American Exceptionalism and the Forgotten Tradition of Equity, 1814-1912


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


Law School and History


This project recovers the history of a forgotten American legal tradition: equity. While scholars have recognized that the early United States inherited the English distinction between law and equity, they have fundamentally misconstrued the latter. Pursuant to a longstanding narrative of American exceptionalism, adversarialism has been identified as a defining feature of American legal culture. It has thus been wrongly assumed that equity procedure was essentially adversarial. By undertaking the first comprehensive study of the origins and demise of American equity, this study historicizes—and thereby problematizes—the established narrative of American exceptionalism and elucidates how American culture came to be imbued with the sense that due process and adversarial process are synonymous.