The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire

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9780674015128: The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire

Departing from traditional approaches to colonial legal history, Mary Sarah Bilder argues that American law and legal culture developed within the framework of an evolving, unwritten transatlantic constitution that lawyers, legislators, and litigants on both sides of the Atlantic understood. The central tenet of this constitution—that colonial laws and customs could not be repugnant to the laws of England but could diverge for local circumstances—shaped the legal development of the colonial world.

Focusing on practices rather than doctrines, Bilder describes how the pragmatic and flexible conversation about this constitution shaped colonial law: the development of the legal profession; the place of English law in the colonies; the existence of equity courts and legislative equitable relief; property rights for women and inheritance laws; commercial law and currency reform; and laws governing religious establishment. Using as a case study the corporate colony of Rhode Island, which had the largest number of appeals of any mainland colony to the English Privy Council, she reconstructs a largely unknown world of pre-Constitutional legal culture.

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About the Author:

Mary Sarah Bilder is Professor of Law, Boston College Law School.

Review:

Bilder describes an emerging Colonial legal profession and clearly explains the function of the local and imperial legal systems. Largely a legal history of case law that determined if Colonial divergence was indeed not repugnant, the book is rich in social history as well, with the evolving status of women and institutional religion providing much of the legal grist. (E. R. Crowther Choice 2005-09-01)

Mary Sarah Bilder's The Transatlantic Constitution is an excellent example of the wealth of fresh insights that a focus on constitutionalism still has to offer...Bilder's argument is so compelling, and her delineation of transatlantic legal culture so revealing, that historians will undoubtedly feel the need to test her results elsewhere. Atlantic history will be all the richer for it. (Alexander B. Haskell William and Mary Quarterly 2005-07-01)

Bilder is one of those energetically prudent scholars who appear in full control of their considerable enthusiasms. She never exaggerates her cases. She welcomes other investigations, but she rightly understands that the micro-level of investigation that we find here represents the work that is now needed in legal history, and she does not shy away from the extensions that are possible from it. There is, in fact, considerable grace in Bilder's ability to supply the details without losing her reader in them. (Robert A. Ferguson Law and History Review 2005-10-01)

This study of the British imperial constitution, based upon extensive research in English and American archives, is one of the more significant recent pieces of scholarship in this area...Mary Sarah Bilder has come to some new conclusions that make this short volume essential reading for all students of early America. (Herbert A. Johnson Journal of American History 2005-12-01)

In The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire, Mary Sarah Bilder finds evidence for a transatlantic constitutional culture that influenced everything from the intellectual formation of colonial lawyers and judges, to the course of appeals of inheritance cases, to the beginnings of judicial review in the early Republic...The argument is lucidly presented and clearly compelling...The clarity of Bilder's argument will make the book, and the tradition of legal constitutional history of empire from which it emanates, compelling to scholars outside the field of American legal history. (Lauren Benton Law & Social Inquiry)

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Bilder, Mary Sarah
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