Civil law’s influence on early United States law

It is a law-school maxim today that the United States is a common-law country, while most of Europe uses civil law: English-derived common law has as its most basic tenet the binding nature of judicial precedent, while Roman-derived civil law privileges statutes. But the more I investigate the history and details of each, the more clear it becomes to me that the United States, at least, owes (almost?) as much of its legal system to civil law as it does to “pure” common law.

Civil law’s influence on American common law: the appeal

In “Salamanders and Sons of God,” an article in The Many Legalities of Early America, Mary Sarah Bilder writes about the “Culture of Appeal in Early New England,” and situates the embrace of the right to appeal by New Englanders within the larger English and Roman legal tradition.

Going beyond national legal histories

“Lived history,” writes Bender, “is embedded in a plenitude of narratives. … [O]ver time, different themes or concepts, different narratives, will be deemed significant and emphasized” (page 1). The “plenitude of narratives” is formed by the stories historians tell about the past, by people at the time speaking and living their own experiences, by groups (ethnicities, races, classes, nations, cities) sharing common understandings, and is thus never simple nor unitary.

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