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The impact of freedom of contract in the 19th century extended far beyond the legal arena as an economic slogan and an ethical attitude.
Atiyah traces the development and subsequent decline of the freedom of contract, depicting its effects on the law's development and the foundation of contractual obligations, as well as its broader implications for 19th century English life.
The work also offers a completely original account of the development of the theory of contractural and promissory obligation in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century; the gradual disintigration of this theory in modern times is the theme of the last part of the book.