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Since the 1950's a vast amount of time and effort has been devoted
to the study of the development of the American legal system
during the past two hundred years. This welter of historical
writing has produced one proposition, which, so far as I know, had
never been heard of before World War II, but which has, with extraordinary
speed, become one of the received ideas of the 1970's.
That is the proposition that the fifty year period from the Civil War
to Worid War I was one of legal formalism. The adepts of the proposition-
no doubt I am one of them-add that our period of formalism
was flanked by two periods of what, in current terminology, we
may call activism.

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