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In the folklore of American legal history the middle decades of the nineteenth century mark the nadir of professionalism in national life. While acknowledging the brilliant achievements of individual practitioners and judges during the years from 1830 to 1870, commentators from Charles Warren and Roscoe Pound to W. Raymond Blackard and Anton-Hermann Chroust have insisted upon the overall deterioration of the bar under the assaults of a militant democracy. The standard picture of professional development in the United States begins with a Golden Age of jurisprudence in the early Republic, fostered by a self-regulating fraternity of educated judges and lawyers. Then come the Barbarian Invasions, as the semi-literate masses force their way into legal practice, aided by sympathetic state legislatures. Finally, after several decades of disorder and demoralization, an elite leadership arises to purge the profession of its populist standards of recruitment and achievement, through the creation of the first modern bar associations in the eighteen-seventies. In its broad outlines this pattern of alternating light and shadow appeals strongly to the imagination, while providing at least a plausible account of the interplay between legal groups and the forces of social change. But the closer one scrutinizes the thesis, the less satisfactory do its major assumptions appear.

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