How, when, and why did Americans become convinced both that our system of civil justice is adversarial through and through and that adversarialism is normatively desirable? Professor Amalia Kessler’s new book, Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877, locates the answer to these questions in a number of important nineteenth-century U.S. developments, including transformations in equity proceedings and experiments with French-derived institutions known as conciliation courts.
In this Book Review Symposium, Bernadette Meyler introduces these questions and places Kessler’s work in context. Three scholars provide further perspectives on Kessler’s new work: Richard White, Mark Tushnet, and Edward A. Purcell. Kessler culminates the Symposium with a response to their critiques, noting that all three contributors have suggested that lawyers’ successful bid for power is a theme that has repeated itself throughout American history.