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James Barr Ames and the Early Modern History of Unjust Enrichment

Posted: 29 Feb 2008  

Andrew Kull

Boston University - Pappas Law Library

Date Written: 2005


The modern conception of unjust enrichment as a source of private obligation, and as the basis of today`s law of restitution, is usually traced to the American Law Institute`s Restatement of Restitution (1937). But the Restatement`s most significant innovation-its unified treatment of law and equity, presenting quasi-contract and constructive trust as alternative responses to the problem of unjust enrichment-merely put the ALI imprimatur on discoveries announced some fifty years earlier by James Barr Ames of the Harvard Law School. Ames`s propositions about unjust enrichment had found steadily increasing acceptance in the intervening decades, and by the time the Restatement was drafted they represented American academic orthodoxy. The law of restitution has been notoriously slow in developing, but its modern era is approximately half a century older than is generally supposed.

Suggested Citation

Kull, Andrew, James Barr Ames and the Early Modern History of Unjust Enrichment ( 2005). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 25, Issue 2, pp. 297-319, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Andrew Kull (Contact Author)

Boston University - Pappas Law Library ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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