Commentaries On The Laws
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Commentaries on the Laws of England
Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769) stands as the first great effort to reduce the English common law to a unified and rational system. Blackstone demonstrated that the English law as a system of justice was comparable to Roman law and the civil law of the Continent. Clearly and elegantly written, the work achieved immediate renown and exerted a powerful influence on legal education in England and in America which was to last into the late nineteenth century. The book is regarded not only as a legal classic but as a literary masterpiece.
Previously available only in an expensive hardcover set, Commentaries on the Laws of England is published here in four separate volumes, each one affordably priced in a paperback edition. These works are facsimiles of the eighteenth-century first edition and are undistorted by later interpolations. Each volume deals with a particular field of law and carries with it an introduction by a leading contemporary scholar.
In his introduction to this first volume, Of the Rights of Persons, Stanley N. Katz presents a brief history of Blackstone's academic and legal career and his purposes in writing the Commentaries. Katz discusses Blackstone's treatment of the structure of the English legal system, his attempts to justify it as the best form of government, and some of the problems he encountered in doing so.
About the Author
He received his education at Charterhouse School and at Pembroke College, Oxford. In 1743 he was elected fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and [he] was called to the bar as a barrister at the Middle Temple in 1746. After practicing in the courts of Westminster for several years without great success, in 1753 he retired to Oxford where he launched a pioneering private lecture course on the laws and government of England (not then taught at either English university). In 1758 he was elected unopposed to the new chair in English Law endowed by the will of Charles Viner (who had died in 1756), delivering his first lecture as foundation Vinerian Professor on 25 October 1758. In 1761, Blackstone married Sarah Clitherow and had nine children. Blackstone was also appointed Principal of New Inn Hall (now St. Peter's College, Oxford), a position which he held until 1766. Blackstone lived at Priory Place (later Castle Priory) in Wallingford, and is buried at St Peter's Church in the town.
In 1761 Blackstone won election as a Member of Parliament for Hindon and received a patent of precedence at the bar (equivalent to the rank of king's counsel). Blackstone's "political views were those of the Old Whigs and his ideals were those of the Glorious Revolution of 1688". He was knighted in 1770 and appointed a puisne justice of the Court of Common Pleas.
The four volumes of the Commentaries, first published between 1765 and 1769 in Oxford and first issued in an American edition in 1771, won instant recognition for their able synthesis of the often bewildering doctrines that made up the common law and for their elegant writing style. Leading American attorneys who first learned their law by reading Blackstone include Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson at first admired Blackstone's learning and eloquence, but later denounced his treatise as "honeyed Mansfieldism," a reference to the great conservative English jurist Lord Mansfield.
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