America was founded by commercial lawyers with English ideas of rule of law, free contract and rights of individuals. The early charters in the first half of the 17th century were sometimes far ahead of contemporary legal thinking in establishing rights for women and refugees. Slavery, though, was an issue from the start – and not just in the 19th century.
The Lawyers Who Made America: from Jamestown to the White House
£25, Hart Publishing
I was unaware of how the colonies had completely different characteristics depending on who founded them and why. It is amazing that the colonies united to become one nation, all built on English common law and contract.
Arlidge’s well-researched book is about the lawyers – mainly from the colonial to revolutionary period – who were influential in setting up the colonies, negotiating deals and trade, and advocating rights.
In the 17th century England had its own Bill of Rights, but how many people are aware of its existence? In America, constitutional rights are cherished in a way that is unheard of in this country.
America is different in many other ways. There is not much oral argument in the Supreme Court. Most cases are pleaded on paper by legal submissions; judgments are drafted by clerks. I wonder if lawyers achieve so much and more easily in the US because of the single profession. The fact that many US judges often had had their own legal firms at some point in their careers must enhance their role as judges.
Arlidge’s book covers Lincoln (pictured), the civil war and Woodrow Wilson in the last century. Then we have what Americans call the ‘golden age’ of lawyers: Wendell Holmes and Brandeis, followed by Richard Nixon, who was brought down by the law. Lastly we have Obama, who briefly practised.
This book is a fascinating read, about a subject that is well worth a closer look.
We can probably learn a lot about the need to have respect for rights and the rule of law.
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup and Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury