Making Revolution Work: Law and Politics in New York, 1776-1783


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation analyzes how a group of insurgents reestablished legal institutions during a time of violent upheaval. Early in the American Revolution, colonial governments collapsed and people took the law into their own hands. They enforced harsh, revolutionary justice. But by the end of the war, Americans had rebuilt legal institutions such as courts and legislatures. This dissertation examines one state in detail, New York, to understand how Americans made revolution work and how they transformed a chaotic popular uprising into a functioning legal system. The key element in that change proved to be property redistribution. By confiscating property from British sympathizers and selling it to supporters of independence, New Yorkers rebuilt legal structures that were strong enough to enforce state policy. Expropriation helped to turn revolutionary instability into a durable legal order.