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Property and Progress: Antebellum Landscape Art and Property Law

Alfred L. Brophy

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law

August 8, 2008

Landscape art in the antebellum era (the period before the American Civil War, 1861-1865), often depicts the role of humans on the landscape. Humans appear as hunters, settlers, and travelers and human structures appear as well, from rude paths, cabins, mills, bridges, and canals to railroads and telegraph wires. Those images parallel cases, treatises, orations, essays, and fictional literature that discuss property's role in fostering economic and moral development. The images also parallel developments in property doctrine, particularly related to adverse possession, mistaken improvers, nuisance, and eminent domain.

Some of the conflicts in property rights that gripped antebellum thought also appear in paintings, including ambivalence about progress, concern over development of land, and fear of the excesses of commerce. The concerns about wealth, as well as the concerns about the lack of control through law, appear at various points. Other paintings celebrate intellectual, moral, technological, and economic progress. The paintings thus remind us of how antebellum Americans understood property, as they struggled with the changes in the role of property from protection of individual autonomy of the eighteenth century to the promotion of economic growth in the nineteenth century.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 41

Keywords: property, landscape, legal history, nineteenth century literature, idea of progress,

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Date posted: August 9, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Brophy, Alfred L., Property and Progress: Antebellum Landscape Art and Property Law (August 8, 2008). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1212663 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1212663

Contact Information

Alfred L. Brophy (Contact Author)
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law ( email )
Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-4128 (Phone)

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