William Blackstone

William Blackstone

Overview
For other William Blackstones, see William Blackstone (disambiguation)
William Blackstone (disambiguation)
William Blackstone may refer to:*William Blackstone , prominent English jurist*William Seymour Blackstone , his grandson, MP for Wallingford*William Blaxton, sometimes spelled Blackstone , early New England settler...

.


Sir William Blackstone KC SL
Serjeant-at-law
The Serjeants-at-Law was an order of barristers at the English bar. The position of Serjeant-at-Law , or Sergeant-Counter, was centuries old; there are writs dating to 1300 which identify them as descended from figures in France prior to the Norman Conquest...

 (10 July 1723 – 14 February 1780) was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England
Commentaries on the Laws of England
The Commentaries on the Laws of England are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769...

. Born into a middle class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School
Charterhouse School
Charterhouse School, originally The Hospital of King James and Thomas Sutton in Charterhouse, or more simply Charterhouse or House, is an English collegiate independent boarding school situated at Godalming in Surrey.Founded by Thomas Sutton in London in 1611 on the site of the old Carthusian...

 before matriculating at Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located in Pembroke Square. As of 2009, Pembroke had an estimated financial endowment of £44.9 million.-History:...

 in 1738. After switching to and completing a Bachelor of Civil Law
Bachelor of Civil Law
Bachelor of Civil Law is the name of various degrees in law conferred by English-language universities. Historically, it originated as a postgraduate degree in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but many universities now offer the BCL as an undergraduate degree...

 degree, he was made a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford on 2 November 1743, admitted to Middle Temple
Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn...

, and called to the Bar there in 1746.
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Quotations

Man was formed for society.

Introduction, Section II: Of the Nature of Laws in General
Encyclopedia
For other William Blackstones, see William Blackstone (disambiguation)
William Blackstone (disambiguation)
William Blackstone may refer to:*William Blackstone , prominent English jurist*William Seymour Blackstone , his grandson, MP for Wallingford*William Blaxton, sometimes spelled Blackstone , early New England settler...

.


Sir William Blackstone KC SL
Serjeant-at-law
The Serjeants-at-Law was an order of barristers at the English bar. The position of Serjeant-at-Law , or Sergeant-Counter, was centuries old; there are writs dating to 1300 which identify them as descended from figures in France prior to the Norman Conquest...

 (10 July 1723 – 14 February 1780) was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England
Commentaries on the Laws of England
The Commentaries on the Laws of England are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769...

. Born into a middle class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School
Charterhouse School
Charterhouse School, originally The Hospital of King James and Thomas Sutton in Charterhouse, or more simply Charterhouse or House, is an English collegiate independent boarding school situated at Godalming in Surrey.Founded by Thomas Sutton in London in 1611 on the site of the old Carthusian...

 before matriculating at Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located in Pembroke Square. As of 2009, Pembroke had an estimated financial endowment of £44.9 million.-History:...

 in 1738. After switching to and completing a Bachelor of Civil Law
Bachelor of Civil Law
Bachelor of Civil Law is the name of various degrees in law conferred by English-language universities. Historically, it originated as a postgraduate degree in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but many universities now offer the BCL as an undergraduate degree...

 degree, he was made a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford on 2 November 1743, admitted to Middle Temple
Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn...

, and called to the Bar there in 1746. Following a slow start to his career as a barrister, Blackstone became heavily involved in university administration, becoming accountant, treasurer and bursar on 28 November 1746 and Senior Bursar in 1750. Blackstone is considered responsible for completing the Codrington Library and Warton Building, and simplifying the complex accounting system used by the college. On 3 July 1753 he formally gave up his practise as a barrister and instead embarked on a series of lectures on English law, the first of their kind. These were massively successful, earning him a total of £ in terms, and led to the publication of An Analysis of the Laws of England
An Analysis of the Laws of England
An Analysis of the Laws of England is a legal treatise by British legal professor William Blackstone. It was first published by the Clarendon Press in 1756. A Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, and a lecturer there, on 3 July 1753 Blackstone announced his intentions to give a set of lectures on the...

 in 1756, which repeatedly sold out and was used to preface his later works.

On 20 October 1758 Blackstone was confirmed as the first Vinerian Professor of English Law, immediately embarking on another series of lectures and publishing a similarly successful second treatise, titled A Discourse on the Study of the Law
A Discourse on the Study of the Law
A Discourse on the Study of the Law is a treatise by Sir William Blackstone first published in 1758. On 20 October 1758 Blackstone had been confirmed as the first Vinerian Professor of English Law, and immediately gave a lecture on 24 October, which was reprinted as the Discourse...

. With his growing fame, Blackstone successfully returned to the bar and maintained a good practice, also securing election as Tory Member of Parliament for the rotten borough
Rotten borough
A "rotten", "decayed" or pocket borough was a parliamentary borough or constituency in the United Kingdom that had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within Parliament....

 of Hindon
Hindon (UK Parliament constituency)
Hindon was a parliamentary borough consisting of the village of Hindon in Wiltshire, which elected two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons from 1448 until 1832, when the borough was abolished by the Great Reform Act...

 on 30 March 1761. In February 1766 he published the first volume of Commentaries on the Laws of England, considered his magnum opus - the completed work earned Blackstone £ in terms. After repeated failures, he successfully gained appointment to the judiciary as a Justice of the Court of King's Bench
Court of King's Bench (England)
The Court of King's Bench , formally known as The Court of the King Before the King Himself, was an English court of common law in the English legal system...

 on 16 February 1770, leaving to replace Edward Clive
Edward Clive (judge)
Sir Edward Clive was a British politician and judge. Born in 1704 to Edward Clive and Sara Key, he joined Lincoln's Inn in 1719 and matriculated to University College, Oxford three years later. In 1725 he was called to the Bar, and after practise as a barrister became Member of Parliament for...

 as a Justice of the Common Pleas
Justice of the Common Pleas
Justice of the Common Pleas was a puisne judicial position within the Court of Common Pleas of England and Wales, under the Chief Justice. The Common Pleas was the primary court of common law within England and Wales, dealing with "common" pleas...

 on 25 June. He remained in this position until his death, on 14 February 1780.

Blackstone's legacy and main work of note is his Commentaries. Designed to provide a complete overview of English law, the four-volume treatise was repeatedly republished in 1770, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1778 and in a posthumous edition in 1783. Reprints of the first edition, intended for practical use rather than antiquary interest, were published until the 1870s in England and Wales, and a working version by Henry John Stephen, first published in 1841, was reprinted until after the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Legal education in England had stalled; Blackstone's work gave the law "at least a veneer of scholarly respectability". William Searle Holdsworth
William Searle Holdsworth
Sir William Searle Holdsworth, OM, KC, DCL, LL.D, FBA, was Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford University and a legal historian, amongst whose works is the 17 volume History of English Law.-Early life:...

, one of Blackstone's successors as Vinerian Professor, argued that "If the Commentaries had not been written when they were written, I think it very doubtful that [the United States], and other English speaking countries would have so universally adopted the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

". In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, copies influenced John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

, James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

, John Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

, John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, James Kent
James Kent
James Kent was an American jurist and legal scholar.-Life:...

 and Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, and the Commentaries are cited in Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 decisions between 10 and 12 times a year.

Blackstone's Ratio, better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer, was repeatedly cited by Ben Franklin and other Founding Fathers as an argument for the American principles of justice, such as "innocent until proven guilty".

Early life and education


William's father, Charles Blackstone, was a silk mercer
Mercery
Mercery initially referred to silk, linen, and fustian textiles imported to England in the 12th century.The term later extended to goods made of these and the sellers of those goods.-Mercer:...

 from Cheapside
Cheapside
Cheapside is a street in the City of London that links Newgate Street with the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Mansion House Street. To the east is Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the major road junction above Bank tube station. To the west is St. Paul's Cathedral, St...

, the son of a wealthy apothecary
Apothecary
Apothecary is a historical name for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses materia medica to physicians, surgeons and patients — a role now served by a pharmacist and some caregivers....

. He became firm friends with Thomas Bigg, a surgeon and the son of Lovelace Bigg, a gentleman from Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

. After Bigg's sister Mary came to London, Charles eventually persuaded her to marry him in 1718. This was not seen as a good match for her, but the couple lived happily and had four sons, three of whom lived into adulthood. Charles (born August 1719) and Henry (May 1722), both became fellows of New College, Oxford
New College, Oxford
New College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.- Overview :The College's official name, College of St Mary, is the same as that of the older Oriel College; hence, it has been referred to as the "New College of St Mary", and is now almost always...

 and took holy orders
Holy Orders
The term Holy Orders is used by many Christian churches to refer to ordination or to those individuals ordained for a special role or ministry....

. Their last son, William, was born on 10 July 1723, five months after Charles' death in February.

Although Charles and Mary Blackstone were members of the middle class rather than landed gentry, they were particularly prosperous. Tax records show Charles Blackstone to have been the second most prosperous man in the parish in 1722, and death registers show that the family had several servants. This, along with Thomas Bigg's assistance to the family following Charles' death, helps explain the educational upbringing of the children. William Blackstone was sent to Charterhouse School
Charterhouse School
Charterhouse School, originally The Hospital of King James and Thomas Sutton in Charterhouse, or more simply Charterhouse or House, is an English collegiate independent boarding school situated at Godalming in Surrey.Founded by Thomas Sutton in London in 1611 on the site of the old Carthusian...

 in 1730, nominated by Charles Wither, a relative of Mary Blackstone. William did well there, and became head of the school by age 15. However, after Charles' death the family fortunes declined, and after Mary died (5 January 1736) the family's resources largely went to meet unpaid bills. William was able to remain at Charterhouse as a "poor scholar", having been named to that position in June 1735 after being nominated by Sir Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, KG, KB, PC , known before 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole, was a British statesman who is generally regarded as having been the first Prime Minister of Great Britain....

.

Blackstone revelled in Charterhouse's academic curriculum, particularly the Latin poetry of Ovid and Virgil. He began to attract note as a poet at school, writing a 30-line set of rhyming couplets to celebrate the wedding of James Hotchkis, the headmaster. He also won a silver medal for his Latin verses on John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

, gave the annual Latin oration in 1738, and was noted as having been the favourite student of his masters. On 1 October 1738, taking advantage of a new scholarship available to Charterhouse students, Blackstone matriculated at Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located in Pembroke Square. As of 2009, Pembroke had an estimated financial endowment of £44.9 million.-History:...

.

Study



There are few surviving records of Blackstone's undergraduate term at Oxford, but the curriculum of Pembroke College had been set out in 1624, and Prest notes that it was probably still followed in 1738, so Blackstone would have studied Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, science, logic, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, geography and poetry. Blackstone was particularly good at Greek, mathematics and poetry, with his notes on William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 being included in George Steevens
George Steevens
George Steevens was an English Shakespearean commentator.He was born at Poplar, the son of a captain and later director of the East India Company. He was educated at Eton College and at King's College, Cambridge, where he remained from 1753 to 1756...

' 1781 edition of Shakespeare's plays. Many of Blackstone's undergraduate texts survive, and they include few legal texts, instead being wide-ranging; politics, current affairs, poetry, geometry and controversial theological texts. The last element is understandable, given his family's theological interests, but the more surprising element is the sheer number of texts he owned given his relative poverty as a student.

On 9 July 1740, after only a year and a half as a Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 student, Blackstone was admitted to study for a Bachelor of Civil Law
Bachelor of Civil Law
Bachelor of Civil Law is the name of various degrees in law conferred by English-language universities. Historically, it originated as a postgraduate degree in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but many universities now offer the BCL as an undergraduate degree...

 degree, civil law being the only legal area recognised by his university. This degree course was seven years long, the first two "supposedly devoted to a broad course of reading in humane studies", which allowed him to study his own interests. On 20 November 1741 he was admitted to the Middle Temple
Middle Temple
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn...

, the first step on the road to becoming a barrister
Barrister
A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings and giving expert legal opinions...

, but this imposed no obligations and simply allowed a legal career to be an option. At the time there was no proper legal education system, and Blackstone read (in his own time) Coke on Littleton
Institutes of the Lawes of England
The Institutes of the Lawes of England are a series of legal treatises written by Sir Edward Coke. They were first published, in stages, between 1628 and 1644. They are widely recognized as a foundational document of the common law. They have been cited in over 70 cases decided by the Supreme Court...

, the works of Henry Finch
Henry Finch
Sir Henry Finch was an English lawyer and politician, created serjeant-at-law and knighted, and remembered as a legal writer.-Life:He was born the son of Sir Thomas Finch of Eastwell and the brother of Moyle Finch...

, and related legal tracts.

In addition to his formal studies, Blackstone published a collection of poetry which included the draft version of The Lawyer to his Muse, his most famous literary work. In 1743 he published Elements of Architecture and An Abridgement of Architecture, two treatises on the rules governing the art of construction. His next work (1747) was The Pantheon: A Vision, an anonymously published book of poetry covering the various religions in the world. It depicts a narrator's walking dream through the buildings of various religions, which are all (other than Christianity) depicted in a negative light. This followed his election as a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford on 2 November 1743, and his call to the Bar
Call to the bar
The Call to the Bar is a legal term of art in most common law jurisdictions where persons must be qualified to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of another party, and are then said to have been "called to the bar" or to have received a "call to the bar"...

 by the Middle Temple on 28 November 1746.

His call to the Bar saw Blackstone begin to alternate between Oxford and London, occupying chambers in Pump Court
Queens' College, Cambridge
Queens' College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The college was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou , and refounded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville...

 but living at All Souls College. As the central courts only sat for three months of the year, the rest of his time was spent on Assize
Assizes
Assize or Assizes may refer to:Assize or Assizes may refer to:Assize or Assizes may refer to::;in common law countries :::*assizes , an obsolete judicial inquest...

 when his work at All Souls permitted. He regularly acted as a law reporter; his personal notes on cases start with Hankey v Trotman (1746). Blackstone's barrister practice began slowly; his first case in the Court of King's Bench
Court of King's Bench (England)
The Court of King's Bench , formally known as The Court of the King Before the King Himself, was an English court of common law in the English legal system...

 was in 1748, and he had only 6 additional motions there through 1751. Two appearances in the Court of Chancery
Court of Chancery
The Court of Chancery was a court of equity in England and Wales that followed a set of loose rules to avoid the slow pace of change and possible harshness of the common law. The Chancery had jurisdiction over all matters of equity, including trusts, land law, the administration of the estates of...

 are also noted, and he is known to have been consulted in Roger Newdigate
Roger Newdigate
Sir Roger Newdigate, 5th Baronet was an English politician and collector of antiquities.He was born in Arbury, Warwickshire, the son of Sir Richard Newdigate, 3rd Baronet and inherited the title 5th Baronet and the estates of Arbury and of Harefield in Middlesex on the early death of his brother...

's long-running lawsuit there, but his early court appearances are infrequent. This is considered to have been due to bad luck, with his call to the Bar occurring at the same time as the massive contraction in business by the central courts, along with his singular lack of connections due to his status as an orphan from the middle class; he was described as "unrecognised and unemployed". He filled his time by acting as counsel for Oxford, and from May 1749 with his election as Recorder
Recorder (judge)
A Recorder is a judicial officer in England and Wales. It now refers to two quite different appointments. The ancient Recorderships of England and Wales now form part of a system of Honorary Recorderships which are filled by the most senior full-time circuit judges...

 of Wallingford.

University administration



While dividing his time, Blackstone became an administrator at All Souls, securing appointment as accountant, treasurer and bursar
Bursar
A bursar is a senior professional financial administrator in a school or university.Billing of student tuition accounts are the responsibility of the Office of the Bursar. This involves sending bills and making payment plans with the ultimate goal of getting the student accounts paid off...

 on 28 November 1746. Completion of the Codrington Library and Warton Building, first started in 1710 and 1720 respectively but not built until 1748, is attributed to his work. In 1749 he became Steward of the Manors, and in 1750 was made Senior Bursar. Records show a "perfectionist zeal" in organising the estates and finances of All Souls, and Blackstone was noted for massively simplifying the complex accounting system used by the college. In 1750 Blackstone completed his first legal tract, An Essay on Collateral Consanguinity, which dealt with those claiming a familial tie to the founder or All Souls in an attempt to gain preeminence in elections. Completion of his Doctor of Civil Law
Doctor of Civil Law
Doctor of Civil Law is a degree offered by some universities, such as the University of Oxford, instead of the more common Doctor of Laws degrees....

 degree, which he was awarded in April 1750, admitted him to Convocation
Convocation
A Convocation is a group of people formally assembled for a special purpose.- University use :....

, the governing body of Oxford, which elected the two burgesses who represented it in the House of Commons, along with most of the university officers. With this and with his continuing work at the university, Blackstone announced on 3 July 1753 his intentions to "no longer attend the Courts at Westminster, but to pursue my Profession in a Way more agreeable to me in all respects, by residing at Oxford [and] to engraft upon this Resolution a Scheme which I am told may be beneficial to the University as well as myself", which was to give a set of lectures on the common law — the first lectures of that sort in the world.

This was not entirely out of benevolence; according to Prest, Blackstone was likely aware that an Oxford alumnus, Charles Viner, was planning to endow a professorship of English law. The Regius Professorship of Civil Law
Regius Professor of Civil Law (Oxford)
The Regius Chair of Civil Law, founded in the 1540s, is one of the oldest of the professorships at the University of Oxford.-Foundation:The Regius Chair of Civil Law at Oxford was founded by King Henry VIII, who established five such Regius Professorships in the University, the others being the...

 had also become vacant in 1753; despite support from Lord Mansfield, Blackstone had been rejected in favour of Robert Jenner, widely considered Blackstone's lesser intellectually but a far greater political mind. In addition, a private lecture series would be extremely lucrative. While his All Souls fellowship gave him £70 a year, records show that the lecture series brought him £116, £226 and £111 a year respectively from 1753 to 1755 — a total of £ in terms. A prospectus was issued on 23 June 1753, and with a class of approximately 20 students, the first set of lectures were completed by July 1754. Despite Blackstone's limited oratory skills and a speaking style described by Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism...

 as "formal, precise and affected", Blackstone's lectures were warmly appreciated. The second and third series were far more popular, partially due to his then unusual use of printed handouts and lists of suggested reading. No copies of these handouts exist, but Alexander Popham
Alexander Popham (penal reformer)
Alexander Popham was a British politician and penal reformer. Born to Alexander Popham, a rector, and his wife Mary, Popham matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford on 11 November 1746, transferring to All Souls, Oxford, where he was awarded his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1751 and his Master of...

, later a close friend of Blackstone, attended the lectures and made notes, which survive. These show Blackstone's attempts to reduce English law to a logical system, with the division of subjects later being the basis for his Commentaries.

Following his lecture series, Blackstone became more prominent in Convocation and other university activities. Oxford and Cambridge at the time had a strange system of law; due to their unique natures, they had exclusive jurisdiction over both academics and students in a fashion which followed either the common law or their own customs, based on the civil law. With his appointment as assessor (or chief legal officer) of the Chancellor's Court, Blackstone became far more involved in the university's peculiar legal system, and records show him sitting between eight and ten times a year from 1753 to 1759, mainly dealing with small claims of debt. He also wrote a manual on the Court's practice, and through his position gained a large number of contacts and connections, as well as visibility, which aided his legal career significantly. This period also saw Blackstone write his last known piece of poetry, Friendship: An Ode, in 1756.

In 1756 Blackstone published the first of his full legal texts, the 200 page An Analysis of the Laws of England
An Analysis of the Laws of England
An Analysis of the Laws of England is a legal treatise by British legal professor William Blackstone. It was first published by the Clarendon Press in 1756. A Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, and a lecturer there, on 3 July 1753 Blackstone announced his intentions to give a set of lectures on the...

. Published by the Clarendon Press, the treatise was intended to demonstrate the "Order, and principal Divisions" of his lecture series, and a structured introduction to English law. Prest calls this "a marked advance on any previous introduction to English law . . including constitutional, civil and criminal law, public and private law, substantive law and procedure, as well as some introductory jurisprudential content". The initial print run of 1,000 copies almost immediately sold out, leading to the printing of three more 1,000-book lots over the next three years, which all sold out. A fifth edition was published in 1762, and a sixth, edited to take into account Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England
Commentaries on the Laws of England
The Commentaries on the Laws of England are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769...

, in 1771. Because of the success of the Commentaries, Prest remarks that "relatively little scholarly attention has been paid to this work"; at the time, however, it was hailed as "an elegant performance . . calculated to facilitate this branch of knowledge".

Vinerian Professor of English Law



On 8 March 1758, the group executing Charles Viner's will
Will (law)
A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his/her estate and provides for the transfer of his/her property at death...

 reported to Convocation that Viner had recommended creating a Chair of English Law, with a £200 salary. After much debate, this position was created, and on 20 October 1758 Blackstone was confirmed as the first Vinerian Professor of English Law
Vinerian Professor of English Law
The Vinerian Professorship of English Law, formerly Vinerian Professorship of Common Law, was established by Charles Viner who by his will, dated 29 December 1755, left about £12,000 to the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford, to establish a Professorship of the Common Law...

. On 24 October he gave his first lecture, to "a crowded audience"; the text was soon printed and published as A Discourse on the Study of the Law
A Discourse on the Study of the Law
A Discourse on the Study of the Law is a treatise by Sir William Blackstone first published in 1758. On 20 October 1758 Blackstone had been confirmed as the first Vinerian Professor of English Law, and immediately gave a lecture on 24 October, which was reprinted as the Discourse...

. The lecture was tremendously popular, being described as a "sensible, spirited and manly exhortation to the study of the law"; the initial print run sold out, necessitating the publication of another 1,000 copies, and it was used to preface later versions of the Analysis and the first volume of the Commentaries. Within the university, however, Blackstone was not as popular. As soon as the lecture series opened, an anonymously written open letter was published charging that Blackstone had "violated the Statutes of the University, by arbitrarily changing the Day appointed for reading his solemn Lectures". Blackstone suffered a nervous breakdown
Mental breakdown
Mental breakdown is a non-medical term used to describe an acute, time-limited phase of a specific disorder that presents primarily with features of depression or anxiety.-Definition:...

 soon after the first lecture, and on 24 November he launched a suit in the Chancellor's Court against "William Jackson of the City of Oxford Printer" for £500 damages, justified by Jackson "printing and publishing a scandalous Libell notoriously reflecting on the Character of him the said William Blackstone". Jackson had refused to reveal who ordered the anonymous pamphlet, leading to the suit, but it evidently did not proceed further.

This suit, along with the struggle over the Vinerian Professorship and other controversies, damaged his reputation within the university, as evidenced by his failure to win election as Vice Warden
Warden (college)
A warden is the head of some colleges and other educational institutions. This applies especially at some colleges and institutions at the University of Oxford:* All Souls College* Greyfriars* Keble College* Merton College* New College* Nuffield College...

 in April 1759, losing to John White. Prest attributes Blackstone' unpopularity to specific personality traits, saying his "determination...in pursuit of causes to which he committed himself could irritate as well as intimidate those of a more relaxed disposition. While quick to take offence at perceived slights on his own character and motives, he could also show surprising indifference to the effect his words and actions might have on others". This marked the beginning of his break with Oxford, which coincided with his growing influence outside the university. In 1759 Lord Bute
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute
John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute KG, PC , styled Lord Mount Stuart before 1723, was a Scottish nobleman who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain under George III, and was arguably the last important favourite in British politics...

, Prince George
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

's official tutor, requested copies of Blackstone's lectures, which he forwarded. Later that year Blackstone was paid £200 by the Prince, who became an "appreciative, loyal, and soon to be incomparably influential patron". This patronage, and Blackstone's purchase of a set of chambers in the Inner Temple
Inner Temple
The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, commonly known as Inner Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court in London. To be called to the Bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, an individual must belong to one of these Inns...

, also transferring to that Inn, were significant steps in his departure from Oxford. In 1759 Blackstone published another two works, The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest, with other authentic Instruments, described as a "major piece of pioneering scholarship" leading to Blackstone's election to the Society of Antiquaries
Society of Antiquaries of London
The Society of Antiquaries of London is a learned society "charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with 'the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries'." It is based at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London , and is...

 in February 1761, and A Treatise on the Law of Descents in Fee Simple, which was later used, almost verbatim, as chapters 14 and 15 of the Commentaries.

Work at the Bar



With sponsorship from the Prince of Wales and his success with the Analysis, Blackstone began work as a barrister, although he kept up his lecture series at Oxford. By 1760 he had become "a very eminent figure indeed in the world of letters", and his legal practice grew as a result. Although not considered a great barrister of the period, he maintained a steady flow of cases, primarily in the King's Bench and Exchequer of Pleas
Exchequer of pleas
The Exchequer of Pleas or Court of Exchequer was a court that followed equity, a set of legal principles based on natural law, and common law, in England and Wales. Originally part of the curia regis, or King's Council, the Exchequer of Pleas split from the curia during the 1190s, to sit as an...

. On the death of the third Earl of Abingdon
Willoughby Bertie, 3rd Earl of Abingdon
Willoughby Bertie, 3rd Earl of Abingdon was an English peer.He was the son of James Bertie of Stanwell in Middlesex and Elizabeth Willoughby. He was elected to Parliament in 1715, but was unseated on petition. He married Anna Maria Collins in August 1727. They had ten children.- Children :# Lady...

, Blackstone was retained as counsel for the executors and trustees to oversee the family's attempts to pay off debts and meet other obligations. On 5 May 1761 he married Sarah Clitherow, a member of a family of lesser gentry from Middlesex
Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

. Their first child, William Bertie Blackstone, born 21 August 1762, did not survive to adulthood. Seven more children were born; Henry, James, Sarah, Mary, Philippa, William, Charles, and George, who also died in childhood. The Blackstones had a large estate in Wallingford, including 120 acres (46 ha) of pasture
Pasture
Pasture is land used for grazing. Pasture lands in the narrow sense are enclosed tracts of farmland, grazed by domesticated livestock, such as horses, cattle, sheep or swine. The vegetation of tended pasture, forage, consists mainly of grasses, with an interspersion of legumes and other forbs...

land around the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 and the right of advowson
Advowson
Advowson is the right in English law of a patron to present or appoint a nominee to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice or church living, a process known as presentation. In effect this means the right to nominate a person to hold a church office in a parish...

 over St Peter's Church
St Peter's Church, Wallingford
St Peter's Church, Wallingford, is a redundant Anglican church in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building, and is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust...

.

In February 1761 Blackstone was considered as a potential Tory candidate for the rotten borough
Rotten borough
A "rotten", "decayed" or pocket borough was a parliamentary borough or constituency in the United Kingdom that had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within Parliament....

 of Hindon
Hindon (UK Parliament constituency)
Hindon was a parliamentary borough consisting of the village of Hindon in Wiltshire, which elected two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons from 1448 until 1832, when the borough was abolished by the Great Reform Act...

. After consultation with friends, he agreed to this prospect — at the same time refusing the offer of appointment as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland
Lord Chief Justice of Ireland
thumb|200px|The Four CourtsThe headquarters of the Irish judicial system since 1804. The Court of King's Bench was one of the original four courts that sat there....

. On 30 March 1761 he was returned for Hindon, and took his seat. This did not limit his legal work, initially, with the seat being given without a requirement to attend or vote in a particular way, and the grant of a patent of precedence
Patent of precedence
A patent of precedence is a grant to an individual by letters patent of a higher social or professional position than the precedence to which his ordinary rank entitles him.-Historical user in the English legal profession:...

 at the same time actually increased the demand on his time. Court records show him pleading before Lord Mansfield in the Court of King's Bench soon after his election, and acting as counsel in Tonson v Collins, a copyright case, Thiquet v Bath, an important case on international law, and R v d'Eon
Chevalier d'Eon
Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont , usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon, was a French diplomat, spy, soldier and Freemason whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman...

, acting for the prosecution in a feud over Louis XV's newly appointed cross-dressing Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

With this increase in his practice, Blackstone also saw an increase in his out-of-court work, writing opinions and recommendations for various Oxford colleges, the MP Jonathan Rashleigh
Jonathan Rashleigh
Jonathan Rashleigh , was an English merchant and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1614 and 1675. He supported the Royalist cause during the Civil War....

 and the fourth Earl of Abingdon
Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon
Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon was an English peer and music patron.Bertie was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, the son of Willoughby Bertie, 3rd Earl of Abingdon and Anna Maria Collins....

, who paid him to draft several private Acts of Parliament. In April 1765 Blackstone began to actively seek judicial appointment. In December 1761 he asked Lord Shelburne
William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne
William Petty-FitzMaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC , known as The Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, by which title he is generally known to history, was an Irish-born British Whig statesman who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister 1782–1783 during the final...

, a patron, for his assistance in gaining appointment as Chief Justice of Chester, writing again in July 1762 to "prevail upon Lord Bute to recommend me to his Majesty's Notice", anticipating an upcoming vacancy in the Court of Common Pleas
Court of Common Pleas (England)
The Court of Common Pleas, or Common Bench, was a common law court in the English legal system that covered "common pleas"; actions between subject and subject, which did not concern the king. Created in the late 12th to early 13th century after splitting from the Exchequer of Pleas, the Common...

. Parliamentary service was considered a "desirable if never absolutely essential qualification for would-be English judges", something that did not necessarily bode well for Blackstone. Naturally inarticulate and reticent, he was an infrequent and "indifferent" speaker during his first session of Parliament, speaking only 14 times in seven years. His chosen career did lend him to politics, in that the lawyers in the House of Commons were often added to select committees to provide them with technical expertise in drafting legislation. He again applied for a judicial post in December 1762, after an opening in the Exchequer of Pleas came up, but lost to George Perrott, a leading Exchequer barrister. The next five vacancies also failed to go to Blackstone, after the appointment of Lord Camden
Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden
Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden was an English lawyer, judge and Whig politician who was first to hold the title of Earl of Camden...

 (a Whig) as Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

.

Commentaries on the Laws of England


In 1765 Blackstone announced his resignation from the Vinerian Chair
Vinerian Professor of English Law
The Vinerian Professorship of English Law, formerly Vinerian Professorship of Common Law, was established by Charles Viner who by his will, dated 29 December 1755, left about £12,000 to the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford, to establish a Professorship of the Common Law...

, effective after his 1766 lectures. These were divided into two 14-lecture series, on "private wrongs" and "public wrongs" delivered between 12 February and 24 April. At this point Blackstone had published nothing new since A Treatise on the Law of Descents in Fee Simple in 1759. The decision to resign was most likely due to the increasing demands of his legal practice and the reduced profit from the lectures, which, after peaking at £340 in 1762, dropped to £239 a year later and to £203 for the final round of lectures in 1765-6. In response, Blackstone decided to publish a new book - Commentaries on the Laws of England
Commentaries on the Laws of England
The Commentaries on the Laws of England are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769...

. The first volume was published in February 1766, bringing the author £1,600 - the full work would eventually bring in over £14,000. Owen Ruffhead described Volume I as "masterly", noting that "Mr Blackstone is perhaps the first who has treated the body of the law in a liberal, elegant and constitutional manner. A vein of good sense and moderation runs through every page". Every copy was sold within six months, and the second and third volumes, published in October 1766 and June 1768, received a similar reception. The fourth and final volume appeared in 1770, dealing with Criminal Law. With the financial success of the Commentaries, Blackstone moved in 1768 from his London property in Carey Fields to No. 55 Lincoln's Inn Fields. Neighbours included the Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

n ambassador, Sir Walter Rawlinson, Lord Northington
Robert Henley, 1st Earl of Northington
Robert Henley, 1st Earl of Northington PC , was the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. He was a member of the Whig Party in the parliament and was known for his wit and writing.-Family:...

, John Morton
John Morton (MP)
John Morton was an English Tory politician.He was appointed Chief Justice of Chester in November 1762.In 1765, a Bill of Regency came before Parliament, to make provisions should George III die unexpectedly...

 and the Third Earl of Abingdon
Earl of Abingdon
Earl of Abingdon is a title in the Peerage of England. It was created on 30 November 1682 for James Bertie, 5th Baron Norreys of Rycote. He was the eldest son of Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey by his second marriage to Bridget, 4th Baroness Norreys de Rycote, and the younger half-brother of...

, making it an appropriate house for a "great and able Lawyer".

Blackstone's treatise was republished in 1770, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1778 and in a posthumous edition in 1783. Reprints of the first edition, intended for practical use rather than antiquary interest, were published until the 1870s in England and Wales, and a working version by Henry John Stephen, first published in 1841, was reprinted until after the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The first American edition was produced in 1772; prior to this, over 1,000 copies had already been sold in the Thirteen Colonies.

Judge



Even after the publication of the Commentaries, Blackstone's chances of judicial appointment remained slim. While he was old enough, experienced enough and widely respected, the presence of Lord Camden as Lord Chancellor and Blackstone's lack of aristocratic patrons at the time hindered his chances. In January 1770, however, Lord Grafton's government began to fall, with Camden resigning on 17 January and Solicitor-General John Dunning, following him. George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

 appointed Lord North
Frederick North, Lord North
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, KG, PC , more often known by his courtesy title, Lord North, which he used from 1752 until 1790, was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. He led Great Britain through most of the American War of Independence...

 as Prime Minister, and North picked Charles Yorke
Charles Yorke
Charles Yorke was Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.-Life:The second son of Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, he was born in London, and was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His literary abilities were shown at an early age by his collaboration with his brother Philip in the...

 as Lord Chancellor. Yorke's death on 20 January, after holding the position for less than three days, left several important legal positions within the government open. As such, Blackstone, now MP for Westbury
Westbury (UK Parliament constituency)
Westbury was a parliamentary constituency in Wiltshire from 1449 to 2010. It was represented in the House of Commons of England until 1707, and then in the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800, and finally in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801...

, was apparently approached to become Solicitor-General; he refused, not wanting to deal with the complicated duties attached to the position.

On 9 February 1770 — apparently with the intervention of the King, and possibly Lord Mansfield — Blackstone became a Justice of the Common Pleas
Justice of the Common Pleas
Justice of the Common Pleas was a puisne judicial position within the Court of Common Pleas of England and Wales, under the Chief Justice. The Common Pleas was the primary court of common law within England and Wales, dealing with "common" pleas...

, succeeding Edward Clive
Edward Clive (judge)
Sir Edward Clive was a British politician and judge. Born in 1704 to Edward Clive and Sara Key, he joined Lincoln's Inn in 1719 and matriculated to University College, Oxford three years later. In 1725 he was called to the Bar, and after practise as a barrister became Member of Parliament for...

, and was made a Serjeant-at-Law
Serjeant-at-law
The Serjeants-at-Law was an order of barristers at the English bar. The position of Serjeant-at-Law , or Sergeant-Counter, was centuries old; there are writs dating to 1300 which identify them as descended from figures in France prior to the Norman Conquest...

 on 12 February. After only four days it was announced that Joseph Yates was to move to the Common Pleas, and Blackstone was again sworn in as a judge, this time of the Court of King's Bench. This was apparently due to Yates' poor health; Lord Mansfield ran a busy court as Lord Chief Justice, and it was felt that his transfer to the Common Pleas was for the best. Others commented that it was instead due to political and judicial disagreement, with Yates unwilling to stomach the changes which Mansfield made to English law. Blackstone sat regularly as a judge, despite bouts of ill health, and also served on various circuit courts. Prest describes him as an "exceptionally careful, conscientious and well-respected judge . . his judgments ranging between narrowly framed technicalities [and] broad statements of public commentary".

Blackstone returned to the Common Pleas on 25 June 1770, having spent less than six months in the King's Bench; Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism...

 asserted that this was due to Mansfield's having Blackstone removed similarly to his removal of Yates. Bentham asserted that in the King's Bench, Blackstone was "always in hot water", and that there was "heartburning" between the two; Bentham's account is considered dubious because historically, Mansfield and Blackstone had an excellent relationship, with the third volume of the Commentaries describing Mansfield as "a judge, whose masterly acquaintance with the law of nations was known and revered by every state in Europe". There is only one recorded King's Bench case, R v Proprietors of Birmingham Canal Navigation, in which Blackstone and Mansfield disagreed.

In the Common Pleas, Blackstone operated under a civil jurisdiction rather than a mixed civil and criminal one. This played to his strengths, and many of his decisions are considered farsighted; the principle in Blaney v Hendricks, for example, that interest is due on an account where money was lent, which anticipated Section 3 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934. Blackstone's decision in Goldswain's Case was later repeated by Lord Denning in Falmouth Boat Construction Co v Howell in 1950.

Death


Blackstone had long suffered from gout
Gout
Gout is a medical condition usually characterized by recurrent attacks of acute inflammatory arthritis—a red, tender, hot, swollen joint. The metatarsal-phalangeal joint at the base of the big toe is the most commonly affected . However, it may also present as tophi, kidney stones, or urate...

, and by November 1779 also had a nervous disorder which caused dizziness
Dizziness
Dizziness refers to an impairment in spatial perception and stability. The term is somewhat imprecise. It can be used to mean vertigo, presyncope, disequilibrium, or a non-specific feeling such as giddiness or foolishness....

, obesity, high blood pressure and possibly diabetes
Diabetes mellitus type 2
Diabetes mellitus type 2formerly non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetesis a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. Diabetes is often initially managed by increasing exercise and...

. By 3 February 1780 he was too weak to write, and after "some Days almost totally insensible", he died on 14 February. After a service conducted by Bishop Barrington on 22 February, Blackstone was buried in the family vault under St Peter's Church, Wallingford. His estate at his death was worth less than £15,000; therefore William Eden secured a £400 annual royal pension for Sarah Blackstone. The initial reaction to Blackstone's death was subdued, but in December 1780 the Fellows of All Souls College
All Souls College, Oxford
The Warden and the College of the Souls of all Faithful People deceased in the University of Oxford or All Souls College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England....

 agreed that "a Statue be erected to the memory of Sr W Blackstone deceased". Constructed by John Bacon, the life-sized statue of Blackstone in his judicial robes cost £539, and has rested in the Codrington Library
Codrington Library
The Codrington Library is a library in All Souls College, one of the colleges forming part of Oxford University in England.The library was founded through a bequest by Christopher Codrington , a Fellow of the College. Codrington bequeathed books worth £6,000 and £10,000 in money, which allowed the...

 since 1872. His brother-in-law, James Clitherow, also published two volumes of his law reports which added £1,287 to the estate, and in 1782 the Biographical History of Sir William Blackstone appeared.

Legacy



Blackstone's primary legacy is his written work, specifically the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Demand for reprinted, abridged and translated versions was "almost inexhaustible" in the 18th and 19th centuries, although the Commentaries emphasis on the sovereignty of Parliament
Parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. In the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, a legislative body has absolute sovereignty, meaning it is supreme to all other government institutions—including any executive or judicial bodies...

 drew ire. Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution . In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in...

 described Blackstone as "an inferior writer, without liberality of mind or depth of judgment". Other commentators differ; one described him as "the core element in the British Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

", comparing him to Montesquieu, Beccaria and Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

. Academics have said that the Commentaries were crucial in changing English Law from a system based on actions to a system of substantive law
Substantive law
Substantive law is the statutory or written law that defines rights and duties, such as crimes and punishments , civil rights and responsibilities in civil law. It is codified in legislated statutes or can be enacted through the initiative process.Substantive law stands in contrast to procedural...

. When Blackstone was writing, British Common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 was still somewhat undeveloped, with people uncertain as to what The Law. The Commentaries helped to solidify legal thinking. At the same time, legal education had stalled, and Blackstone's work gave the Law "at least a veneer of scholarly respectability". William Searle Holdsworth
William Searle Holdsworth
Sir William Searle Holdsworth, OM, KC, DCL, LL.D, FBA, was Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford University and a legal historian, amongst whose works is the 17 volume History of English Law.-Early life:...

, one of Blackstone's successors as Vinerian Professor
Vinerian Professor of English Law
The Vinerian Professorship of English Law, formerly Vinerian Professorship of Common Law, was established by Charles Viner who by his will, dated 29 December 1755, left about £12,000 to the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford, to establish a Professorship of the Common Law...

, argued that "if the Commentaries had not been written when they were written, I think it very doubtful that [the United States], and other English speaking countries would have so universally adopted the [common] law".

The Commentaries had a particular influence in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

; James Iredell
James Iredell
James Iredell was one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed by President George Washington and served from 1790 until his death in 1799...

, an original Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are the members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States...

 wrote that the Commentaries were "Books admirably calculated for a young Student, and indeed may instruct the most learned . . Pleasure and Instruction go hand in hand". When the Commentaries were first printed in North America, 1,400 copies were ordered for Philadelphia alone. Academics have also noted the early reliance of the Supreme Court on the Commentaries, probably due to a lack of US legal tradition at that time. Robert Ferguson notes that "all our formative documents — the Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, the Federalist Papers
Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles or essays promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Seventy-seven of the essays were published serially in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet between October 1787 and August 1788...

 and the seminal decisions of the Supreme Court under John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 — were drafted by attorneys steeped in Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. So much was this the case that the Commentaries rank second only to the Bible as a literary and intellectual influence on the history of American institutions". Even today, the Commentaries are cited in Supreme Court decisions between 10 and 12 times a year.

Within United States academia and practise, as well as within the judiciary, the Commentaries had a substantial impact; with the scarcity of law books on the frontier, they were "both the only law school and the only law library most American lawyers used to practise law in America for nearly a century after they were published". Blackstone had drawn up a plan for a dedicated School of Law, and submitted it to the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

; when the idea was rejected he included it in the Commentaries. It is from this plan that the modern system of American law schools comes. Subscribers to the first edition of Blackstone, and later readers who were profoundly influenced by it, include James Iredell
James Iredell
James Iredell was one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed by President George Washington and served from 1790 until his death in 1799...

, John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

, James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

, John Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

, John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, James Kent
James Kent
James Kent was an American jurist and legal scholar.-Life:...

 and Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

.

In the early 1920s the American Bar Association
American Bar Association
The American Bar Association , founded August 21, 1878, is a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students, which is not specific to any jurisdiction in the United States. The ABA's most important stated activities are the setting of academic standards for law schools, and the formulation...

 presented a statue of Blackstone to the English Bar Association, however, at the time, the sculpture was too tall to be placed in the Royal Courts of Justice
Royal Courts of Justice
The Royal Courts of Justice, commonly called the Law Courts, is the building in London which houses the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales...

. The sculpture, designed by Paul Wayland Bartlett
Paul Wayland Bartlett
Paul Wayland Bartlett was an American sculptor working in the Beaux-Arts tradition of heroic realism. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Truman Howe Bartlett, an art critic and sculptor....

 was eventually cast in Europe and presented back to the United States for display. Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 approved the placement of the sculpture in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 on 15 March 1943, and appropriated $10,000 for the installation. The bronze statue is a nine-foot (2.7 m) standing portrait of Blackstone wearing judicial robes and a long curly wig, holding a copy of Commentaries. It is placed on a tall granite base and stands on Constitution Avenue
Constitution Avenue
In Washington, D.C., Constitution Avenue is a major east-west street running just north of the United States Capitol in the city's Northwest and Northeast quadrants...

 & 3rd Street NW.

Works



  • Elements of Architecture (1743)
  • An Abridgement of Architecture (1743)
  • The Pantheon: A Vision (1747)
  • An Analysis of the Laws of England
    An Analysis of the Laws of England
    An Analysis of the Laws of England is a legal treatise by British legal professor William Blackstone. It was first published by the Clarendon Press in 1756. A Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, and a lecturer there, on 3 July 1753 Blackstone announced his intentions to give a set of lectures on the...

     (1756)
  • A Discourse on the Study of the Law
    A Discourse on the Study of the Law
    A Discourse on the Study of the Law is a treatise by Sir William Blackstone first published in 1758. On 20 October 1758 Blackstone had been confirmed as the first Vinerian Professor of English Law, and immediately gave a lecture on 24 October, which was reprinted as the Discourse...

     (1758)
  • The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest, with other authentic Instruments (1759)
  • A Treatise on the Law of Descents in Fee Simple (1759)
  • Commentaries on the Laws of England
    Commentaries on the Laws of England
    The Commentaries on the Laws of England are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769...

    (1766)