Take American Legal History with Professor Tom Russell

dredscott portrait from Missouri

Here are some things we discuss:

Slavery: What happened in 1619? What was law’s role in slavery in the colonial period? If you were a lawyer in the 19th-century slaveholding South, what would you do? Why did Americans get upset about the Dred Scott case?


Family: What was the legal situation for women in the colonial period? How did married women manage their lives when they could not hold property nor enter contracts? How did adoption work? What is the history of abortion? Why do we celebrate Pride in June? 


Business: Before the New Deal, was the United States committed to laissez faire? Or before Lochner? Or never? How did Americans go from hating corporations to letting anyone form one? How was it that business interests took over 14th-Amendment jurisprudence in the late 19th century?


Equality: If equality for people was such a great idea in the Declaration of Independence, why does the idea not appear at all in the Constitution? And not until the 14th Amendment?


Crime: Was there ever a commitment to rehabilitation? In the 17th century, persons convicted of crimes were subject to physical torture and humiliation. Has this changed over time? Really?


Legal profession: What is the history of the idea of being a professional? Is the idea something more than wearing business clothing and returning phone calls? What idiot invented the so-called Socratic method?

WARNING: the principal focus of this course is historical documents. These documents are loaded with language and comments related to race, gender, sex, ethnicity, and immigration status. You will read words and Professor Russell will speak words that today are offensive. If these words may offend you, DO NOT TAKE THIS COURSE. For example, if you feel that including Chief Justice Taney’s opinion in Dred Scott in a constitutional law casebook was inappropriate or that law students should not read and professors should not discuss Chief Justice Marshall’s racist stereotypes about native people in Johnson v. McIntosh, then you absolutely should not take this course.

Here is a syllabus for the last time Professor Russell offered this course at Denver Law: https://www.houseofrussell.com/american-legal-history/american-legal-historysprin.html

And here is a syllabus for the version of the course that Professor Russell offered in the spring of 2023 at Washington University in St. Louis: https://www.houseofrussell.com/american-legal-history/wustl-alh-assignments-sprin.pdf

© Thomas D. Russell 2024