John Adams thought that James Otis set the whole American Revolution in motion in 1761. Otis’ argument against writs of assistance, in a legal case that year, Adams wrote, “was the first scene of the first Act of opposition to the Arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the Child Independence was born.” Of course, Adams also though that July 2nd would be the most famous date in history. So forgive me for at least questioning Adams’ view that the “Writs of Assistance Case” basically jumpstarted the Revolution. That said, I do think the evidence base for the “Writs of Assistance Case” suggests that it was a major turning point in the development of the colonial legal profession. Picking up on themes in yesterday’s guest post by Craig Hanlon, the case may help make sense of the connections between legal professionalization and the American Revolution. Continue reading
Two weeks ago, 175 historians descended upon the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) in Boston for a three-day conference that considered the political, social, economic, and global parameters of the American Revolution. The conference consisted of eight panels (with pre-circulated papers), two keynotes, and some special presentations on digital projects. The conference proceedings were live-tweeted under #RevReborn2, and fellow Juntoist Joseph Adelman provided some live coverage on the blog. The Junto has also had some post-conference commentaries, including “You Say You Want a Revolution” by Joseph Adelman and “The Suddenness of the Alteration: Some Afterthoughts on #RevReborn2” by Michael Hattem.
The Omohundro Institute and the University of Southern California-Huntington Library Early Modern Studies Institute are pleased to announce the tenth in a series of William and Mary Quarterly-EMSI workshops designed to identify and encourage new trends in understanding the history and culture of early North America and its wider world.
Participants will attend a two-day meeting at the Huntington Library (May 29–30, 2015) to discuss a precirculated chapter-length portion of their current work in progress along with the work of other participants. Subsequently, the convener may write an essay elaborating on the issues raised at the workshop for publication in the William and Mary Quarterly. The convener of this year’s workshop is Sarah Barringer Gordon of the University of Pennsylvania. Continue reading
Today’s guest post is by Emily Merrill, a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on issues of gender and military history in the British Atlantic world during the 18th century. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Judging Empire: British Military Courts and the Politics of the Body.”
One of the most provocative aspects of the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black is the way it grapples with the issue of class (as well as race, gender, and sexuality) as it relates to the contemporary American penal system. By contrasting the prison experiences of the main character, Piper, an upper middle class white woman, with those of a range of working class and minority characters, the show invites a deeper reflection on the complex ways in which class divisions help shape and organize a supposedly impartial system of justice. In my own research on British military courts during the Revolutionary War, I have found that class, specifically the divide between officers and enlisted men, also helped determine crucial aspects of the military justice system. Continue reading
Today’s guest poster is Sara Damiano, a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation is entitled, “Gender, Law, and the Culture of Credit in New England, 1730-1790.”
As we plunge into syllabus-writing season, I would like to contribute to The Junto’s ongoing conversation on teaching with primary sources. (Joseph Adelman and Glenda Goodman have previously written on favorite sources in the survey and on music in the classroom, respectively.) I’m a historian of gender and law, so I would like to make the argument for including legal sources in our syllabi, even for courses that aren’t explicitly focused on legal history. By way of illustration, I would also like to recommend one of my favorite legal history sources for teaching: the 1640 trial of Ann Hibbens before the First Church of Boston.
We should read each legal document according to the plain sense of the text: the sense that was understood by its authors, or perhaps by the people by whose authority it became law. The task of interpretation is, in essence, a historical one. It should be concerned with past realities, not present conjectures. That is as compelling a definition of originalism as I can muster.
I’m not going to get into originalism deeply here. I just wanted to share a few lines from the pen of Alexander Hamilton. There’s a point where the argument for originalism folds in upon itself logically: the point where originalist historians and lawyers want to show that the authors or ratifiers of the original text intended or understood it to be interpreted according to its original intent or meaning. Originalist historiography then becomes a historiography of originalism itself. Lawyers, in my small experience, tend to like this, because they like doing the history of other lawyers. Continue reading