This course surveys the history of American law from the end of the Civil War to the present day. This page contains a full course description, hyperlinks, and past exams.
This course will survey American legal history from the Civil War to the present day,
emphasizing the ongoing relationship between legal development and general
social, economic, political and intellectual trends. Topics to be covered in this
process include the rise of "classical" legal thought in the late nineteenth century,
the birth of the case method of legal education at the Harvard Law School, the rise of
the modern regulatory state and the development of American administrative law,
the changing nature of late-nineteenth century legal practice and the professional
reorientation from "courtroom" to "boardroom", Roscoe Pound and "sociological
jurisprudence", the changing social, ethnic and gender composition of the American
bar in the early twentieth century, the impact of social change on American family law
after World War I, the rise of the Legal Realists in the 1920's and 1930's, the
Supreme Court's reaction to the Roosevelt New Deal, the revival of natural law
theory after World War II, the "rights revolution" of the 1950's and 1960's, and the
development of such contemporary schools of legal thought as Law and Economics,
Critical Legal Studies, and Feminist Jurisprudence. American Legal History,
1600-1865 is not a prerequisite for this course. Evaluation will be by final
The following links provide connections to useful internet resources pertinent to this class.
All exams were administered under the same rules. Each exam was three hours long, open book. In each case students were instructed to answer three of the four questions; all questions were weighted equally.
- "In modern American legal history, the cause of civil rights for African Americans and the cause of civil rights for women have at some times supported and at other times contradicted one another." Evaluate and discuss.
- "Formalism, as a legal philosophy, did not die out in the early years of the twentieth century. On the contrary, it lived on, if not under its own name, then under the name of other legal philosophies that embraced at least some of its core values." Evaluate and discuss.
- "The intellectual legacy of Roscoe Pound is at best contradictory, and at worst, incoherent." Evaluate and discuss.
- "Since the end of the Civil War, most attempts by the faculties of American law schools to preserve or raise educational "standards" have operated (and have arguably been designed) as much to keep persons from "undesirable" backgrounds out of the legal profession as to provide law students with a high quality of training." Evaluate and discuss.
- The history of the American legal profession between the Civil War and the early twentieth century has frequently been described in terms of a shift "from the courtroom to the
boardroom." What is meant by this turn of phrase, how historically accurate is it, and how might such a shift be explained?
- "Oliver Wendell Holmes is surely the dominant figure in modern American legal history. As both a scholar and a jurist, Holmes directly and indirectly influenced the shape and direction of American legal thought over more than eight decades." Evaluate and discuss.
- "In the decades since the Civil War, established interests in American society have repeatedly used law to repress other racial, gender and class groups. Thus, whites have used law to repress blacks and Asians; men have used law to repress women; capital has used law to repress labor. In the end, modern American law his been as much a servant of arbitrary power as its adversary." Evaluate and discuss.
- "Legal formalism was a logical jurisprudential byproduct of late nineteenth century individualism." Evaluate and discuss.