Walton Hale Hamilton

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Walton Hale Hamilton (October 30, 1881 – October 27, 1958) was an American law professor who taught at Yale Law School (1928–1948), although he was an economist, not a lawyer. In 1919, Hamilton coined the term "institutional economics".


Life and work

Born in Tennessee, Hamilton received a B.A. degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1907 and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan in 1913. He married Lucile Elizabeth Rhodes in 1909; they had three children. After they were divorced he married Irene Till, on July 20, 1937; he adopted her son by a previous marriage and they later had two children. He died in Washington, D.C., on October 27, 1958.

Hamilton was a professor of law at the Yale Law School from 1928 to 1948, and was ultimately appointed Southmayd Professor of Law, emeritus. He taught courses in trade regulation, torts, and public control of business.

Considered a leading figure in the Legal Realism movement at Yale, Hamilton was a vigorous critic of legal formalism and sought to apply the insights of economic studies to the law.

He argued that legal concepts evolved in specific historical and social contexts and that, when they were removed from their context and generalized into universal legal principles, they led to socially undesirable, often unexpected results. He developed these arguments in a series of articles in the 1930s, which included: Affectation with a Public Interest (1930), [1] The Ancient Maxim Caveat Emptor (1931), [2] and The Path of Due Process of Law (1938). [3]

Hamilton also undertook a series of industry studies that sought to show that wages and prices were not set by market forces as understood by neoclassical economists but instead depended on social and historical contexts, so that the results were noncompetitive wages and prices.


Hamilton authored the following works, among others:

He co-authored:

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  1. 39 Yale L. J. 1089 (1930).
  2. 40 Yale L. J. 1133 (1931).
  3. 48 Ethics 269 (1938).

Further reading