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Entered according to the Act of Congress in the year 1832, by
WILLIAM E. DEAN,
In the Clerk's Office of the Southern District of New-York.
BY THE AMERICAN EDITOR.
THE COMMENTARIES OF BLACKSTONE continue to be the text book of the student and of the man of general reading, notwithstanding the alterations in the law since the time of their author. The great principles which they unfold remain the same, and are explained in so simple and clear a style, that, however much the details of the law may be changed, they will always be read with interest. It is no small commendation of Blackstone, that many of the modern improvements adopted in England and in the United States were suggested by him: and that the arrangement which he used in treating the different subjects, has been followed in a great degree by the Revisers of the Statutes of New-York.
This edition shows the late alterations of the law in England, as furnished by the notes of Lee, Hovenden, and Ryland, in the last London edition. Notes have also been added, briefly explaining the difference between the law of England and of New-York. Those not engaged in the practice of law find it difficult, while reading the Commentaries, to make this distinction: this difficulty, it is hoped, is now in some degree removed. It was deemed inconsistent with the original object of the work to introduce any other than brief notes. The American notes are therefore generally short, leaving those who wish an extended knowledge of the subject, to the statutes and authorities. But as the English statutes or authorities may not be accessible to the general reader, the English notes are generally retained without any abbreviation. This is done, because it is considered that the readers of Blackstone generally wish to know, not only what the law of England was, but also what it is.
In the abbreviations and in these volumes, R. S. refers to the Revised Statutes of New-York, of 1830; U. S. is used for an abbreviation of the United States; N. Y. for New-York.
New-York April 8, 1832.
THE following sheets contain the substance of a course of lectures on the Laws of England, which were read by the author in the university of OXFORD. His original plan took its rise in the year 1753; and, notwithstanding the novelty of such an attempt in this age and country, and the prejudices usually conceived against any innovations in the established mode of education, he had the satisfaction to find, and he acknowledges it with a mixture of pride and gratitude, that his endeavours were encouraged and patronised by those, both in the university and out of it, whose good opinion and esteem he was principally desirous to obtain.
The death of Mr. VINER in 1756, and his ample benefaction to the university, for promoting the study of the law, produced about two years afterwards a regular and public establishment of what the author had privately undertaken. The knowledge of our laws and constitution was adopted as a liberal science by general academical authority; competent endowments were decreed for the support of a lecturer, and the perpetual encouragement of students; and the compiler of the ensuing Commentaries had the honour to be elected the first Vinerian professor.
In this situation he was led, both by duty and inclination, to investigate the elements of the law, and the grounds of our civil polity, with greater assiduity and attention than many have thought it necessary to do. And yet all, who of late years have attended the public administration of justice, must be sensible that a masterly acquaintance with the general spirit of laws and principles of universal jurisprudence, combined with an accurate knowledge of our own municipal constitutions, their original, reason, and history, hath given a beauty and energy to many modern judicial decisions, with which our ancestors were wholly unacquainted. If, in the pursuit of these inquiries, the author hath been able to rectify any errors which either himself or others may have heretofore imbibed, his pains will be sufficiently answered and if in some points he is still mistaken, the candid and judicious reader will make due allowances for the difficulties of a search so new, so extensive, and so laborious.
Nov. 2, 1765.
NOTWITHSTANDING the diffidence expressed in the foregoing Preface, no sooner was the work completed, but many of its positions were vehemently attacked by zealots of all (even opposite) denominations, religious as well as civil; by some with a greater, by others with a less degree of acrimony. To such of these animadverters as have fallen within the author's notice, (for he doubts not but some have escaped it), he owes at least this obligation: that they have occasioned him from time to time to revise his work, in respect to the particulars objected to; to retract or expunge from it what appeared to be really erroneous; to amend or supply it when inaccurate or defective; to illustrate and explain it when obscure. But, where he thought the objections ill-founded, he hath left and shall leave the book to defend itself: being fully of opinion, that, if his principles be false and his doctrines unwarrantable, no apology from himself can make them right; if founded in truth and rectitude, no censure from others can make them wrong.