A key concept in England and America was that of unity of person. In legal terms, husband and wife functioned as one person. An important eighteenth-century writer, William Blackstone, published extensively on the subject of English laws, producing an influential four-volume set of commentaries that described long-standing legal traditions. This excerpt from his work, from chapter 15, "Of Husband and Wife," provides an important summary of the idea of coverture as it dictated the legal position of husbands and wives.
For more on this subject, see Marylynn Salmon,Women and the Law of Property in Early America(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986).
For definitions of unfamiliar terms please see our glossary.
"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything; and is therefore called in our law-french a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture. Upon this principle, of an union of person in husband and wife, depend almost all the legal rights, duties, and disabilities, that either of them acquire by the marriage.”