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University of Conneticut School of Law




This article tells the story of the National Reformers’ Association and the National Farmers’ Alliance. These 19th century American movements represented the “little guys” – workers and farmers – and used their folk legal imagination to develop new property forms that would solve their most pressing needs by improving access to key economic resources. Their stories are worth remembering for three reasons: First, they cast light on the phenomenon of popular law making, an aspect of the history of property law that legal historians have neglected. Second, they call into question the traditional narrative of the development of American property law by indicating that the transition away from feudalism and towards free alienability and efficient use was not as smooth as is typically thought. Third, these stories are particularly relevant today, as they help to make sense of aspects of contemporary property law that have developed in response to America’s rising inequality and increasing middle-class insecurity.

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