American Legal History | L4065

This course concerns itself with the interaction between the legal system and social change in what is now the United States. Chronologically, the course materials run from the colonial period to the late twentieth century, although the nineteenth century will receive particular emphasis. A principal focus is the interrelationship of law, social life, economy, and ideology.

Many current legal topics demand some knowledge of history in order to avoid looking like an idiot. In order to speak meaningfully of religious liberty in early America; reparations and its relationship to slavery and segregation; the place of women in the legal system; the nature of corporations; ideas about criminal justice and punishment; the nature of regulation; LGBT rights; the differences between liberalism and neo-liberalism; and so many other topics, one has to have some grounding in actual history.

The assignments indicate the topics into which the course will divide. These topics include colonial regulation of economy, morality and labor; slavery and racism in seventeenth-century Virginia; the Revolution; the Constitution; the legal profession; public lands; native peoples; property law in the early nineteenth century; corporations; women and family; morality and social welfare; criminal justice; antebellum slavery; reconstruction; late-nineteenth-century populism and industrialism; legal education; legal realism; the New Deal; the history of health-care reform; segregation and the road to Brown; and LGBT rights.

The course consists of 28 lectures of 75 minutes each. During the lectures, students should feel free to raise questions and initiate discussion as may be appropriate. Participation in class discussion is on a voluntary basis.

Prior familiarity with U.S. history is not necessary. The lectures and reading will provide whatever extralegal background may be essential, and students should feel free to raise questions in or outside class.

Questions? Ask Professor Russell at

Prerequisites: N/A
Credit Hours: 3
ULW: This course does not satisfy the Upper Level Writing requirement (ULW)

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