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The Common Law of Colonial AmericaVolume I: The Chesapeake and New England 1607-1660$
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William E. Nelson

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195327281

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327281.001.0001

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The Future of American Law

(p.125) 7 CONCLUSION
The Common Law of Colonial America

William E. Nelson (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

By 1660, two regional bodies of law had begun to emerge in the continental English colonies—one in the North and one in the South. The North's law was more egalitarian; the South's, more hierarchical. The South treated its underclasses brutally, with the economic interest of the master class as the sole restraint on that brutality. The men of the North may not always have treated their women, children, or servants kindly, but the law required them to display greater moderation. The South's economy depended on the export of a cash crop, and its law reflected that economic reality. New England law, in contrast, promoted family farms in tight-knit communities. But elements of English common law were in use everywhere in America, and the common legal culture that all the colonists shared had begun to set them on a common political course.

Keywords:   cash crop, common law, egalitarian, family farms, hierarchical, North, South

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