Patrick Peel

A New Direction for American Public Law?
By Patrick Peel on July 20, 2010

The subfield of public law in American political science continues to be structured by assumptions from the mid-1950s.  It’s time for a new direction.


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about the author

Patrick Peel
Patrick Peel

As an undergraduate, I studied philosophy and politics. My undergraduate philosophy thesis was on the influence of Nietzsche on Martin Heidegger's philosophy, while my undergraduate politics thesis was on Richard Rorty and "postmodern liberalism."  I went to Johns Hopkins to study political theory - and did study with William Connelly, Richard Flathman, and Kristie McClure - but became quickly taken with the "history of political and moral thought."  Under the influence of J.B. Schneewind, I was led to complete a Masters degree in Philosophy -  studying with him, Susan Wolf, and Michael Williams - while completing my Ph.D. in political science.  The influence of Schneewind, John Pocock, Anthony Padgen, and Dorothy Ross - along with a seminar I took with Gordon Wood -  led me to want to combine the history of political and moral thought with the development of American institutions.  Thus, ultimately, I wrote a dissertation in the field of American political development entitled, "Building Judicial Capacity in the Early American State: Legal Populism, County Courts, and Credit, 1645-1860."  That dissertation won the Edward S. Corwin Award from the American Political Association for the best dissertation in the field of public law.

 Based on the dissertation, I am currently drafting a book length manuscript that tells the story of how local legal institutions built a "rule of law" culture in early American society.  Most narratives of the development of the rule of law in America begin with a "top-down" story, rather than a "bottom-up story.  These top-down stories - focusing as they do on the Supreme Court, federal courts, and elite legal opinion - ignore the attitudes of the middling sort people and the legal institutions they used and valued.  

Most generally, I am interested in the interaction of institutions with the history of political and moral thought.