In the first half of the 19th century, comparative law was very much en vogue in the United States. Two names are worth mentioning here: First (and foremost), Joseph Story, a Supreme Court judge and author of the Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Second, James Kent, Chancellor of New York and author of the Commentaries on American Law. Both gentlemen are known for their interest in continental European Law, French law in particular, which shaped their reasoning as well as their decisions and made them strong partisans in the American post bellum codification movement – the quest for an American code!
Other than in England, the consideration of comparative law in the United States was more comprehensive. The recourse to foreign laws was not just for practical (i.e. political) purposes, but represented the ideology of an illustrious group of lawyers with ties to the judiciary as well as legal academia. In fact, at that time, the curriculum of Harvard law school (where Joseph Story was faculty) included references to Roman and French law.
Such fascination for civil law by common law jurists is remarkable. It has to be seen in the context of the recent independence from England and the resulting urge to distinguish American law from British common law. Over time, however, these emancipation efforts ebbed away and the interest in comparative law ran dry.
- G Blaine Baker, Story’d Paradims for the Nineteenth-Century Display of Anglo-American Legal Doctrine (Angela Fernandez and Markus D. Dubber, eds. 2012) 82, 106.
- Kent Newmyer, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic (1985).
- Konrad Zweigert & Hein Kötz, An Introduction to Comparative Law (1998), p. 57.