"Law in America is a little gem. It is a peerless introduction to our legal history-concise, clear, tellingly told, and beautifully written. The greatest living historian of American law has done it again." -Stanley N. Katz, former president of the American Society for Legal History and the Organization of American Historians "All societies have laws, but neither all laws nor all legal systems are alike. No one has thought more deeply or written more clearly about the peculiar role of law in American life than Lawrence Friedman. In this trenchant, illuminating book, he distills a lifetime of scholarship and teaching into a concise and provocative explanation of the role that law has played in shaping the distinctive contours of American history and culture." -David M. Kennedy, professor of history at Stanford University and author of Freedom from Fear Throughout America's history, our laws have been a reflection of who we are, of what we value, of who has control. They embody our society's genetic code.
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October 11, 2004
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Excerpt from Law in America by Lawrence M. Friedman
At my university (Stanford) I teach a course to undergraduates called Introduction to American Law. On my way to class, on the first day the class usually meets at nine o clock, and it is a tough assignment to keep the students awake I buy a copy of the Chronicle, the morning newspaper from San Francisco. When I begin the class, after the first few announcements and the like, I wave the paper in front of the class, and read some of the headlines. The point I want to get across to the students is that every domestic story in the front part of the newspaper, before you get to the recipes and the comics and the sports pages, has a legal angle has some connection with the legal system. Of course, I have no control over the newspaper, but the trick never fails. Almost invariably, every story about public life in the United States, or private life interesting enough to get into the newspaper, will mention a law, a legal proposal, a bill in Congress or in the state legislature, or something a judge, a policeman, a court, a lawyer has done or said; or some statement from the president or other high officials, in any case always about some affair or situation or event done by, with, through, or against the law. In the world we live in the country we live in almost nothing has more impact on our lives, nothing is more entangled with our everyday existence, than that something we call the law. This is a startling fact; and it gets the students attention as it should.
Why is it the case that the newspapers are so full of material about the legal system. What makes law so central to American society Where does all this law come from Is all of this emphasis on law and legal matters good for the country, or is it a sign of some deep-seated pathology What is American law, and how did it get this way These questions are the subject of this short book. What I am trying to do is provide a historical introduction to American law or, perhaps more accurate, to American legal culture; or, perhaps, to the spirit of American law, and how it has related, over time, to American society in general.
Before we go any further, I have to say a word or two about the definition of law. There are, in fact, many ways to define this elusive term, and many ways to describe what we mean by law