Title: By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority
Author: Holly Brewer
Year: 2005
Categories: Law, Politics, Age, Children, Revolution
Place: England, American Colonies, United States
Time Period: ~1600-1850

Argument Synopsis
Holly Brewer charts a shift in the legal definition of children from the early modern period to the 18th and early 19th century. Earlier, children held a surprising degree of legal authority that was based far more on status than age - they could serve in Parliament, get married, or be punished as adults. Brewer even argues that adult "custody" was a largely meaningless concept during this period. Beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries, however, an intellectual shift began to move the emphasis from birthright and status to one of reasoned consent. Because children were increasingly defined as lacking the ability to reason, they lost legal rights from being able to enter into contracts to serving as witnesses. In the end, Brewer sees this as a negative development in many ways - principally in the fact that adult groups such as women and blacks were increasingly linked to children and an inability to reason, and that this led to a strengthening of patriarchal control over children, women, and other excluded groups.

Brewer ties her analysis of children and law into broader political and religious currents. She argues that the Reformation's emphasis on consent to enter a church, get baptized, or communicate with god had a strong effect on the trend towards reason and consent. Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, meanwhile, wrote about political theory in terms of natural rights tied to the consent of a people to be governed. Although other historians have written about the use of children as metaphors for political currents and contract theory, Brewer explicitly claims that children's legal exclusion was linked to political movements towards democratic republicanism.

Key Themes and Concepts
- Shift from birthright/status/lineage to reason and consent (based on age)
- Consent based on ability to reason as central to both politics and law
- Age as a category for political and legal exclusion
- Exclusion of adult groups (women and blacks) by linking them to children in their inability to reason
- Role of Reformation and religion in shaping consent - consent needed to enter church, get baptized
- Role of Enlightenment - natural rights and consent to be governed (contract theory)
- Rise of patriarchy and parental control 

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.