Law's Imagined Republic shows how the American Revolution was marked by the rapid proliferation of law talk across the colonies. This legal language was both elite and popular, spanned different forms of expression from words to rituals, and included simultaneously real and imagined law. Since it was employed to mobilize resistance against England, the proliferation of revolutionary legal language became intimately intertwined with politics. Drawing on a wealth of material from criminal cases, Steven Wilf reconstructs the intertextual ways Americans from the 1760s through the 1790s read law: reading one case against another and often self-consciously comparing transatlantic legal systems as they thought about how they might construct their own legal system in a new republic. What transformed extraordinary tales of crime into a political forum? How did different ways of reading or speaking about law shape our legal origins? And, ultimately, how might excavating innovative approaches to law in this formative period, which were constructed in the street as well as in the courtroom, alter our usual understanding of contemporary American legal institutions? Law's Imagined Republic tells the story of the untidy beginnings of American law.
Steven Wilf is Joel Barlow Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of The Law Before the Law (2008), which examines how legal systems address the problem of existing law prior to a law-giving moment, and numerous articles in law and history. Professor Wilf's research focuses on intellectual property law, historical jurisprudence, and legal history.
Introduction; 1. Criminal law out-of-doors; 2. 'The language of law is a vulgar tongue'; 3. Local justice, transatlantic justice; 4. The problem of punishment in an age of revolution; 5. The statute imagined; Conclusion.