A Government of Laws Not of Precedents 1776-1876: The Google Challenge to Common Law Myth
British Journal of American Legal Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 141, 2015
115 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2015 Last revised: 14 Oct 2015
Date Written: April 21, 2015
Conventional wisdom holds that the United States is a common law country of precedents where, until the 20th century (the “Age of Statutes”), statutes had little role. Digitization by Google and others of previously hard to find legal works of the 19th century challenges this common law myth. At the Centennial in 1876 Americans celebrated that “The great fact in the progress of American jurisprudence…is its tendency towards organic statute law and towards the systematizing of law; in other words, towards written constitutions and codification.” This article tests the claim of the Centennial Writers of 1876 and finds it credible.
Keywords: common law, statutes, precedents, constitutions, written laws, civics, English law, 4th of July, codes, codification, revised statutes, legislation, government of laws, rule of law, David Dudley Field, Jefferson, John Madison, Joseph Story, James Wilson, Lincoln, systematizing
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