Weekend Reading: Kessler’s Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877

From the blurb for Amalia D. Kessler, Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877 (Yale UP, 2017):

When Americans imagine their legal system, it is the adversarial trial—dominated by dueling larger-than-life lawyers undertaking grand public performances—that first comes to mind. But as award-winning author Amalia Kessler reveals in this engrossing history, it was only in the turbulent decades before the Civil War that adversarialism became a defining American practice and ideology, displacing alternative, more judge-driven approaches to procedure. By drawing on a broad range of methods and sources—and by recovering neglected influences (including from Europe)—the author shows how the emergence of the American adversarial legal culture was a product not only of developments internal to law, but also of wider socioeconomic, political, and cultural debates over whether and how to undertake market regulation and pursue racial equality. As a result, adversarialism came to play a key role in defining American legal institutions and practices, as well as national identity.

H/T Legal History Blog post, noting that Kessler’s book was awarded the 2018 John Phillip Reid Prize by the American Society for Legal History.

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