American Legal History – 6228
This course explores the interaction between law, politics, and culture in American society, with a particular focus this year on the theory and practice of democracy from the revolutionary era forward. Although built on an underlying narrative, the course will proceed thematically, addressing the ways ideas about democracy interface with such topics as the rule of law; slavery and abolitionism; women’s rights; Civil War and Reconstruction; citizenship and the franchise; industrialization and the growth of big business; crime and punishment; the emergence of the administrative state; and legal education and professionalization. Readings will include primary legal texts, such as treatises, statutes, constitutions, and landmark cases, as well as contemporary religious, scientific, and literary writings that will help situate them in cultural context. Using history as a means of interrogating the relationship between law and American democracy, this course asks students to think critically about the dynamics between legal and social change. The aim is not only to reconstruct the legal past but also to evaluate the uses of history in present-day legal argument. No previous background in American history is assumed.