Even before the United States became a country, laws prioritizing access to credit set colonial America apart from the rest of the world. Credit Nation examines how the drive to expand credit shaped property laws and legal institutions in the colonial and founding eras of the republic.
In this major new history of early America, Claire Priest describes how the British Parliament departed from the customary ways that English law protected land and inheritance, enacting laws for the colonies that privileged creditors by defining land and slaves as commodities available to satisfy debts. Colonial governments, in turn, created local legal institutions that enabled people to further leverage their assets to obtain credit. Priest shows how loans backed with slaves as property fueled slavery from the colonial era through the Civil War, and that increased access to credit was key to the explosive growth of capitalism in nineteenth-century America.
Credit Nation presents a new vision of American economic history, one where credit markets and liquidity were prioritized from the outset, where property rights and slaves became commodities for creditors’ claims, and where legal institutions played a critical role in the Stamp Act crisis and other political episodes of the founding period.
Claire Priest is the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Twitter @priest_claire
"Claire Priest's carefully researched book places the development of property rights in the United States in the context of the colonial economy and its dependence on debt finance and slaves as collateral. Written by one of the leading legal historians of America's colonial and founding periods, Credit Nation challenges us to fundamentally rethink our praise for well-protected property rights as a determinant of growth."—Katharina Pistor, author of The Code of Capital
"An original and significant new interpretation of American property law in the colonial and early national periods. Priest offers a rich array of new insights and suggestive reinterpretations of historical developments."—Gavin Wright, author of Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South
"Claire Priest's elegantly written and meticulously researched book is a pathbreaking account of the emergence of a distinctly American property law in the colonial period. One of the consequences of this distinctive property law was to pave the way for the spread of slavery in the early United States. This impressive book is essential reading for anyone interested in the legal, economic, and political history of colonial and early America, the origins of the American Revolution, and the making and unmaking of the British Empire."—Steven Pincus, University of Chicago
"Credit Nation addresses a very important problem in American legal, economic, and political history—land. Priest brings new research, new insights, and new conclusions to the role of institutional land tenure in the colonies."—John Joseph Wallis, coauthor of Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History