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The transition from colony to nation involved difficult readjustments in the thinking and behavioral patterns of the American people, and nowhere were the inherent tensions more evident than in the field of law. Prior to the revolution, Americans had willingly accepted the legal principles and practices of the mother country, although modifying them somewhat to suit the more fluid social and economic environment of the New World. But the achievement of political independence from England soon led to demands that all other ties with the former metropolis be severed as well.

Radical agitators in various states thus urged the complete abandonment of the common law during the years from 1783 to 1815. Generally their attacks were motivated by political considerations, becoming more virulent with the rise of the French-oriented Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson. Twisting the British lion's tail in matters legal proved a popular vote-getting device in the early nineteenth century, and alarmed conservatives feared the successful subversion of all law and order.

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