2017-18 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History

Arguing for the Rule of Law: Using the Hebrew Bible and Caricatures of Foreigners in British and Spanish America

How did settlers, imperial officials, indigenous peoples, and Africans in the New World seek to demonstrate, or disprove, that a polity respected the rule of law?  (The phrase “rule of law” is modern; but the core of the idea is not). Colonial rule invited accusations of arbitrary government and systematic lawlessness. This conference will focus on two common techniques used to assess whether a polity respected the supremacy of law. First, controversialists asked whether governance accorded with God’s expectations of justice as laid out in Scripture, particularly the Hebrew Bible. Second, caricatures of other societies could be held up to make one’s own appear lawful and just, or the reverse. British American settlers applauded the civility of their law by reference to the presumed barbarism of the Irish and Amerindians. They saw liberty in their exploitive legal order by opposing it to the supposed absolutism of the Spanish and French empires. Spanish settlers justified their rule and derecho by contrasting them to the law of indigenous polities and of their New World rivals. The conference will bring together historians, law professors, and social scientists to think about the complex debates about the rule of law in the English and Iberian Atlantic.  

Conference Schedule

9:00 Welcome

  • Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra (Texas, History) and Richard Ross (Illinois, Law and History).           

9:05 to 10:35: Panel: How Europeans Used Indians to Argue about the Rule of Law

  • Adrian Masters (Texas, History): “Inca Absolutists, Merciful Israelites: Spanish Ideas of Ancient Law Enforcement in the Sixteenth Century New World”
  • Richard Ross (Illinois, Law and History): “Indigenous Law as Counterpoint: Thinking with Indians about the Rule of Law in British and Spanish America”
  • Eran Shalev (Haifa, History): “Indians, The Politics of Time, and a Lawful American Republic”
  • Commentator: Gregory Ablavsky (Stanford, Law)
  • Commentator: Karen Graubart (Notre Dame, History)
  • Chair: Steven Wilf (Connecticut, Law)

10:35 to 10:50: Refreshment Break

10:50 to 12:20: Panel: Slavery and the Problem of the Rule of Law

  • Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra (Texas, History): “The Rule of Law and Sixteenth-Century Spanish Abolitionism”
  • Chloe Ireton (University College, London, History): “Caricatures of Africa in the Rule of Law for Just War and Just Slavery in the Early Spanish Empire”
  • Holly Brewer (Maryland, History): “Adapting Slavery from the Portuguese and Spanish: Discovering an English ‘Feudal’ and then Property Law for England’s New World Empire”
  • Commentator: Matthew Kruer (U. Chicago, History)
  • Commentator and Chair: Michele McKinley (Oregon, Law)

12:20 to 1:40: Lunch: Participants and audience members are invited to try the restaurants in the neighborhood around the Newberry.

1:40 to 3:00: Inca Translators of Khipus and Converso Readers of the Hebrew Bible: Enlisting One’s Own Traditions in Disputes about Justice

  • Jose Carlos De la Puente (Texas State, History); “Khipus and the Rule of Law: Tribute, Justice, and Controlled Mistranslation in Early Colonial Peru”
  • Claude B. Stuczynski  (Bar Ilan, History): ‘‘Conversos and ex-Converso Jews facing Iberian Imperialism through the Bible”
  • Commentator: Claudia Brosseder (Illinois, History)
  • Commentator: J. Michelle Molina (Northwestern, Religious Studies and History)
  • Chair: Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra (Texas, History)

3:00 to 3:15: Refreshment Break

3:15 to 4:55 Panel: We Are, and They Are Not: Using Foreign Societies to Think about the Rule of Law

  • Freddy Dominguez (University of Arkansas- Fayetteville, History): “Spanish Elizabethans and Trans-Atlantic Anti-Hispanism”
  • Christian Burset (Notre Dame, Law): “Relativizing the Rule of Law in the Eighteenth-Century British Empire”
  • Tamar Herzog (Harvard, History): “Mirages of a Past (Never) Gone: On Those Who Conquered and Those Who Settled”
  • Commentator: Gregory Dowd (Michigan, History)
  • Commentator: Brian Owensby (Virginia, History)
  • Chair: Richard Ross (Illinois, Law and History)

5:00 Adjourn