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Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir…
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Commentaries on the Laws of England

by Sir William Blackstone

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" . . . the last perfect Digest of both branches of law* " — Thomas Jefferson to John Minor, 30 August 1814, including Thomas Jefferson to Bernard Moore, [ca. 1773?], PTJ:RS 7:625-631.

* referring to common law and chancery (or equity)
  ThomasJefferson | Jun 23, 2015 |
" . . . the last perfect Digest of both branches of law* " — Thomas Jefferson to John Minor, 30 August 1814, including Thomas Jefferson to Bernard Moore, [ca. 1773?], PTJ:RS 7:625-631.

* referring to common law and chancery (or equity)
  ThomasJefferson | Jun 23, 2015 |
As indicated in the 1765 Preface, "The knowledge of our laws and constitution was adopted as a liberal science by general academical authority...". Once Blackstone was supported as a lecturer ("elected as the first Vinerian professor"--began the first lectures on common law in any university in the world) he was led "by both duty and inclination to investigate the elements of the law, and the grounds of our civil polity". He remarks that all who attend the public administration of justice must have noticed that an acquaintance with the laws and principles of jurisprudence "hath given a beauty and energy to many modern judicial decisions, with which our ancestors were wholly unacquainted".
{Ouch! or I guess you had to be there.}
The Commentaries was the single most widely owned law book in Colonial and Revolutionary America. The Framers of the Constitution knew it intimately. American colonies were "Christian commonwealths" (and most of them restricted holding office to Christians, and some exclusively to Protestants). Blackstone--standing against the plutocrats -- recognized there was an obligation "of the community"--he enfranchised the polis--to provide the necessities of life and health:

"The law not only regards life and member, and protects every man in the enjoyment of them, but also furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wrethced, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community,mby means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor."

Were there any actual "statutes" passed by the Lords imposing upon themselves the duty to relieve the starving poor? They were arresting the poor and sending them to the Colonies as indentured servants. The Mayflower had three "abandoned children" aboard who were placed into servitude by the law Lords.

I think Blackstone was a greater man than he is given credit for, even in Chitty's adulation which prefaces this print. Blackstone was born into middle-class prosperity, only to be orphaned and impoverished. He worked hard, and never asked for much for himself, rather stepping up to opportunities others neglected.

Once educated on a pauper scholarship, he began as a barrister--with few "connections", and no title. Not even a "bar exam" or monopoly profession. He served in Parliament where he was known to be "averse to party violence", according to Chitty's biography in this publication.

By publishing this book from his lecture notes, Blackstone able to marry and build an estate. The "common law", fought for by Boadiccea herself, was not organized, or even written, until Blackstone. Academics say that the Commentaries changed English Law from a system based on actions to a system of substantive law.

The Commentaries helped to solidify the concept of living "under law", which became the substitution the Americans made for "the King", which they did not have or find necessary. In England, legal education had stalled--compare it to the advanced Padua schools.

Blackstone's work gave the Law "at least a veneer of scholarly respectability". William Searle Holdsworth, one of Blackstone's successors as Vinerian Professor, suggests that without the Commentaries, the United States (and other English speaking countries) would not have so universally adopted the common law.

Blackstone taught, judged, wrote and researched. In his last years was appointed to the King's Bench. He lived moderately, although he was large. OK, he was obese. He lived 1723-1780 working through his final illness. Age 57. He read much, and remembered what he read. ( )
1 vote keylawk | Jan 1, 2013 |
... I have long lamented with you the depreciation of law science. The opinion seems to be that Blackstone is to us what the Alcoran is to the Mahometans, that every thing which is necessary is in him, & what is not in him is not necessary. I still lend my counsel & books to such young students as will fix themselves in the neighborhood. Coke's institutes, all, & reports are their first, & Blackstone the last book, after an intermediate course of 2 or 3 years. It is nothing more than an elegant digest of what they will then have acquired from the real fountains of the law. Now men are born scholars, lawyers, Doctors; in our day this was confined to poets ... — Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 26 May 1810
  ThomasJefferson | Nov 9, 2007 |
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To The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty [Charlotte, Queen Consort of Great Britain and Ireland], the following view of the laws and constitution of England, the improvement and protection of which have distinguished the reign of her majesty's royal consort, is, with all gratitude and humility, most respectfully inscribed by her dutiful and most obedient servant, William Blackstone
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The general expectation of so numerous and respectable an audience, the novelty, and (I may add) the importance of the duty required from this chair, must unavoidably be productive of great diffidence and apprehensions in him who has the honour to be placed in it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226055477, Hardcover)

Perhaps the most important legal treatise ever written in the English language, Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) was the first effort to consolidate English common law into a unified and rational system. Clearly and elegantly written, the work achieved immediate renown and exerted a powerful influence on legal education both in England and America. This handsomely produced, slipcased four-volume set includes facsimiles of the eighteenth-century first edition, undistorted by later interpolations.

The Commentaries is divided into four books. The first, introduced by Stanley N. Katz, deals with what Blackstone called "the rights of persons," what a modern lawyer would call constitutional law, the legal structure of government. Book II includes an introduction by A. W. Brian Simpson and describes the law of property. Book III, introduced by John H. Langbein, analyzes civil procedure and remedies. The last book, which is devoted to criminal law and procedure, includes an introduction by Thomas A. Green.

Now regarded as a literary, as well as a legal classic, Blackstone's Commentaries brilliantly laid out the system of English law in the mid-eighteenth century, demonstrating that as a system of justice, it was comparable to Roman law and the civil law of the Continent. Ironically, the work also revealed to the colonists the insufficiencies of the system and became a model for the legal system of the fledgling American nation in 1789. Supplemented with commentary by experts in the field, these classic facsimile volumes belong on every lawyer's bookshelves.

Volume I: Of the Rights of Persons (1765)
Volume II: Of the Rights of Things (1766)
Volume III: Of Private Wrongs (1768)
Volume IV: Of Public Wrongs (1769)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:51 -0400)

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