Revised and expanded in this third edition, American Legal History now features a new coauthor, James Ely, who is a specialist in the history of property rights. This highly acclaimed text provides a comprehensive selection of the most important documents in the field, which integrates the history of public and private law from America's colonial origins to the present. Devoting special attention to the interaction of social and legal change, it shows how legal ideas developed in tandem with specific historical events and reveals a rich legal culture unique to America. The book also deals with state and federal courts and looks at the relationship between the development of American society, politics, and economy, and how it relates to the evolution of American law. Introductions and instructive headnotes accompany each document, tying legal developments to broader historical themes and providing a social and political context essential to an understanding of the history of law in America.
American Legal History, Third Edition, offers fresh material throughout and increased coverage of cases on such topics as slave law, politics, and terrorism. The authors have incorporated more cases dealing with minority rights, including Native American and Asian American rights, women's rights, and gender and gay rights. Two new chapters have been added to this edition: one on law and economics in modern America, including a discussion of the new federalism, and the other on law, politics, and terrorism, including a full discussion of the USA PATRIOT Act. The "since 1945" portion includes up-to-date material and current cases. The section on English background and colonial America has been expanded. In addition, there is new material on the most recent developments in American constitutional and legal history. Setting the legal challenges of the twenty-first century in a broad context, American Legal History, Third Edition, is an essential text for students and teachers of constitutional and legal history, the judicial process, and the effects of society on law.
AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY already had a place on my bookshelf before I was asked to review it for this list. Having used AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY as a reference in developing my lectures and to answer undergraduates' questions it was a pleasure to reconsider the book in toto. Hall, Wiecek and Finkelman have compiled an authoritative, exhaustive and useful collection of legal and political documents relating to America's legal history. All three of the editors are professors of history and Hall and Wiecek are professors of law. The book is intended for undergraduate and graduate courses in political science and history and is comprised of excerpts from cases and documents. Headnotes that provide an appropriate context are included with each document. The table of contents is well-structured and easy to use. I recommend this book for your personal and institutional libraries. AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY is organized chronologically into eleven chapters starting with Chapter 1: "Law in the Morning of American: The Beginnings of American Law, to 1760" and ending with Chapter 11: "Individual and Community in the Legal Culture, 1988-1994." Each chapter begins with an introduction written by the editors, followed by appropriate cases and documents and substantive notes linking the various documents together and providing social, political and legal context. The chapters vary in the balance between cases and documents, with some including mostly cases and others mostly documents. One can quibble about the editing of the cases and documents and the decisions regarding which ones to include or exclude, but, in my opinion, the editors have safely captured the entire sweep of American legal history in a volume of reasonable length. While most of the cases excerpted in AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY can be found in other popular casebooks, it is rare to find so many legal and political documents in a single place. The inclusion of a wide variety of documents relating to the development of law in America strengthens the reader's ability to place the cases in an appropriate context. Hall, Wiecek and Finkelman include excerpts from a variety of sources such as presidential addresses, political philosophy, constitutions and statutes. A sample of the material from Chapter 4: "Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction" includes case excerpts from DRED SCOTT v. SANDFORD (1857) and The SLAUGHTERHOUSE CASES (1873) and excerpts from Abraham Lincoln's speeches, Mississippi's Black Codes, and the Articles of Impeachment Against Andrew Johnson. Likewise Chapter 8: "Total War, Civil Liberties, and Civil Rights" includes excerpts from well known cases such as SCHENCK v. UNITED STATES (1919), WEST VIRGINIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION v. BARNETTE (1943), and OLMSTEAD v. UNITED STATES (1928) as well as Louis D. Brandeis and Samuel Warren's "The Right to Privacy" and Roscoe Pound and Felix Frankfurter's "Criminal Justice in Cleveland" (1922). The inclusion of these original documents increases AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY's usefulness. Hall, Wiecek and Finkelman include substantive introductions to each chapter, headnotes for each document, and additional substantive notes for many of the documents. This material helps the reader locate the documents and cases in an appropriate social, political, and legal context. I found the material invaluable for improving my lectures and providing background for class discussions. The introductions and notes often make references to additional cases and documents that point the interested reader in directions for further research. For undergraduates writing research papers on the subjects covered in AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY, it would be a good place to start. The strength of AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY for most political scientists will be its value as a reference. It is not a book I would consider adopting as the primary text for my undergraduate courses in Constitutional Law or Judicial Politics. While the material is presented thoughtfully and carefully the authors quest to "let the documents of legal history speak for themselves" (p. v) sacrifices the development of lines of inquiry and themes more appropriate for undergraduate political science courses. I can imagine some limited use for it in a graduate seminar on the American Legal System and I leave open the question of its usefulness in history courses to historians. For teachers and researchers in political science who want an excellent collection of cases and documents pertaining to our legal system AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY fits the bill.