Common Law, History, and Democracy in America, 1790–1900

Legal Thought before Modernism

Common Law, History, and Democracy in America, 1790–1900

This book argues for a change in our understanding of the relationships among law, politics, and history. Since the turn of the nineteenth century, a certain anti-foundational conception of history has served to undermine law's foundations, such that we tend to think of law as nothing other than a species of politics. Thus viewed, the activity of unelected, common law judges appears to be an encroachment on the space of democracy. However, Kunal M. Parker shows that the world of the nineteenth century looked rather different. Democracy was itself constrained by a sense that history possessed a logic, meaning, and direction that democracy could not contravene. In such a world, far from law being seen in opposition to democracy, it was possible to argue that law – specifically, the common law – did a better job than democracy of guiding America along history's path.


“This is a wide-ranging and highly original treatment of law and history in nineteenth-century America. Parker incorporates into his story many new texts that have not been examined in this context before and re-examines familiar texts with a fresh eye and novel interpretations. Common Law, History, and Democracy in America, 1790–1900, is an illuminating and insightful work, offering an important contribution to the growing literature on historically and socially minded jurisprudence.” – Robert Gordon, Yale Law School

“Parker has written an original and stimulating work of intellectual history. By insightfully analyzing how different historical sensibilities and temporalities interacted in nineteenth-century America, he succeeds in revising not only the standard narrative of American legal history, but also our understanding of nineteenth-century historical consciousness.” – Dorothy Ross, Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor Emerita of History, Johns Hopkins University

"With this bright and closely reasoned book as a shining example, one can say that legal history has entered its post-maturity age...essential reading for everyone interested in nineteenth-century American law." - Peter Charles Hoffer, American Historical Review

"This book is an important contribution and a considerable achievement." -Polly J. Price, The Journal of American History

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Thomas Lloyd, The Trial of the Boot and Shoemakers of Philadelphia, on an Indictment for a Combination to Raise their Wages (Philadelphia: B. Graves, 1806), p. 146
Thomas M. Cooley, A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations Which Rest Upon the Legislative Power of the States of the American Union (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1868), p. 189
Thomas M. Cooley, A Treatise on the Law of Torts or the Wrongs Which Arise Independent of Contract (Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1870), pp. 12–13
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