The Constitution, Law, and American Life: Critical Aspects of the Nineteenth-Century Experience
The eight essays collected in "The Constitution, Law and American Life" explore the interrelationship between law and society in 19th-century America ... Show synopsis The eight essays collected in "The Constitution, Law and American Life" explore the interrelationship between law and society in 19th-century America and encompass in their discussion some of the major historical issues of the era. Featuring contributions by leading scholars in the field, the volume reflects the freshness and diversity of contemporary legal history. In a wide-ranging essay examining the social, cultural, intellectual and moral underpinnings of 19th-century law, Michael Les Benedict recreates the world view that informed Victorian legal culture and offers a bold reinterpretation of the legal order of the period. Two essays focus on the relation between slavery and the law. Philip Shaw Paludan provides a challenge to conventional wisdom about the framers of the Constitution and their attitude toward slavery, while Paul Finkelman's treatment of the South Bend fugitive slave rescue of 1849 offers a case study of the unbearable pressures that slavery placed on the legal process. Revealing the creative uses of law by white women and African Americans, Norma Basch and Donald G. Nieman show that constitutional principles afforded both groups the means to challenge oppression. These principles, they argue, played a pivotal role in movements that had their genesis in the 19th century and have transformed American life in our own time - the women's rights movement and the black struggle for freedom. Two essays focus on the law and social deviance. David T. Courtwright examines the social and legal forces that shaped the legal response to drug addiction. John S. Hughes shows how committment law afforded ordinary families in pre-Civil War Alabama a means to cope with domestic problems, including spouse abuse, incest and alcoholism. Exploring the relation between law and urbanization, Harold L. Platt demonstrates that, contrary to received wisdom, reformers of the Gilded Age made creative use of law to cope with the problems created by runaway urban growth and economic development.