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Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture 1800-1877

Amalia D. Kessler
Yale University Press
2017
A highly engaging account of the developments—not only legal, but also socioeconomic, political, and cultural—that gave rise to Americans’ distinctively lawyer-driven legal culture

When Americans imagine their legal system, it is the adversarial trial—dominated by dueling larger-than-life lawyers undertaking grand public performances—that first comes to mind. But as award-winning author Amalia Kessler reveals in this engrossing history, it was only in the turbulent decades before the Civil War that adversarialism became a defining American practice and ideology, displacing alternative, more judge-driven approaches to procedure. By drawing on a broad range of methods and sources—and by recovering neglected influences (including from Europe)—the author shows how the emergence of the American adversarial legal culture was a product not only of developments internal to law, but also of wider socioeconomic, political, and cultural debates over whether and how to undertake market regulation and pursue racial equality. As a result, adversarialism came to play a key role in defining American legal institutions and practices, as well as national identity.

 

Amalia D. Kessler is the Lewis Talbot and Nadine Hearn Shelton Professor of International Legal Studies at Stanford University and winner of the American Historical Association’s J. Russell Major Prize for A Revolution in Commerce.