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The Early Years of American Law

A Change In America's Way Of Life

Growth of criminal law through the nineteenth century was greatly influenced by major economic and social changes in the country. By the early nineteenth century, the nation's larger communities changed from farming to urban or city industrial centers. American capitalism (an economic system made up of businesses supported by monetary investments, or capital) was taking shape. This kind of production and sale of goods is largely free of government interference. The major transformation from farming to an industrial economy first began in the New England region in the 1780s immediately following the Revolution. The new economy slowly dominated parts of the East over the next twenty years.

With this economic change, society changed. In an agricultural, or farm-based, society, daily life had been guided by longstanding traditions centered around the community. The new industrial society was much more individualistic, often impersonal, and mobile with people constantly moving to where jobs were available. The change also brought a sharper growth of individual income or earnings, something not seen in colonial times.

With increased earnings came greater ownership of property. New laws were needed to protect against property crimes such as theft. From a criminal justice standpoint, the new industry-based society put pressure on government to create different laws and to change how criminals were punished.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawThe Early Years of American Law - Colonial Freedom, Britain's Push For Greater Control, A New Start, A New Criminal Court System