About Mary Sarah Bilder
Professor Mary Sarah Bilder teaches in the areas of property, trusts and estates, and American legal and constitutional history at Boston College Law School. She received her B.A. with Honors (English) and the Dean’s Prize from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, her J.D. (magna cum laude) from Harvard Law School, and her A.M. (History) and Ph.D. from Harvard University in the History of American Civilization/American Studies. She was a law clerk to the Hon. Francis Murnaghan, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit. Her recent work has focused on the history of the Constitution, James Madison and the Founders, the history of judicial review, and colonial and founding era constitutionalism. Professor Bilder is a member of the American Law Institute, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. She is member of the Massachusetts Bar Association (inactive status) and the State Bar of Wisconsin (inactive status). She was given the Emil Slizewski Faculty Teaching Award in 2007 and was named Michael and Helen Lee Distinguished Scholar in 2009. She was named the Founders Professor of Law in 2016.
Her most recent book, Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention, was awarded the 2016 Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy, the James C. Bradford Prize for Biography from the Society for Historians of the Early Republic, and was named a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize. Richard Beeman, author of Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor, called it "an exceptionally important piece of work that will have a profound impact on all future work on the Constitutional Convention." Read more reviews.
She is the author of The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire (Harvard University Press, 2004), awarded the Littleton-Griswold Award from the American Historical Association. Her articles appear in several important collected volumes of essays and a wide variety of journals, including the Yale Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, theYale Journal of Law and the Humanities, the George Washington Law Review, Law and History Review, Law Library Journal, and the Journal of Policy History. She co-edited Blackstone in America: Selected Essays of Kathryn Preyer (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
She has received a William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Grant, the Boston College Annual Prize for Scholarship, a Boston College Distinguished Research Award, a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, and was a Boston College Law School Fund Scholar. She currently serves on the Editorial Board of Law and History Review, and The Journal of Legal Education, the Board of The New England Quarterly, and is a member of the American Law Institute, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. She was the Lucy G. Moses Visiting Professor at Columbia Law School in 2001 and was a visiting professor at Harvard Law School in the spring of 2008.
Professor Bilder is the author of a renowned blog entry on how to teach the Rule Against Perpetuities in one class hour, has been interviewed by The Documentary Group and History Channel, and served as a legal history consultant to Steven Spielberg on Amistad.
Honors and Awards
- Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award (AALL) (2015)
- Michael and Helen Lee Distinguished Scholar (2009, 2014)
- Emil Slizewski Faculty Teaching Award (2007)
- Recipient of the inaugural BC Law Annual Prize for Scholarly Excellence (2006)
- Littleton-Griswold Award (AHA) (2005)
- Fall 2016: Constitutional History: The Framing, American Legal History
- Spring 2017: Property
Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention (2015)
James Madison’s Notes on the 1787 Constitutional Convention have acquired nearly unquestioned authority as the description of the U.S. Constitution’s creation. No document provides a more complete record of the deliberations in Philadelphia or depicts ...
Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: An Annotated Digital Catalogue (2014)
In recognition of the three-hundred anniversary of the accession of George I, the Ames Foundation announces a new electronic resource: Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Plantations: An Annotated Digital Catalogue. For the ...
Contributions to Books (4)
English Settlement and Local Governance <em>The Cambridge History of Law in America Volume 1: Early America (1580–1815)</em>, Cambridge University Press (2008)
This essay traces colonial American institutional development between 1570 and the 1720s. An American manner of government characterized by dual authority and supervised, constitutionally limited lawmaking produced the Revolution and the commitment to federalism. The ...
Colonial Constitutionalism and Constitutional Law Transformations in American Legal History: Essays in Honor of Morton J. Horwitz. (2008)
This essay reconsiders the transformation of colonial constitutionalism to Constitutional Law. The transformation of constitutional law does not map neatly onto the 1776 - 90 period. This essay argues that the transformation was less the ...
Charter Constitutionalism: The Myth of Edward Coke and the Virginia Charter North Carolina Law Review (2016)
Magna Carta’s connection to the American constitutional tradition has been traced to Edward Coke’s insertion of English liberties in the 1606 Virginia Charter. This account curiously turns out to be unsupported by direct evidence. This ...
How Bad Were the Official Records of the Federal Convention? The George Washington Law Review (2012)
The official records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 have been neglected and dismissed by scholars for the last century, largely to due to Max Farrand’s criticisms of both the records and the man responsible ...
Appeals to the Privy Council Before American Independence: An Annotated Digital Catalogue Law Library Journal (2012)
Between the later seventeenth century and American independence, appeals from colonial high courts were taken to the Privy Council in England. These appeals are the precursors of today’s appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their ...
Expounding the Law: Law and Judicial Duty The George Washington Law Review (2010)
Written as a comment on Philip Hamburger's book, Law and Judicial Duty, this essay explains why the history of judicial review remains a difficult area for scholarship. American judicial tradition espoused that judges had an ...
James Madison, Law Student and Demi-Lawyer Law and History Review (2010)
We think of James Madison as a political theorist, legislative drafter, and constitutional interpreter. Recent scholarship has fought fiercely over the nature of his political thought. Unlike other important early national leaders—John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, ...
Absent From the Convention: Libraries, Law and Political Philosophy: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Boston College Law School Lectures and Presentations (2009)
Presentation by Professor Mary Sarah Bilder, as commentator, at the conference "John Adams & Thomas Jefferson: Libraries, Leadership & Legacy," held in Boston and Charlottesville, June 21-17, 2009.
Idea or Practice: A Brief Historiography of Judicial Review The Journal of Policy History (2008)
Judicial review may be the most publicly contested aspect of American constitutionalism. The conventional beliefs that judicial review should be understood as an idea and American constitutionalism studied as a new rationalistic, political science are ...
The Lost Lawyers: Early American Legal Literates and Transatlantic Legal Culture Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities (1999)
From the author's introduction: Paul C. Kurtz wrote well, spoke and argued eloquently, wore a nice suit, and carried a briefcase. As an observer notes, "He looked 100 percent like a lawyer and conducted himself ...
The Origin of the Appeal in America Hastings Law Journal (1997)
The appeal has been treated by academics as a mere legal procedure, possessing no particular significance. Indeed, for many years, legal scholars accepted the influential arguments of Professors Julius Goebel and Roscoe Pound that the ...
The Shrinking Back: The Law of Biography Stanford Law Review (1992)
The Article argues that quotations of copyrighted material used as "fact" should be protected. The Article explores the relation between the legal law of biography and the literary theory of biography, focusing specifically on the ...
On Video (6)
James Madison and Constitutional Compromise (2016)
Presented by the U.S. National Archives in celebration of the exhibit “Amending America”. James Madison’s Notes on the 1787 Constitutional Convention has acquired nearly unquestioned authority as the description of the Constitution’s creation. But by drawing ...