Atlantic Law

Lauren Benton

in The Oxford Handbook of the Atlantic World

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199210879
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Atlantic Law


In Atlantic history, law functioned as an element of regional formation. Legal practices and discourses circulated widely, and similar patterns of legal politics produced parallel regulatory shifts around the region. This article describes processes contributing to each trend in Atlantic law. It considers some similarities in strategies for extending sovereignty and notes the prominence of often indirect references to Roman law by European sojourners and settlers. It then turns to repeating patterns of legal pluralism, discussing in particular the regional effects of maritime conflicts and of decentralised legal authority, including control over slaves. This point leads to the observation that, particularly in the late eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century, legal conflicts in the Atlantic world stood at the centre of new discourses of imperial, constitutional, and international law. While noting the most salient differences between legal systems within the Atlantic world, the article emphasises shared features contributing to the formation and transformation of an inter-imperial Atlantic legal regime.

Keywords: Atlantic world; law; sovereignty; Roman law; legal pluralism; maritime conflicts; slaves; legal politics; legal authority; international law

Article.  8090 words. 

Subjects: History ; Maritime History

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