Blackstone had developed a keen interest in the common law, and in 1753 he began lecturing on the subject. These were the first lectures on English law ever given at a university. His listeners were fascinated by the clarity and charm of his style and the simplicity with which he presented the subject. The latter virtue, however, was achieved in part because Blackstone blurred the difficulties and contradictions of English law. He gave the whole subject an air of wholeness and mutual interdependence, as if it were a unified logical system, and he suppressed or ignored its archaic aspects, instead praising English law as the embodiment of 18th century wisdom. He formulated his objectives in a lecture paper of 23 June 1753: Blackstone made the common law readable and understandable to non-jurists for the first time. At first, his comments were hotly contested, with some seeing them as an evil or covert attempt to reduce or codify the common law, which was anathema to common law purists. [ref. needed] Among other things, this article provides a useful overview of Blackstone`s view of common law and its implications for the American legal system. In 1754, Blackstone published Analysis of the Laws of England, a summary of his lectures to guide his students. In October 1758 he was elected Vinérien`s first professor of common law.
His lectures formed the basis of his commentaries, which were published in four successive volumes between 1765 and 1769. Blackstone`s Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in four volumes from 1765 to 1769, offers a comprehensive examination of English law, from constitutionalism to common law. Although Blackstone was heavily influenced by the work of John Locke, he found the concept of revolution troubling and recognized a right to revolution only in theory, claiming that power was not returned to the people until sovereign power was completely destroyed. As long as Parliament has existed, its power has remained absolute, a doctrine known as parliamentary sovereignty. Of Private Wrongs dealt with unlawful acts as they existed in Blackstone`s time. The different methods of litigation that existed in civil law have also been dealt with in this volume, as well as the jurisdictions of the different courts, from the lowest to the highest. Almost after the fact, Blackstone also adds a short chapter on justice, the parallel legal system that existed in English law at the time, and attempts to correct errors that the common law has not corrected. The commentaries are often cited by U.S.
courts as the authoritative pre-revolutionary source of common law. [ref. needed] U.S. Supreme Court opinions cite Blackstone`s work when they want to engage in historical discussions that go back that far or further (for example, when discussing the intent of the framers of the Constitution). The book was used as a key in the cipher of Benedict Arnold`s book, with whom he secretly communicated with his conspirator John Andrews during their plot to betray the Continental Army during the American Revolution. There are two characteristics of the common law understanding of defamation, as Blackstone interpreted it, which the founders rejected. First, Blackstone noted that, except in civil cases in which a person seeks damages against himself, since « the tendency of any defamation to create animosities and disturb the public peace is the sole consideration of the law, » the truth of the defamation is irrelevant to their defense. Second, the comments did not provide for a jury trial in seditious defamation cases, meaning that the government could decide cases in which it was the subject of the alleged defamation. In drafting the first federal law on seditious libel, the Sedition Act of 1798, the Federalists departed from these two principles by explicitly providing that truth could be offered as a defence by any person charged under the law, and that such cases would be heard by a jury. The fourth volume of the commentary contains a section dealing with defamation and seditious libel, which greatly influenced the founders` understanding of the First Amendment`s freedom of the press clause.
Blackstone insists that « freedom of the press is indeed essential to the essence of a free state, » but concludes that this freedom consists primarily of « not imposing prior restrictions on publication. » This legal principle, commonly referred to as « prior restriction, » simply means that the government cannot enact regulations, such as the requirement for a publication license, that would penalize or inhibit publishers until they have actually printed anything.