The most intractable questions in takings law involve determinations as to when compensation must be paid for government regulation of private property. Scholars and judges have looked to the history of takings law in the search for guiding principles that can inform, if not resolve, such questions. The 1851 opinion of Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Alger has figured prominently in these investigations.
This Note argues that such efforts have overlooked other relevant cases Shaw decided, and therefore do not fully appreciate the extent to which Shaw’s jurisprudence was informed by a flexible and instrumental view of how certain principles in takings law should be applied to decide cases. Accordingly, this new perspective on Shaw raises doubts about the extent to which a resort to history can provide effective guidance in resolving the current takings muddle.