In laboring to uncover the legal origins of the American Revolution, historians of law in early America often separated the field from the comparative legal history of empires. William E. Nelson does not explicitly set out to place American colonial legal history in a global context in The Common Law in Colonial America. But in analyzing legal diversity and identifying elements of early legal convergence, Nelson does address key questions within the comparative history of empire and law. This article surveys Nelson’s contributions and places them alongside two other approaches to the study of colonial legal diversity and the constitution of empires. We argue that Nelson’s methodology of comparing colonial legal systems rather than contrasting them to poorly understood trends in English law represents an essential complement to two other novel approaches in the literature on law and empire: the study of processes spanning colonies and the analysis of metropolitan attempts to design an imperial legal order. Taken together, these methods promise to integrate fully the history of colonial American law within a global and comparative history of empire and law. The article thus describes Nelson’s The Common Law in Colonial America as an important contribution to this larger historiographic project.
Lauren Benton & Kathryn Walker,
Law for the Empire: The Common Law in Colonial America and the Problem of Legal Diversity,
Chi.-Kent L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/cklawreview/vol89/iss3/4