Equality for Some

Shortly after the Revolution, new principles emerged that permeated all of society, from government institutions to societal norms to family life. Egalitarianism spread to families. The family became an “autonomous private institution whose members had their own legal rights and identities.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 500 citing Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century […]

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Early American Punishment

By the time the United States declared its independence, capital punishment was common for murder, robbery, forgery, housebreaking, and counterfeiting. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 492. Some states had as many as two dozen crimes designated for capital punishment. Id. Further, “[e]xecution of the condemned criminals were conducted in public, and they drew thousands of spectators.” Id. The early […]

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Tyranny Founded on Ignorance

The early Republic were the years where American civil society was developing its own distinctive character. One component of that civil society was the newly created educational institutions, which many early Americans viewed as one of the safeguards against the dangerous ignorance that was supposed to allow a monarchy to continue. For example, Simeon Doggett […]

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A Small Key to a Big Door

The Supreme Court of the United States, led by Chief Justice John Marshall made a crucial decision in Dartmouth College v. Woodward in 1819. This decision resulted “in placing all private corporations under the protection of the United States Constitution.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 466. The vast majority of corporations thus were “no longer exclusive monopolies,” but […]

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The Assertive Judiciary

In the early years of the Republic, there was an itching for reformation of the systems and processes that had come to define colonial life. This reformation began with “enactment of an increasing number of laws.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 405. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led this movement of reformation. While they and […]

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A Most Flawed Inheritance

Prior to the Revolution, the colonists relied on a court system with royally appointed judges that served indefinitely “during good behavior,” which ultimately meant that judges would hold office so long as the crown was pleased with them. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 400. This led to the colonists ultimately associating the judiciary with the “resented […]

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The First Casualties

The friction between the Native Americans and colonizing settlers is well documented and known. However, the general policy underlying that friction is perhaps best captured by Thomas Jefferson’s perspective on the subject: “let the natural demographic growth and movement of white Americans take their course.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 398. Jefferson believed that this would […]

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