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Judicial enforcement of debt agreements was one of the central and most important aspects of government promotion of the nascent colonial economy. Nevertheless, legal historians have characterized the colonial court system in contrasting terms as a bulwark of pre-industrial cultural norms impeding development, or as a crucial cata- lyst of commercial transformation. In either case, legal historians' focus on law developed in the courts, as opposed to the policies of the legislative or executive branchs of government, has led to an assumption that the law adjusts in some natural way to changing economic and cultural climates. According to this view, lawsuits are an indirect reflection of prevailing cultural norms and market conditions Judges adapt the law as those norms and conditions change. The court system therefore fulfills an insti- tutional role of ensuring that the law keeps pace with economic and societal transfor- mation, and comes close to optimally satisfying the legal needs of local communities.

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