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Download Foreward by Dean Allan F. Smith (50 KB)

Download Preface (101 KB)

Download Table of Contents (45 KB)

Download Part I, Chapter 1: British Statutes in Historical Perspective (1.2 MB)

Download Part I, Chapter 2: Methods of Dealing with British Statutes in American Jurisdictions (1.1 MB)

Download Part II, Chapter 3: The New England States (1.1 MB)

Download Part II, Chapter 4: The Middle Atlantic States (2.3 MB)

Download Part II, Chapter 5: The Southern States (2.3 MB)

Download Part II, Chapter 6: Jurisdictions Carved from Territory Northwest of the River Ohio (1009 KB)

Download Part II, Chapter 7: Jurisdictions Carved from Territory South of River Ohio (663 KB)

Download Part II, Chapter 8: Jurisdictions Carved from the Louisiana and Florida Purchases (627 KB)

Download Part III: Specific British Statutes: Their Treatment by Courts, Legislatures, and List-makers (7.3 MB)

Download Part IV: Two Colonial Re-enactment-by-reference Statutes (789 KB)


When a dependency severs its formal connection with the mother country - irrespective of the century in which such severance occurs - the act of independence can neither eradicate the past nor solve all problems of the future. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the United States of America discovered that independence from Great Britain in itself did not abolish the need for rules and regulations by which men could anticipate with some degree of certainty the consequences of particular actions. Wholesale adoption of such English statutes as were suited to their condition offered a solution to the need for a body of laws. At the same time it avoided the need to draft and enact a comprehensive body of legislation at the moment the newly independent jurisdictional entities were faced with a wide assortment of internal and external problems.

As colonists, the citizens of these newly independent states had clamored for the untrammelled use of the English statutes and the common law and had made much of Great Britain's refusal to concede such use. After 1776 they were free to use, adapt, or reject the statutes and the common law which they had claimed as their birthright and heritage. This study is designed to show the extent to which British statutes without re-enactment were declared to be or were considered to be in force or not in force in the twenty-eight separate jurisdictions of the United States during the first sixty years of the nation's independence.

To keep the scope of the study within reasonable limits, no substantial effort was made to learn the extent to which English statutes were re-enacted as state or territorial statutes. That this re-enactment did occur in some jurisdictions is apparent upon an examination of the early state or territorial statutes, especially those dealing with subjects such as wills or uses or waste. That such re-enactment, together with the enactment of state or territorial acts geared to local needs, lessened the use of and emphasis upon English statutes is likewise apparent. It is not irrelevant to note that codification of a jurisdiction's laws was more frequently than not coupled with a repeal of all English statutes heretofore in force.

Publication Date



University of Michigan Law School


Ann Arbor, Michigan


Statutes, Lawmaking, England, Colonial period, History, Revolutionary War


Legal History | Legislation | State and Local Government Law


Published under the auspices of the University of Michigan Law School (which, however, assumes no responsibility for the views expressed) with the aid of funds derived from gifts to the University of Michigan by William W. Cook.

British Statutes in American Law, 1776-1836