In this fascinating book, Henry Sumner Maine demonstrates how legal principles dating back to Ancient Rome have evolved and permeated the modern legal system and society of the United States.
A superb investigation of the roots of law ranging across thousands of years, this work uncovers resemblances between the government of the United States and the government of Ancient Rome. In particular the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are shown to have heavily derived from the Roman Jus Gentium - 'Law of the people'; in a nutshell, the notion of a society 'by the people and for the people' originated in Rome.
At the time Maine published his analysis in the 1860s, the United States had already demonstrated a vast array of differences across its regions and geography. The American Civil War in particular advertised divisions in the overall population. From this, the author draws parallels between the varied localities of North America, and the wide-ranging cultures and peoples that populated the Roman Empire, noting that the federal legal system of both societies is a standard that could be effectively applied to such a vast, disparate area.
The author rightly notes that the Founding Fathers were educated and versed in the tenets of classical law. Thomas Jefferson in particular was widely read on the subject, and this study greatly influenced the content of the Independence era. In addition, Sumner aptly notes that while antiquity saw people were bound by tight-knit tradition, the modern day was home to individualism; increasingly, people were forming contracts and associations over great distances.
Henry Sumner Maine was a renowned legal scholar who taught law in Cambridge University in England. As a jurist, professor and historian of law he was one of the most respected legal minds of the 19th century. He was consulted by both the British and American governments for advice on legal matters; through these associations, and personal study, he was able to put together this classic work of history.