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U. of I. law library acquires prized
Blackstone legal commentaries
Mark Reutter, Business & Law Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
After five years of looking, the University of Illinois College
of Law has acquired the first American edition of Blackstone’s
Commentaries on the Law, completing its collection of original Blackstone
The law library is now one of four libraries nationwide to possess all
of the major editions of the seminal work by Sir William Blackstone
(1723-1780), a professor of common law at Oxford University.
First published in 1765-69, Blackstone’s four-volume Commentaries
was the first authoritative synthesis of English law, rendering hundreds
of years of formless common law into orderly and readable texts. Prior
to that time, scholars confined themselves to the study of Roman law.
The first American edition, published in 1771-72 in Philadelphia, became
a standard reference work in the courts of the 13 colonies. Thomas Jefferson
and other revolutionary founders of America relied upon the volumes
for their legal practices, and Blackstone played a role in the evolving
concept of “individual natural rights” that underpins the
U.S. Bill of Rights.
“The editions are a fundamental piece of the historical understanding
of modern law and a great resource for scholars to compare perceptions
of the law over time,” said Janis L. Johnston, director of the Albert E. Jenner Jr. Memorial
Law Library at Illinois.
The Jenner Library joins Harvard University, Yale University and the
Library of Congress in owning a complete set of original Blackstone
Until the middle of the 19th century, most aspiring lawyers learned
the law by reading Blackstone while apprenticing under more senior lawyers,
according to Johnston.
“The Commentaries were a key source of legal education until law
colleges became established,” she said. “Numerous related
works were based on Blackstone or used his name somewhere in the title.
Worldwide, there have been hundreds of editions in nearly as many languages.”
The Jenner Law Library purchased the American edition through endowment
funds established by an anonymous donor.