Law and Urban Growth

Law and Urban Growth: Civil Litigation in the Boston Trial Courts, 1880-1900

Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Law and Urban Growth
    Book Description:

    This in-depth study of civil trial courts in any American city during the nineteenth century. Examining cases brought before the Boston civil courts between 1880 and 1900, Robert Silverman shows how the business of these tribunals mirrors social and economic changes within the urban community and how these changes made the 1890s a turning point in the function of law.

    Originally published in 1981.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5693-0
    Subjects: Law, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Part I The Arena
      (pp. 3-16)

      “Of all the mysteries of legal history, perhaps the most impenetrable is the history of law in action, law as it was lived, not as it was supposed to be.” Of all the mysteries of urban history, perhaps the least understood is the action of law in urban life.¹

      Trial courts were potentially important social institutions in the cities of late-nineteenth-century America. During the period 1880-1900, a watershed for the functioning of law, “new demands of desperate urgency were made on the administration of justice,” placing novel stresses on trial courts. An increasing flow of immigrants from overseas and from...

      (pp. 17-46)

      In the 1880s and early 1890s the municipal and superior courts sat in a gray, gloomy, Bastille-like structure with iron railings and stone stairways that had been built in 1832 on a site located between the North End and the central business district. By the mid-eighties the old fortress strained to accommodate a mounting collection of legal records. A new building, begun in 1887, was occupied in 1894. As the trial courts moved into new quarters they also moved into a new era of litigation, characterized by the growing importance of personal injury suits and the growing prominence of immigrants,...

  7. Part II The Anonymous Marketplace
      (pp. 49-66)

      Boston’s growing population became a source of profit, a great internal market for a variety of goods and services. In order to make money in this anonymous marketplace one had to trust a stranger’s financial integrity and his ability to meet payments when due. Trust was necessary for most wholesale and many retail exchanges, for providing professional, clerical, and manual services, and for transactions in real property. When confidence proved misplaced and the parties could not otherwise reach a settlement, court was the forum in which to put the matter in order.

      Since ancient times the city has served as...

      (pp. 67-81)

      In 1916, as he was about to join the U.S. Supreme Court after thirty-five years of law practice in Boston, Louis Brandeis reflected on how sharply the conditions of employment had changed in his lifetime. Many once independent people worked for someone else, he observed; most men and women could no longer reasonably expect to be self-employed. As a result, a large measure of the responsibility for their welfare had shifted from them to their employers and to the state. The change was all the more significant because society had hardly yet perceived it, let alone adjusted to it. The...

      (pp. 82-96)

      Writing on “The Housing Conditions in Boston” at the turn of the century, a prominent Brahmin lawyer and reformer explained that “dilapidated and unsanitary buildings” not only endangered health but also engendered pauperism and criminality. Similar environmental arguments about the pernicious effects of slum dwellings appeared in the writings of other improvers in Boston and elsewhere.¹

      In the Hub City there was enough concern to prompt a variety of public agencies and private watchdog groups to produce nearly a dozen housing surveys and reports between 1888 and 1908. Each described how thousands of newcomers annually jammed into already overcrowded tenement...

  8. Part III The Dangers of Everyday Life
      (pp. 99-121)

      Bostonians lived in the midst of thousands of machines, which, when carelessly operated, maimed and killed. The crowded conditions of urban life likewise increased the chances of injury in older and more familiar forms: gaping holes in the pedestrian-packed thoroughfares, leaking gas, falling shingles and chunks of ice. In addition, malicious injury to person, property, or feelings generated a small but growing number of lawsuits.

      As the motorman wrenched the rheostat sharply to zero and pulled back hard on the brake, passengers were suddenly thrown forward, several of them falling to the muddy floorboards. Screeching wheels drowned out the shrill...

      (pp. 122-132)

      The swelling wave of negligence suits engulfed and obscured from view a small but rising tide of cases filed in response to a variety of malicious injuries. Fraud, assault, slander, breach of marriage promise, alienation of affection, bastardy, and divorce were civil actions normally founded on the willful infliction of harm. In 1880 there were about 300 lawsuits in these categories, twenty years later, more than 1,000. In both years these actions accounted for 5 or fewer out of every 100 suits initiated. They thus represented a regular, but small, portion of trial-court business.¹

      Lawsuits deriving from malicious injury were...

    (pp. 133-148)

    The municipal and superior courts of Boston were forums for the settlement of specific types of disagreements. Debt resulting from extensions of commercial credit, from employment, and from real-property transactions, together with personal injury and property damage, mostly accidental but sometimes willful, accounted for most of their business. In substance, there was nothing unusual about these cases; such actions had comprised the traditional business of the trial courts in Boston for more than two centuries. But the number of lawsuits and proportions of certain actions were unprecedented. The changing litigation pattern stemmed from alterations in the fabric of urban life,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 167-198)
    (pp. 199-212)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 213-217)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 218-218)