• 2017 Symposium

Inventing American Exceptionalism

Book Review Symposium

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.

Symposium Essays

Introduction

Book Review Symposium on Inventing American Exceptionalism

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 highly engaging and dauntingly erudite new book, Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877, locates the answer to these questions in a…

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Contextualizing Inventing American Exceptionalism

Amalia Kessler’s Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877 is a stunning legal history that is even richer than the author may have intended. I would not have thought that an analysis of the oral adversarial tradition in American law could provide the larger insights that her book does. This is…

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The Lawyer/Judge as Republican Hero

Introduction Inventing American Exceptionalism tells a two-sided story. On one side is the replacement of the distinctive inquisitorial processes of equity courts with the adversarial ones of common-law courts. The equity courts relied heavily on taking testimony in writing and in secret, freezing the record so that parties could not shape their evidence in light…

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Exploring the Origins of America’s ‘Adversarial’ Legal Culture

Introduction Amalia D. Kessler’s Inventing American Exceptionalism is a tour de force of historical imagination, analysis, and synthesis. Asking fresh questions that open new vistas of understanding, her book illustrates some of the complex ways that social factors shape legal thinking on matters ranging from arcane procedural technicalities to fundamental institutional assumptions. Changing social and…

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Continuities, Ruptures, and Causation in the History of American Legal Culture

Henry Vanderlyn, an antebellum lawyer from the small town of Oxford, New York, whom I discuss in Inventing American Exceptionalism, kept a daily diary for a thirty-year period and was in the habit of regaling visitors with selected readings from his collected thoughts. Confident that his visitors eagerly attended to his every word, Vanderlyn never…

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Past Symposia