Blackstone Law

I have a candidate for the most important book that historians don’t read: Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. Liberty Fund has an edition online.

Why do I pick this book? Actually, it is a four-volume set. Why is it so important? Beginning in 1765, virtually every lawyer in the United States was expected to read this book. Every candidate for the bar was expected to read this book. It was first published between 1765 and 1769. It went through many editions. Every British lawyer was expected to read it. But the first edition gives insight into the concept of parliamentary sovereignty in the North American British colonies during the years of the Stamp Act crisis. Then came the Revolution. Lawyers were at the center of both movements.

It would be an interesting academic project to post all of the editions online. The reason for this is that historians of both the United States and Great Britain could see the changes in the book, edition by edition. It would be at least reasonable to presume that younger lawyers coming into the profession would read the latest edition. It might be interesting to see the changes that took place in the law, as manifested by Blackstone, that would provide information on the changes of the law in British history. It would also be useful to study the developments in books comparable to Blackstone that were substituted for Blackstone in the United States. These would be books on Constitutional law.

In terms of an understanding of the history of any society, it is crucial to understand these neglected topics: the development of the law, the development of the economy, and the development of churches. Of course, the development of the family would be important, but that tends to be the realm of sociologists. Broad social movements or developments are difficult to follow.

You can focus on the law better than almost any other topic. The courts leave an enormous amount of written records. These records can be put online. It is clear that development of the law is fundamental to understanding the development of any country’s history.

The astounding thing is this: it is not widely studied. Legal history is a closed book for most historians.

History – Revisionism: The Most Important Book in American History That Almost No Historians Read
Gary North

God demands justice, as defined by Himself.

Justice is way more important than piety, or proper ritual.

As God demand justice, Christians should take Him seriously, and know the law.

  • Does the laws of our nation comply with Christ’s Law-Word?
  • If so, are those laws enforced?
  • If not, how do we deviate from the Divine order? Do we make the law too complex for ordinary people to understand and obey? Do we turn it into something only a few members of a special guild can understand and apply?
  • Do we simply ignore the commands of God, and place the will of men (really, the will of certain men: the politically connected and the wealthy) as the functional God of our nation?

Then, in the mid-1980’s, I bought a copy of the Liberty Fund’s edition of A. V. Dicey’s The Law of the Constitution (1915). There was a photograph of Dicey at the beginning of the book. The book noted that the photograph had been provided by Richard Cosgrove. That caught my attention.

I wrote to Cosgrove and asked him why he had a copy of that photograph. He told me that he had decided midway in his academic career to begin writing about the history of Anglo-American law. He said that almost no historians in the United States were devoting their careers to this topic. There are legal historians who do it, but he made this point: they write in legal jargon, and they focus on topics that are of interest only to lawyers. He said that historians of the law who are not lawyers are rare.

History – Revisionism: The Most Important Book in American History That Almost No Historians Read
Gary North

Right now, the law – even today’s secularist (read: pointedly anti-Christian, God-State legal system) “law” is a closed book to anyone outside of the legal guild.

And the legal guild has no intention of allowing the rest of us to really grasp how our legal system works.

This needs to change. And it’s up to Christians to understand how the current secular system actually works, and publish it widely.

(Note: the arbitrary power-grabbing and thin retroactive justifications are going to be quite repulsive, but will have to be spelt out. Also repulsive, just how weak our liberty actually is in secularist cultures, as the COVID-19 lockdowns amply demonstrate.)

After making it clear how corrupt our current legal system is, it is necessary for Christians to demonstrate the superiority of a predictable, fixed, widely-understood God-exalting legal system.

As opposed to an arbitrary and secretive Government-exalting, Church-exalting, Party-exalting, Wealth-exalting, Race-exalting, Military-exalting, Science-exalting, or even Aristocrat-exalting legal system.

We need to show how today’s system works, what’s wrong with it, and both how and why the Biblical Legal system is superior to secularist “law”.

As in, far superior.

How can you understand any society without at least some understanding of the constitutional principles, moral principles, and legal principles that govern the nation’s courts? The historical narrative in the textbooks are inevitably tied to politics. Even historians who understand other aspects of history as a whole are more important than politics find it almost irresistible to talk about national elections. It is almost impossible to write a history of the United States after 1789 in which the narrative is not driven by the Presidential elections. Yet in terms of the history of the actual Presidents, most of them did not do much. It would be a specialist in American Presidential history who could list the Presidents in order, and provide from memory as few as three major accomplishments of each President. The most famous thing that Millard Fillmore ever did was to install the first bathtub in the White House, and that was a fake story written by H. L. Mencken as a practical joke.

If we see civil law as an aspect of liberty or tyranny, we ought to know something about the history of law in the United States. If we see civil law as an aspect of slow cultural development, we ought to know something about the history of law in the United States.

The conservative movement in the United States has yet to produce a college-level textbook on the history of American constitutional law. If anything testifies to the academic weakness of American conservatism, this has to be close to the top of the list. I wrote about this 10 years ago: https://www.garynorth.com/public/2276.cfm. Nothing has changed.

History – Revisionism: The Most Important Book in American History That Almost No Historians Read
Gary North

Neither the temple-bound Guild of Professional Christians, nor the Academic intelligentsia, will ever change a thing.

Just as they have not changed a thing in 300 years.

We Christian laymen will have to do the work.

And hard work it will be!

But after the hard work, comes the great, world-changing rewards.

Christianity isn’t about piety. It’s about justice.

It’s about the Law of God.

This is not a bad place to start: Liberty Fund, Law Archives.

You can find a copy of Blackstone there. And other interesting works, as well.

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