Blackstone, Sir William

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Blackstone, Sir William

Sir William Blackstone. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Sir William Blackstone.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

The groundwork for U.S. Jurisprudence lies in a four-volume eighteenth-century publication by British legal commentator Sir William Blackstone. Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England provided a systematic analysis of English Common Law. Published between 1765 and 1769, the treatise was an exhaustive compilation of Blackstone's Oxford University lectures on law. Commentaries was unprecedented in scope and purpose, and profoundly influenced the development of common law and Legal Education in England and the United States.

Born July 10, 1723, Blackstone was the son of Mary Blackstone and Charles Blackstone, of London. Blackstone's father, a silk merchant, died before Blackstone was born; his mother died while he was a young boy. Raised by an older brother and tutored by an uncle, Blackstone attended Charterhouse and Pembroke College, at Oxford University, where his education included a thorough exposure to mathematics and logic. Blackstone entered All Souls College, Oxford, in 1743, and became a fellow in 1744.

In preparation for a law practice, Blackstone received a Civil Law degree in 1745, and became a barrister in 1746. In 1750, he became a doctor of civil law. One year later, he was selected as an assessor (judge) of Chancellor's Court.

In 1755, after three years of a lusterless law practice, Blackstone decided to devote all of his time to teaching law at Oxford. His first book, published in 1757, was titled An Analysis of the Laws of England. In 1758, Blackstone was named Oxford's Vinerian Professor of English Law, receiving the first chair of common law ever established at the university. Blackstone's lectures were well received, providing students with a comprehensive introduction to the laws of England.

The success of his lectures enhanced Blackstone's career. In 1761 he became a bencher (supervisor and lecturer) at Oxford's Middle Temple. The same year, he was elected to Parliament, where he served for seven years—although, according to most historians, he was not an especially ambitious or effective politician. Also in 1761, Blackstone married Sarah Clitherow, with whom he had nine children.

"It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer."
—Sir William Blackstone

In 1765, Blackstone published the first of his four volumes of Commentaries. The treatise discussed the cases, rules, and legal principles outlined in his popular Oxford lectures. Each volume concentrated on a particular area of law—personal rights, property rights, torts, or Criminal Law. As Blackstone analyzed the laws, he also revealed their relationship to a higher power. Throughout his Commentaries, Blackstone wove the concept of "natural law,"or God's laws imposed on humankind.

Some critics maintain that Blackstone's view of British law was misleading because a logical, cohesive legal system simply did not exist at the time he was writing. Also, they argue that although Blackstone's writing style was graceful, he sometimes treated legal terms loosely. Yet even his harshest critics concede that Blackstone's effort to synthesize English law was indeed impressive, as was the effect of his treatise in his country and beyond.

Blackstone's Commentaries was particularly influential in the United States as the new nation sought to establish its own laws and legal system. Although Blackstone is no longer cited by practicing attorneys—his importance in the United States decreased dramatically during the twentieth century—he remains a revered figure in U.S. law. Over thirty editions of Commentaries have been printed in the United States and England.

In 1770, Blackstone became judge of the Court of Common Pleas and was knighted. He died on February 14, 1780, at age fifty-seven.

Further readings

Carrese, Paul O. 2003. The Cloaking of Power: Montesquieu, Blackstone, and the Rise of Judicial Activism. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Cross-references

Blackstone's Commentaries.

References in periodicals archive ?
228) 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England *123-24 [hereinafter 1 William Blackstone],
5) Sir William Blackstone explained that trial by jury "preserves in the hands of the people that share, which they ought to have in the administration of public justice, and prevents the encroachments of the more powerful and wealthy citizens.
In his Commentaries on the Laws of England dealing with 'Private Wrongs' the celebrated eighteenth-century legal historian William Blackstone discusses writs which 'are either optional or peremptory; or, in the language of our law, a praecipe, or a si te fecerit securum?
After a brief introduction, in which some key concepts are discussed, the author turns to the British roots of prerogative power in Chapter 2, with passages from the writings of John Locke, William Blackstone, Niccolo Machiavelli, and political scientist Clinton Rossiter.
Despite this, their author Sir William Blackstone, has been relatively neglected by historians and biographers: the man himself remains largely a mystery.
William Blackstone, whose treatise on English common law became an authority for the development of American law, referred to those who became financially involved in litigation that did not concern them as "pests of civil society," who were "officiously interfering in other men's quarrels.
This lecture focused on the life and work of Sir William Blackstone, an English legal giant of the 1700s, whose Commentaries on the Laws of England is one of the most important historical works of legal scholarship in the English language.
In Britain it shaped the thinking of Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, William Blackstone, and Adam Smith, and in America its influence can be detected in the Federalists, particularly in the thought of Madison and Hamilton.
Citing the work of William Blackstone, Jeremy Bentham and others, Chaplin foregrounds the rise of a positivist approach to legal practice--an approach that attempted to rid the law of what Bentham identified as its spurious legal fictions.
There is a presumption in the British judicial system that, as Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) said: "It is better that 10 guilty persons escape than one innocent should suffer.
In the early days they included the philosopher David Hume, the antiquary William Stukeley and the lawyer William Blackstone.
I open Chitty again and begin to read the section, Life of the Author: "Sir William Blackstone was born on the 10th of July, 1723, in Cheapside, in the parish of St.