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Contract and Consent

Representation and the Jury in Anglo-American Legal History
J. R. Pole

BUY Cloth · 280 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813928616 · $55.00 · Feb 2010
BUY Ebook · 280 pp. · ISBN 9780813928920 · $49.50 · Feb 2010

In Contract and Consent, the renowned legal historian J. R. Pole posits that legal history has become highly specialized, while mainstream political and social historians frequently ignore cases that figure prominently in the legal literature. Pole makes a start at remedying the situation with a series of essays that reintegrate legal with political and social history. A central theme of the essays is the link between Anglo-American common law and contract law and American political and constitutional principles. Pole also emphasizes the political functions of legal institutions in English and American history, going so far as to suggest that we need to divest ourselves of any notion of the separation of powers. Instead, we need to acknowledge the historical role of courts, juries, and the common law as agencies of political representation and as promulgators of law and policy.

Other essays show the implications of independence for American law, and how American political scientists converted the concept of sovereignty from its authoritarian claims in the eighteenth century into a product of the political process in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although the American colonies made their own versions of the common law,there was no simple division between "English" and "American" law. But it was of fundamental importance that an entitled, landed aristocracy was never imported into or allowed to take root in America, with the result that American law was much simpler than its English counterpart, with the latter's accretion of esoteric language and procedures.

Having established the basis of Anglo-American legal history in contract and common law in part one, in the second half of the volume Pole explores various constitutional and legal themes, from bicameralism in Britain and America and the role of the Constitution in the making of American nationality to the performance of representative institutions in the century following the American Revolution.


For almost fifty years, J. R. Pole has been the central contributor in the United Kingdom to the revival of scholarly interest in colonial British America, showing a particular concern to spell out the British roots of American ideas and institutions and the American variations in those inherited ideas and institutions. Contract and Consent illustrates the ways that legal culture deeply informs all aspects of history and takes the history of law out of the technical hands of the modern legal establishment and brings it into the mainstream of Anglo-American historical studies. Contract and Consent is a superb piece of historical analysis and represents a fitting culmination of Pole’s distinguished scholarly career.

Jack P. Greene · author of Interpreting Early America: Historiographical Essays (Virginia)

Contract and Consent will delight scholars in both American and legal history, as well as political theory. Its readers will be in the hands of a very erudite scholar who has had a long time to reflect on the many nuances in the law and its application. The historical detail and astute exploration of the social and political impact of law add a great deal to the whole effect.

Joyce Appleby, author of Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans

About the Author(s): 

J. R. Pole is Rhodes Professor Emeritus of American History and Institutions at St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford.

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