The Many Legalities of Early America

Edited by Christopher L. Tomlins, Bruce H. Mann

480 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 tables, 2 maps, 3 figs., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4964-4
    Published: May 2001
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-3908-9
    Published: December 2012

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Buy this Book

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Awards & distinctions

Includes the Western History Association's 2002 Bolton-Kinnaird prize winning essay by James Brooks

This collection of seventeen original essays reshapes the field of early American legal history not by focusing simply on law, or even on the relationship between law and society, but by using the concept of "legality" to explore the myriad ways in which the people of early America ordered their relationships with one another, whether as individuals, groups, classes, communities, or states.

Addressing issues of gender, ethnicity, family, patriarchy, culture, and dependence, contributors explore the transatlantic context of early American law, the negotiation between European and indigenous legal cultures, the multiple social contexts of the rule of law, and the transformation of many legalities into an increasingly uniform legal culture. Taken together, these essays reveal the extraordinary diversity and complexity of the roots of early America's legal culture.

Contributors are Mary Sarah Bilder, Holly Brewer, James F. Brooks, Richard Lyman Bushman, Christine Daniels, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, David Barry Gaspar, Katherine Hermes, John G. Kolp, David Thomas Konig, James Muldoon, William M. Offutt Jr., Ann Marie Plane, A. G. Roeber, Terri L. Snyder, and Linda L. Sturtz.

About the Authors

Christopher L. Tomlins is a senior research fellow at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago.
For more information about Christopher L. Tomlins, visit the Author Page.

Bruce H. Mann is professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania.
For more information about Bruce H. Mann, visit the Author Page.


"More impressive even than the range of places and peoples the essays address is the variety of approaches to 'legality.' . . . A book whose aggregate argument makes it not just good and interesting but essential."--Journal of American History

"These authors have found a rich, complex world that offers great promise for future scholarship. That they brought together a series of essays on such disparate subjects and presented a central thesis in such a compelling manner is a tribute to the quality of the conference, the authors' scholarship, and the editors' skill."--Journal of the Early Republic

"The Many Legalities of Early America is an important contribution to legal history, marking a maturing of the scholarship as it directs our attention to a number of interesting new areas of research."--Law and History Review

"Tomlins and Mann have succeeded where most have failed. The Many Legalities of Early America demonstrates the remarkable growth not just of our knowledge of how law worked in colonial society, but of how the concepts and practices of legality gave meaning to the colonial experience. This is a rich volume that will stand for some time as the single most important text on the relation of law to life in our early history."--Stanley N. Katz, Princeton University

"A giant step forward! By conceptualizing legal issues as social and political legalities, these essays add a new dimension to the study of early American law and make it accessible to all historians. They lay the basis for a new and more inclusive synthesis of the colonial experience."--James Henretta, University of Maryland

"The Many Legalities of Early America disrupts much that we thought we knew about early