- Surveying the Fields
"Surveying the Fields" provides JER readers with an opportunity to get a big-picture view of the innovations taking place in one of the many subfields that makes up the study of the early republic. In this essay, Laura F. Edwards guides us through new literature from legal history, scholarship that will surprise those of us who have not paid close attention.
Starting with the most quotidian of events—a fight between women in New York City over a sheet—Edwards delves into why legal matters infused all aspects of life in the early republic. Why were married women, ostensibly "covered" by their husbands' patriarchal legal rights under coverture, able to advance their causes in court? How does this bear on the legal wranglings of so many African Americans, both free and enslaved, who likewise took their causes to court? Edwards' assessment of the state of the field demonstrates that legal history has come a long way from simply being preoccupied with the history of the state. Instead, as she shows, historians of the early republic will do well to readjust our assumptions about the place of the law and its relative accessibility by all kinds of people, for this new literature will surely have an effect on our research. [End Page 119]