Republican Law

Christopher Tomlins

in The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199746705
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Republican Law

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  • United States History
  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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The American Revolution gave birth to a republic that would be shaped profoundly by law—specifically, by a revolution in the law. Conceived during the first revolution, Republican law was molded by the second. In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville identified “the spirit of the law” abroad in the republic as an outward—and more importantly a downward—emanation. He was describing what republican law had become, rather than its origins. A legal culture that no longer stood alongside “the people themselves” but over them supplanted what is termed the “exuberant legalism” of the American Revolution. The dominant law of the Revolution was Whig law, the lex loci of the colonies. This chapter examines law in the American Revolution, republican law, legal localism, the science of law, and the science of government.

Keywords: American Revolution; republican law; legal localism; science of law; science of government; spirit of law; Alexis de Tocqueville; exuberant legalism; Whig law

Article.  9766 words. 

Subjects: History ; United States History ; Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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