Sir William Blackstone, an eminent jurist and professor of law at Oxford University, was the eighteenth century’s leading authority on the development of English common law. The underlying principles of the common law were based primarily on the customs and usages of the society, encompassing the ancient, often unwritten, laws of England, statutory enactments, and the judgments and decrees of the English courts. Blackstone’s monumental four-volume treatise on English Law, Commentaries on the Laws of England was first published in 1765 and was soon recognized as the authoritative guide to English common law. In the thinly settled American colonies, the need for a portable yet definitive guide to the common law made Blackstone’s Commentaries an essential treatise for colonial lawyers and magistrates. Even after the revolution, Blackstone’s work remained a cornerstone of early American jurisprudence, as adapted and edited by the federalist law professor St. George Tucker in 1803.
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