Early American History Seminar: Laura Edwards, Duke University

Early American History and Culture Seminar
Thursday, September 21, 2006

5:30 pm to 7:00 pm

Keeping the Peace: People’s Proximity to Law in the Post-Revolutionary South”
Laura Edwards, Duke University
This is the second chapter in the book manuscript, The People and Their Peace: The Reconstitution of Governance in the American South, 1787–1840. It is the first of three chapters that explore the workings of the localized processes that characterized so much of the legal system at this time. As this chapter shows, this localized system privileged social “order” over individual “rights.” The emphasis on order had several, important implications: it drew a wide range of southerners—including slaves, free blacks, and white women—into the legal system; it encouraged southerners to see “law” as a process for maintaining “order,” however that might be defined; and it meant that the legal system regularly dealt with a wide of issues that would later be labeled “private” and therefore outside the legal system’s reach. The analysis then explores the implications of a social milieu in which so many people approached the legal system with the assumption that their “private” concerns could be—and should be—matters of “public” law and governance.