American Legal History, AMH 3558

MWF 3rd Period

Turlington 2336


Professor Elizabeth Dale

Office 224 Keene Flint



Office Hours:

M 11:00-noon

W 11:00-noon

F 11:00-noon

And by appointment


Focus of the class

This class will look at the legal history of the United States from the 17th century to the last decades of the 20th century. Because legal history is a huge topic, we will be focusing chiefly on the history of criminal and quasi-criminal (that is, regulatory) laws. This will let us see how law and society influence one another, trace the role of constitutional and other influences on criminal justice, and see how ideas of law changed over time.


We will be reading a mix of materials. Much of it will be legal materials: court opinions, excerpts from trial transcripts, and statutes. We will supplement that with some readings from historical studies that put particular trials in their historical context.



The following materials are required; you should be able to buy them at the University Bookstore, or through an online source like


Hall, et al., American Legal History (4th ed.)

Kawashima, King Philip’s War

Burnett, Trying Leviathan

Green, Death in the Haymarket

Gage, The Day Wall Street Exploded


At times we will be using online materials. Some of these sources are from the Famous Trials website, prepared by Douglas Linder at UMKC, other materials will come from other sources. You will find links to the online materials we will be working with in the schedule below.


In addition, students who are not history majors (or history majors who would like some background) may wish to purchase Hall, et al., The Magic Mirror (2d ed.). This book is recommended but not required.


Assignments and grading

1st written assignment (8-10 pages)                                  25%

2d written assignment (8-10 pages)                                  25%

Take home final (8-10 pages)                                           25%

Class participation*                                                           25%


*Please note: This is not an attendance grade, this is a participation grade. Students who rarely or never participate in discussion will receive no higher than a C- for participation, regardless of how often they come to class.

Grading is on the following scale:





























Assignments are due on the day set out in the syllabus, at the start of class. Late work will not be accepted without penalty.  Papers turned in late will be graded down, as follows: Papers turned in after class on the day due will be graded down one half grade. Papers turned in a day late will be lowered one full grade (from a B to a C). Papers turned in two days late will be lowered two full grades (from a B to a D) and so on.


Sometimes events intervene that make it impossible to turn material in on time. If this occurs, you must notify me before class (email is fine) and we can work out some arrangement. I will require official documentation to schedule any make-up assignments.


In writing papers, be certain to give proper credit whenever you use words, phrases, ideas, arguments, and conclusions drawn from someone else’s work.  Failure to give credit by quoting and/or footnoting is PLAGIARISM and is unacceptable. Copying work written by someone else is also unacceptable. Please review UF’s honesty policy, which is available on my website at or at


Students requesting classroom accommodation must first register with the Dean of Students Office (  The Dean of Students Office will provide documentation to the student who must then provide this documentation to the instructor when requesting accommodation.


Week 1

Monday, August 22

Introduction to the course

Wednesday, August 24

American Legal History (ALH): pp. 3-5

Friday, August 26

ALH: pp. 7-12

Week 2

Monday, August 29

ALH: pp. 51-55; 56-57; 62

Wednesday, August 31

Kawashima, King Philip’s War

Friday, September 2

ALH: 69-71; 77-80

Week 3

Monday, September 5

“Negro Plot” Trial (skim the entire file, please read the trial transcript of Cuffee and Quack carefully)

Wednesday, September 7

ALH: 101-103; 338-339

First assignment handed out

Friday, September 9

Boston Massacre Trial (skim the entire file, please read the Summation by John Adams carefully)

Week 4

Monday, September 12

Treason Trial of Aaron Burr (skim the entire file, please read John Marshall’s opinion carefully)

Wednesday, September 14

ALH: pp. 95-96; Constitution of Massachusetts (skim the entire file, please read Part I carefully)

Friday, September 16

Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), Constitution of the United States (also available in ALH pp. 693-694)

First assignment due

Week 5

Monday, September 19

ALH: 167-172

Wednesday, September 21

Burnett, Trying Leviathan

Friday, September 23

ALH: 180-187

Week 6

Monday, September 26

ALH: 207-217

Wednesday, September 28

Carthage Conspiracy Trial (skim the entire file, please read the Daniels’ statement carefully)

Friday, September 30

ALH: pp. 221-231

Week 7

Monday, October 3

Barron v. Baltimore

Wednesday, October 5

ALH: p. 265-276

Friday, October 7

United States v. Cruikshank

Week 8

Monday, October 10

Mountain Meadows Massacre Trial (skim the entire file, please read the Report on the Massacre and Lee’s Confession carefully)

Wednesday, October 12

Molly Maguires (skim the entire file, please read the trial of James Kehoe carefully)

Friday, October 13

Green, Death in the Haymarket

Week 9

Monday, October 17

ALH: pp. 339-354

Wednesday, October 19

Trial of Bill Haywood (skim the entire file, please read the Prosecutor’s Summation and Clarence Darrow’s Summation carefully)

Friday, October 21

ALH: pp. 399-410


Monday, October 24

ALH: pp. 367-380

Second assignment handed out

Wednesday, October 26

ALH: 380-389; 396-399

Friday, October 28

ALH: pp. 420-432

Week 11

Monday, October 31

Triangle Fire Trial (skim the entire file, please read NY Safety and Building Laws and the Fire Commissioner Testimony carefully)

Wednesday, November 2

ALH: pp. 471-475

Second assignment due

Friday, November 4

No Class, Homecoming

Week 12

Monday, November 7

ALH: pp. 446-453; 458-461

Wednesday, November 9

ALH: pp. 480-486; 490-493

Friday, November 11

No Class, Veterans Day Holiday

Wk 13

Monday, November 14

Gage, The Day Wall Street Exploded

Wednesday, November 16

Scottsboro Trials (skim the entire file, please read all the appellate decisions carefully)

Friday, November 18

ALH: 493-495; Adamson v California

Wk 14

Monday, November 21

Sam Shepard Murder Trial (skim the entire file, please read the Supreme Court opinion carefully)

Wednesday, November 23

ALH: pp. 554-559; Mapp v. Ohio

Friday, November 25

No Class, Thanksgiving Break

Wk 15

Monday, November 28

John Hinkley Trial (skim the entire file, please read jury instructions and the trial and the insanity defense carefully)

Wednesday, November 30

Bernhard Goetz Trial (skim the entire file,  please read the opening and closing statements and the jury deliberations carefully)

Friday, December 2

ALH: 624-634

Final Exam Question handed out

Wk 16

Monday, December 5

ALH: 673-683

Wednesday, December 7

Wrap up


December 9

No Class, Reading Period


Take home finals due at 224 Keene Flint by Friday, December 16 at 10:00