May 22, 2009
HLS Professor Bruce H. Mann marked his appointment to the Carl F. Schipper, Jr. Professorship of Law with a lecture on Wednesday, May 13, in the Caspersen Room in Langdell Library.
A legal historian who studies the relationship among law, economy and society in early America and who also teaches Property and Trusts and Estates, Mann presented his current research in a lecture entitled “Revolutionary Justice: Law and Society in the American Revolution.”
“Legal histories of the eighteenth century invariably stop when the Revolution begins and resume only after the Revolution has safely ended,” said Mann, who noted that no one has studied the roles law played in the daily lives of people during the war itself. “People hardly stopped trading with one another, assaulting one another or cheating one another just because there was a war going on.”
According to Mann, the war affected different parts of the country in different ways at different times and with different intensities as theaters of military action shifted from one part of the country to another. He noted that while the British occupied some cities, such as New York, Newport and Savannah, for years, other areas faced less disruption. In a talk interspersed with humor, Mann said: “Connecticut, they merely raided, burning the occasional town. New Jersey, they swept through a couple of times, although, like today, New Jersey was more a corridor than a destination.”
Mann noted that during the war law and violence were never very far apart. Recognizing this, he said, is key to understanding “the many diverse ways in which people in the Revolution tried to hold on to, refashion, and reinvent law and legal order.” Courts throughout the new states were suspended and not restored until there were new, formally constituted governments that could authorize them to resume. “Even in the middle of war and occupation,” Mann said, “Americans tried to give legal legitimacy to their actions.”
Mann discussed the provisional measures states took until civil authority could be restored—the committees of safety, which had limited judicial authority in the absence of formal courts, and, in New York, the Committees for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, which had subpoena power, the authority to proceed in secret if they chose to, and the authority to call out the militia to arrest “such persons whom they shall judge dangerous to the safety of the State.”
Mann also discussed the Courts of Police appointed by the British military governors of New York, which had broad civil and criminal jurisdiction and sat without juries. Ironically, loyalists disliked these courts nearly as much as they did the Committees for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies—one ostensibly created to serve them, and the other created to root them out. In addition, he discussed the courts that eventually reopened and how their dockets reflected the progress of the war. The restoration of courts before the threat of military action subsided, Mann said, makes “a powerful statement of the commitment to civil and legal order.”
Prior to joining HLS, Mann taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Washington University in St. Louis, and the universities of Connecticut, Houston, Texas, and Michigan, and in the history department at Princeton. He is an award-winning teacher, whose five teaching awards include the university-wide Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching at Penn. He did his undergraduate study at Brown and received a J.D. and Ph.D. in history from Yale.
His most recent book, “Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence” (Harvard University Press, 2002), received the SHEAR Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, the Littleton-Griswold Prize from the American Historical Association, and the J. Willard Hurst Prize from the Law and Society Association.
His other publications include “Neighbors and Strangers: Law and Community in Early Connecticut” (University of North Carolina Press, 1987) and a volume of essays entitled “The Many Legalities of Early America,” (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), which he edited with Christopher L. Tomlins, in addition to articles and essays in various history journals and law reviews.
He is a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society. He is a long-time member of the advisory council of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies in Philadelphia and, more recently, of the Administrative Committee of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard.
The Carl F. Schipper Jr. Professorship of Law was established in 1990 by the estate of Carl F. Schipper Jr. ’29, along with his sister Ann S. Colburn. A longtime partner at Goodwin, Procter & Hoar in Boston, Schipper specialized in the areas of probate and estate planning. He was a member of the American College of Probate Counsel and served as chairman of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the American Bar Association from 1960 to 1961. In endowing the chair, Shipper specified, that “each individual selected to hold the professorship shall preferably have as a primary interest teaching, scholarship, and studies in the practice of estate planning, probate, or trust law or in fields in which these disciplines play an important role.”
Mann is the second person to hold the Schipper chair. HLS Professor David Westfall held it from 1996 until his death in December 2005.