The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800–1926


The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 is the most comprehensive full-text collection of Anglo-American legal treatises available today. Sourced from the world's foremost law libraries, this archive covers nearly every aspect of American and British law and encompasses a range of analytical, theoretical and practical literature for research in United States and British legal history.  It features casebooks, local practice manuals, form books, works for lay readers, pamphlets, letters, speeches and other works from the most influential writers and key legal thinkers of the time.

English authors include:

  • Edward Coke
  • William Blackstone
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • John Stuart Mill
  • James Fitzjames
  • Stephen F.W. Maitland

American authors include:

  • James Kent
  • Joseph Story
  • Salmon P.Chase
  • Oliver Wendall Holmes
  •  Roscoe Pound
  •  Benjamin Cardozo

The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 provides the resources necessary to trace the evolution of historical and contemporary legal study in the U.S. and Britain during these periods of monumental changes.  It provides researchers with a logical, interdisciplinary approach to the study of modern law and allows a vast segment of the literature of law to be quickly searched by specific keywords or phrases, full text, author, title, date, subject, source library and more.

Significance:  A legal treatise is a monograph or other writing about the law, rather than a transcript of statutes or cases. Legal treatises are not trial transcripts, state documents, collections of laws, or judicial reports. They are secondary source materials that analyze and examine the law, usually a specific law or subject area, encompassing a range of analytical, theoretical, and practical literature. Legal treatises are of great interest to scholars and researchers of domestic and international law, legal history, business and economics, politics and government, national defense, criminology, religion, education, labor and social welfare and military justice.

While there is an extensive body of literature of legal treatises from U.S. and British jurisdictions, most older law libraries have incomplete collections. Furthermore, many law schools were established after World War II and were weak in historical material. In the 1970s, interest in U.S. and British legal history increased significantly. Law schools realized this demand and added courses devoted to legal history, but libraries lacked many of the sources necessary to support legal-history instruction and scholarship. The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 now makes it possible for any library to support research into American and British legal history.  It brings all the important works from one of the most important periods of legal development into one comprehensive, digital collection with the power of full-text searching.

The nineteenth century was a period of irrevocable economic, political and social change throughout the old and new worlds. Governments and private institutions alike struggled to come to terms with the impact of the Industrial Revolution, with the tides of social revolution and with a world torn between the promise of technology and the instability of change.

Nowhere were these changes more visible than in the legal system. In Britain, feudal concepts and procedures gave way to more modern forms. As the Industrial Revolution transformed British society, the common law began to touch a greater number of citizens. In the United States, the English legal heritage was soon transformed into the system required by the burgeoning industrial democracy.

While some roots of the common law — such as the origin of the jury system — lie further in the past, the nineteenth century is the source of many modern doctrines. The merger of law and equity and the procedural reforms in English law of this time laid to rest the old common law forms of action and permitted the growth of modern legal concepts such as property, tort and contract.

The Industrial Revolution created new fields of law: railroads, business corporations, labor law. American individualism can be traced through many Constitutional developments. The greatest constitutional crisis of the century — the American Civil War — was the crucible from which emerged many current concepts of civil rights: due process, equal protection of the laws.

The century witnessed an explosion in legal literature. New legislators were required to cope with many aspects of modern life and the amount of case law grew by staggering proportions, particularly in the late half of the century. In 1810, only 18 volumes of American reports had been published. By mid-century, there were 800 and by 1900 about 8,000. Lawyers and law professors increased their output of treatises (writings about the law) in order to gain an overview of the law and to cope with its complexity and rapid change.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, American lawyers had little indigenous law. They turned avidly to English text for principles. Works by Blackstone, Chitty and other English writers went through many American editions until gradually the American annotations superseded the original sources.

Legal treatises from the nineteenth century encompass the vast range of practical literature produced in the century, from Sullivan's History of the Land Titles in Massachusetts (1801) to Keasbey's Law of Electric Wires in Streets and Highways (1892). The collection contains work by the most influential writers of the time and takes the form of casebooks, local practice manuals, pamphlets, letters, trade publications, and a wide range of materials on legal and general history.

Many legal monographs were published in the century, covering every aspect of law. But the number of copies printed and circulated was often limited, and the numbers retained by libraries was even smaller. The main body of these materials is no longer available in reprints. As a result, very few law libraries, especially those founded after 1945, contain significant holdings of these materials.

The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 has opened up nineteenth century legal history to researchers everywhere.  In addition, this collection covers the most significant and influential legal writers, trends, cases and materials of the early 20th century.  The addition of this portion of material was an important development for Anglo-American legal scholarship as access to these materials in their original form was increasingly difficult for modern scholars. The material permits the continuing study of legal development after the nineteenth century, and illuminates the origins of many topics that arose in the twentieth century.


With the full-text search capabilities on the facsimile pages, researchers can conduct precise searches and comparative research in every area of law.

The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 was derived from two essential reference collections for historical and more contemporary legal studies — the Nineteenth Century and Twentieth Century Legal Treatises microfilm collections, published by Gale imprint Primary Source Microfilm. The majority of Nineteenth Century Legal Treatises were compiled from Harvard Law School Library, which has the largest collection of American and British legal treatises. Yale University, York University and Columbia University provided additional titles. Most of the titles for Twentieth Century Legal Treatises were sourced from Harvard Law School Library and Yale University, but 21 other institutions in the United States and Britain also contributed small numbers of titles.

The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 is based on both bibliographic sources and advisor/selector recommendations. There is no one definitive bibliographic source for legal treatises; indeed, The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 may well comprise the only definitive bibliographic source of this type of material. The following bibliographic sources, combined with a number of key articles in the Law Library Journal by other bibliographers, all contributed to create a comprehensive road map to U.S. and British legal treatises:

  • Maxwell, W. Harold and Leslie F. Maxwell (comps.) A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations. 2nd ed. London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1955–64, 7 vols. Currently published as Sweet and Maxwell's Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations. 2nd ed. London: Rees, 1989–
  • Sweet & Maxwell's Complete Law Book Catalogue. London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1925–1949. 7 vols.
  • Wallach, Kate, "The Publication of Legal Treatises in American from 1800–1830." Law Library Journal. Vol. 45. Pp. 136-48.
  • Parish, Jenni. "Law Books and Legal Publishing in America, 1760–1840." Law Library Journal. Vol. 72. Pp. 355-452
  • Cohen, Morris L. Bibliography of Early American Law. Buffalo, N.Y. : W.S. Hein & Co., 1998. 6 v.
  • Taylor, Betty W., and Robert J. Munro. American Law Publishing, 1860–1900. Dobbs Ferry, NY : Glanville Publications, c1984. 4 v.

Key advisors to the collection included David Ferris, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Harvard Law Library; Morris L. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Law and Professional Lecturer in Law, and former Librarian of the Yale Law School Library; and Balfour Halevy, former Law Librarian at York University.

Structure:  The contents of The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 have been categorized into 99 subject classifications. Each title is assigned a subject number from 1 to 99, based on the Harvard classification system, covering almost every aspect of American and British law and including: 

Bankruptcy CopyrightJurisprudence Natural resourcesSuccession, trusts & estates
BiographyCriminal lawLabor & social welfare Patents and trademarksTorts
Business law Economic policyLegal history Public property
Constitutional lawInternational lawMilitary justiceReligion

The collection is organized into separate units of British and American Treatises, enabling users to trace the evolution of modern law in Great Britain, Ireland and the United States.


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