‘Begin with Blackstone’s Commentaries.” So replied Abraham Lincoln to J. M. Brockman, who, in 1860, asked the future president about “the best mode of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the law.” Lincoln was referring to William Blackstone’s multivolume Commentaries on the Laws of England. Blackstone (1723–1780) composed the work from his Oxford lectures on English law — the first of the sort ever given at an English university. Published between 1765 and 1769, the Commentaries has become the most influential legal text in American history. The Federalist twice cites the “judicious Blackstone.” Future Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall read …
This article appears as “Particular Law, Universal Truth” in the December 17, 2020, print edition of National Review.
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