.
More on the Founders, as Joseph J. Ellis discusses three new books in the New York Review of Books (subscription required): Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 9: January 1790–December 1793, edited by Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Karen N. Barzilay, Hobson Woodward, Mary T. Claffey, Robert F. Karachuck, Sara B. Sikes, and Gregg L. Lint; The Quotable Abigail Adams edited by John P. Kaminski; and Abigail Adams by Woody Holton.