Only the Clothes on Her Back tells the history of law and commerce in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War through textiles and the legal principles associated with them. Those principles existed not in statutes or treatises, but in social and cultural practices, commonly known then, but now long forgotten, which made textiles—clothing, cloth, bedding, and accessories, such as shoes and hats—a unique form of property that people without rights could own and exchange. Textiles' value depended on law, which was what made them a secure form of property for marginalized people, who not only used these goods as currency, credit, and capital, but also as entre into the new republic's economy and governing institutions. Using original archival research, the first part of the book reconstructs the governing order in which textiles' legal principles flourished and follows the implications, recasting our understanding of production and exchange. The second part pieces together the rules that governed trade: trunks established ownership; witness testimony served instead of receipts; accounts were kept in diaries, if they were recorded at all. These practices might seem outside law, but they were not. The third part follows the legal downfall of textiles, showing how the practices associated with them became suspect as the federalism system elevated the possession of rights over other means of making property claims. By the mid—nineteenth century, textiles no longer had the legal power they once had, but most Americans had nothing to replace them. Hardcover; 456 pages.