Freedom Circle logo
Freedom Circle

Where Can You Find Freedom Today?

18th century English jurist, author of Commentaries on the Laws of England
William Blackstone

Sir William Blackstone SL KC (10 July 1723 – 14 February 1780) was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle-class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke College, Oxford in 1738. After switching to and completing a Bachelor of Civil Law degree, he was made a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford on 2 November 1743, admitted to Middle Temple and called to the Bar there in 1746. Following a slow start to his career as a barrister, Blackstone became heavily involved in university administration, becoming accountant, treasurer and bursar on 28 November 1746 and Senior Bursar in 1750. Blackstone is considered responsible for completing the Codrington Library and Warton Building, and simplifying the complex accounting system used by the college. On 3 July 1753 he formally gave up his practice as a barrister and instead embarked on a series of lectures on English law, the first of their kind. These were massively successful, earning him a total of £453 (£65,000 in 2018 terms), and led to the publication of An Analysis of the Laws of England in 1756, which repeatedly sold out and was used to preface his later works.


10 Jul 1723, in London


14 Feb 1780, in Wallinford, Berkshire, England


Berkshire History: Biographies: Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780)
Based on Emery Walker's "Historical Portraits" (1909)
Sir William was a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas from an old Wiltshire family. ... In his thirtieth year, being disappointed of the Chair of Civil Law, for which he had been recommended to the Crown, be began, at the suggestion of the Solicitor-General, afterwards Lord Mansfield, to deliver a course of lectures on English Law, and these were so successful that he became the first occupant of the newly founded Vinerian Professorship in 1758. His success also brought him practice, a seat in the House of Commons and the Headship of New Inn Hall, Oxford, in 1761.

Web Pages

Sir William Blackstone - Online Library of Liberty
Includes portrait, short biography and links to various of Blackstone's works and links to selected quotations
Sir William Blackstone's (1723-1780) four-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England assures him a place in history as one of the greatest scholars of English common law. Blackstone began his lectures on the common law in 1753. His Commentaries served as a primary instruction tool in England and America well into the nineteenth century and exerted a pronounced influence on the development of the American legal tradition.


The Courts and the New Deal, Part 1, by William L. Anderson, Freedom Daily, Jun 2005
First part of a four-part series examining how Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal affected federal courts and other legal practices; contrasts the thoughts of Blackstone and Bentham
While we like to think of U.S. law originating with the Constitution, the real 'author' of the original legal system was William Blackstone, the great British jurist who wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England in the mid 1700s. ... It was Blackstone who championed the ideal of law as a shield of the innocent, a tool that in the hands of government was to protect the life, property, and liberty of individual persons. Law was not only to constrain (and punish) those who would steal or kill, but also to constrain the powers and activities of those who were part of the state.
The Founding Fathers and the Economic Order, by Forrest McDonald, 19 Apr 2006
Speech given at the Economic Club of Indianapolis; contrasts the economic system the Founding Fathers intended to create with the one that was actually created
[Consider what the Framers] understood by property rights. The appropriate source is Sir William Blackstone's 4 volume Commentaries on the Laws of England, a work that James Madison said was "in every man's hand." [In] "Of the rights of things," Blackstone defines property as "That sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe." Splendid statement, but [he] devotes the remaining 518 pages of the [second] volume to qualifying and specifying exceptions to his definition.
Natural Law and the American Tradition, by Davis E. Keeler, The Freeman, May 1981
Discusses the influence of Edward Coke and William Blackstone in early colonial America
In 1765, William Blackstone published his Commentaries on the Law and within a short time he became as well read in America as in England. These quotations are from an American edition published in Philadelphia in 1771: '... laws ... denote rules ... of human action ... that is the precepts by which man ... endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior ... So when He created man ... He laid down certain immutable laws of human nature ... and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws. ...'
The "Stable Bulwark of Our Liberties", by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 13 Jun 2008
Reviews the Supreme Court majority opinion in the decision of the Boumediene v. Bush case, holding that Guantanamo Bay detainees can use the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus
The majority quoted the words of the renowned jurist William Blackstone (quoted by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 84):
To bereave a man of life ... would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.
As the Court noted, Blackstone described the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 as the stable bulwark of our liberties.


On the Origin and Character of Rights, The Freeman, Mar 1981
Selection extracted from Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765), Book I, Chapter I, "Of the absolute Rights of Individuals"
By the absolute rights of individuals we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it ... where there is no law there is no freedom. But then, on the other hand, that constitution or frame of government, that system of laws, is alone calculated to maintain civil liberty, which leaves the subject entire master of his own conduct, except in those points wherein the public good requires some direction or restraint.
Related Topics: Law, Liberty, Rights

Books Authored

Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 1, 1769
Partial contents: Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals - Of the King's Revenue - Of People, Whether Aliens, Denizens or Natives - Of Master and Servant - Of Husband and Wife - Of Parent and Child - Of Guardian and Ward - Of Corporations
Related Topic: Law
Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 2, 1769
Partial contents: Of Property in General - Of the Title to Things Real, in General - Of Title by Purchase, and First by Escheat - Of Title by Occupancy - Of Title by Forfeiture - Of Property in Things Personal - Of Title by Gift, Grant, and Contract
Related Topic: Law
Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 3, 1769
Partial contents: Of the Redress of Private Wrongs by the Mere Act of Parties - Of Courts in General - Of the Cognizance of Private Wrongs - Of Injuries to Personal Property - Of Trespass - Of Process - Of Pleading - Of the Trial by Jury
Related Topic: Law
Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 4, 1769
Partial contents: Of the Nature of Crimes, And Their Punishment - Of Principals and Accessories - Of High Treason - Of Offences Against the Persons of Individuals - Of Offenses Against Private Property - Of Arrests - Of Commitment and Bail - Of Process
Related Topic: Law

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "William Blackstone" as of 14 Mar 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.