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Chapter Fifty-Six. Law: continuity and reform

J. R. Pole

Subject History, Law

Place Northern America » United States of America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405116749.2003.00059.x


When the Continental Congress severed the American connection with Great Britain, the individual states, claiming to have succeeded to British sovereignty, assumed the full power to make domestic laws for America. This meant that there were now fourteen law-making authorities (including the Congress, when it adopted general interstate measures); but the laws passed by the former colonial assemblies differed significantly among themselves. Since English common law had been adopted by all the colonies, the new state legislatures had to decide not only what new laws to make, but what to retain of the common law heritage. Parliament also had enacted statutes affecting the colonies (some of these had precipitated the colonial revolt); and assembly laws had always been subject to disallowance by the British privy council in the name of the crown if they infringed the royal prerogative or were held to be contrary to British imperial policy. In fact the crown recognized most colonial legislation as meeting local interests; but these factors reminded the colonists that they had never been their own legal masters. Now that the old colonies were new states, it would have been both impractical and unnecessary to abolish all existing laws that were stamped with British authority; such a policy would have caused both moral and legal chaos; it would also have been pointless, since the colonies ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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