Transforming a Field: The Critical Tradition in American Legal History

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



In his 1977 review of The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860, John Phillip Reid likened Morton Horwitz to a mute hierophant, who, along with his fellow iconoclasts Robert Cover and Jerold Auerbach, had invaded the temple of legal history. Reid called on legal historians and lawyers to drive them out. They have smashed the fetishes, blotted out the frescoes, and desecrated the tombs. If we do not force them to the evidence, they will even desacralize Clio. As Reid lamented, Horwitz's brilliant first book marked the beginning of a new era for the field of American legal history. Analyzing antebellum judges' instrumental use of private-law decisions to make economic policy benefitting merchant and entrepreneurial groups, The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 offered a powerful rebuke to legal history's orthodox high priests. More than forty years later, Transformations in American Legal History: Essays in Honor of Professor Morton J. Horwitz, the first of two volumes of a festschrift edited by Daniel W. Hamilton and Alfred L. Brophy, demonstrates how much the field of legal history has changed since Horwitz invaded the temple. This festschrift is a loving testament to Horwitz's impact as a scholar and teacher. The seventeen original essays by his students demonstrate that he has always cared deeply about history and historiography.

Publication Citation

38 Rev. Am. Hist. 247 (2010) (reviewing 1 Transformation in American Legal History: Essays in Honor of Professor Morton J. Horwitz (Daniel W. Hamilton & Alfred L. Brophy eds., 2009)).