Skip to main content

Legal and Constitutional History of the United States: Colonial Period to 1850 (318-1-1)


Joanna Lynn Grisinger
847 491 3987
620 Lincoln St #201

Meeting Info

University Hall 101: Tues, Thurs 12:30PM - 1:50PM

Overview of class

This course explores some of the major questions of American legal history from the colonial era to 1850. First, we will examine how and why the American colonies developed their laws and legal institutions, and how these evolved over time. Next, we will explore the legal, political, and social forces that led to the American Revolution, and we will look at how Americans drew on their legal experiences in drafting a constitution. We will then examine how judicial and legislative action guided and enabled explosive economic growth in the nineteenth century. Not everyone was able to participate in the new economy, however; we will explore how the law created separate categories for American Indians, African Americans, and white women that limited their participation in law, politics, and society.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, you should be able to: read, understand, and analyze different kinds of legal texts; understand a variety of legal concepts and doctrines and their meaning in historical context; understand the distinct roles played by different actors (judges, legislatures, lawyers, litigants, voters, etc.) within the legal system; and make cogent, evidence-based arguments about these core themes in law and legal history.

Teaching Method

Discussion Sections, Lecture

Evaluation Method

three papers; class participation

Class Materials (Required)

None. A primary source coursepack and other readings will be available for download via Canvas; students may but are not required to purchase a printed copy of the primary source coursepack at Quartet Copies.

Class Notes

Attendance at first class mandatory

Class Attributes

Historical Studies Distro Area

Associated Classes

DIS - University Hall 121: Fri 10:00AM - 10:50AM

DIS - 555 Clark 230: Fri 11:00AM - 11:50AM

DIS - Parkes Hall 214: Fri 1:00PM - 1:50PM