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E Pluribus Unum

How the Common Law Helped Unify and Liberate Colonial America, 1607-1776

William E. Nelson (Professor of Law, Professor of Law, New York University)



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Oxford University Press Inc
22 July 2019
The colonies that comprised pre-revolutionary America had thirteen legal systems and governments. Given their diversity, how did they evolve into a single nation? In E Pluribus Unum, the eminent legal historian William E. Nelson explains how this diverse array of legal orders gradually converged over time, laying the groundwork for the founding of the United States. From their inception, the colonies exercised a range of approaches to the law. For instance, while New England based its legal system around the word of God, Maryland followed the common law tradition, and New York adhered to Dutch law. Over time, though, the British crown standardized legal procedure in an effort to more uniformly and efficiently exert control over the Empire. But, while the common law emerged as the dominant system across the colonies, its effects were far from what English rulers had envisioned.

E Pluribus Unum highlights the political context in which the common law developed and how it influenced the United States Constitution. In practice, the triumph of the common law over competing approaches gave lawyers more authority than governing officials. By the end of the eighteenth century, many colonial legal professionals began to espouse constitutional ideology that would mature into the doctrine of judicial review. In turn, laypeople came to accept constitutional doctrine by the time of independence in 1776.

Ultimately, Nelson shows that the colonies' gradual embrace of the common law was instrumental to the establishment of the United States. Not simply a masterful legal history of colonial America, Nelson's magnum opus fundamentally reshapes our understanding of the sources of both the American Revolution and the Founding.
By:   William E. Nelson (Professor of Law Professor of Law New York University)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press Inc
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 242mm,  Width: 164mm,  Spine: 27mm
Weight:   540g
ISBN:   9780190880804
ISBN 10:   0190880805
Pages:   288
Publication Date:   22 July 2019
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

William E. Nelson is Judge Edward Weinfeld Professor of Law, New York University. In 1961, he founded the Legal History Colloquium at NYU Law School, where nearly 100 younger scholars have held fellowships and received post-graduate training, and has presided over the Colloquium since that time. He has been writing and teaching in the field of American legal history for nearly fifty years and is the author of many books, including four volumes of The Common Law in Colonial America (Oxford), The Roots of American Bureaucracy, Americanization of the Common Law, and The Fourteenth Amendment.

Reviews for E Pluribus Unum: How the Common Law Helped Unify and Liberate Colonial America, 1607-1776

William Nelson's masterful study will forever banish the view that English law was transplanted to the American colonies. It shows that colonial courts produced striking legal diversity, and lawyers gradually forged convergence through strategic adaptations of the common law. Original, clear, and grounded in extensive research-this book is required reading for anyone interested in the origins of law and governance in early America. * Lauren Benton, Nelson O. Tyrone, Jr. Professor of History and Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University * Nelson's studyproductivelysynthesizesAmericancolonial and legal history,emphasizing local powerin the colonial era and the gradual evolution of nationalinstitutions andthelegal professionfromlocaland regional roots. This valuablebookwill be important forlawand graduate history students, as well asupper-levelundergraduatesinearly American courses. * Sarah Barringer Gordon, Arlin M. Adams Professor of Law and Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania * William Nelson's 'new narrative' of government and law in British North America is an excellent and much-needed intervention that will broaden our way of thinking about the origins of the American Union and, eventually, the creation of the American nation. * Annette Gordon-Reed, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History and Harvard Law School Professor of History, Harvard University *

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