George Dargo, Essays in American Legal History

At the beginning of this year, this Blog had the sad task of reporting the death of George Dargo. Professor Dargo was one of the kindest men with a wry sense of humour whom this blogger has ever met, though, he never knew him well.  For a man of his ability and distinction as a scholar, he was remarkably lacking in pomposity and self importance.


In the last few months of his life, Professor Dargo had worked on a collection of some of his more important essays. These have now been published in a handsome volume by the Lawbook Exchange Ltd.,  who had already published in 2009 the new edition of his 1975 classic, Jefferson's Louisiana.

The essays included cover the full scope of Professor Dargo's scholarship, which ranged from colonial America to Sunday trading laws and the constitutional position of Puerto Rico (the last two reflecting on the significance of Calvert Magruder, whose papers were the foundation of Professor Dargo's  History of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (1993)). All are learned; all reflect the man. Given this Blog's interest in Louisiana, it is good to see reproduced the important article from 2009 in which he revisited the background to the Digest of 1808, as well as his account of Edward Livingston and the Batture Controversy from Jefferson's Louisiana and his essay on the legal-legal significance of shipping on the Mississippi (a rather pedestrian way of describing a profound piece).

On the back of the dust-jacket, which shows on the front a fine paddle-steamer (this blogger writes from the country from which sails the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world), there are two interesting laudatory quotations. The first, from Dean Greenberg of Suffolk University College of Arts and Sciences, describes the book as "a monument to an extraordinary historian" and as reflecting  "the depth of his background in law and history", thereby representing "the work of an impressive life in scholarship". In the second, Professor Emeritus Hecht of Boston University writes that "Multiculturalism is a misapplied buzz-word today. For a true understanding of its role and application, many of the chapters in this book provide a useful corrective. … Its broad reach and wide scope provide a critical new perspective on the role of law in American history."

But the essays generally demonstrate a humane and humanistic approach to law and legal history; in this they also reflect the man.