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A Review of Sir William Blackstone and the Common Law: Blackstone’s Legacy to America

This volume gives the reader an excellent and very readable introduction to William Blackstone and his legacy.

  • Byron Snapp,
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This volume gives the reader an excellent and very readable introduction to William Blackstone and his legacy. The fact that our generation needs an introduction to this able legal scholar and committed Christian is a telling commentary on our legal culture.

Blackstone was born in 1723 and was raised by his widowed mother. The Lord used her faithfulness in teaching her children the Christian faith to root William in the fact that God is Lord of all and the creator of law. A slow law practice turned Blackstone toward lecturing on the common law. His lectures were so well received that he printed them in 1758 under the title Commentary on the Laws of England.

These four volumes became the underpinnings for the practice of law in the colonial era and in America long thereafter. As Stacey so cogently explains, there were four principles that were central to Blackstone's thinking regarding law. The primary principle is that all just law is rooted in God.

In his commentaries, Blackstone traced English common law back to King Alfred. This medieval king established a law system based on Scripture by which England was governed once the Vikings were defeated and left England. This law was further developed in succeeding centuries as it was applied to particular cases.

By his commentaries, Blackstone had a tremendous impact on the American colonies. Future lawyers were trained under the tutelage of this textbook. People had access to these volumes and could grasp the importance and the outworking of common law as it had developed over the centuries. The fact that God is ultimately the source of just law and that all men are under law was ingrained into their thinking. Thus it should come as no surprise that basic grievances expressed in the Declaration of Independence can be found as violations of the common law as explained by Blackstone.

In successive chapters Stacey does an excellent job of explaining the formation and development of English common law and of Blackstone's impact on the formation of the colonial legal system. Additionally, he explains how and why the legal system has strayed far afield from the principle Blackstone so eloquently espoused. He concludes with a chapter addressing the path for a return to the practice of common law.

This volume is not only for lawyers. Its clarity of thought, development, and writing style makes it accessible to adults and students who have no background in law.

Although the reader may be discouraged to see elements of the legal tradition being discarded, to me this is an encouraging book to read. It reminded me of the legal heritage that was once in place and to which our nation can return. The author reminds the reader that Blackstone himself lived in a time of great cultural conflict and tension even as we do. Yet God used him to influence the legal system of his day and of many generations after him. The same can happen in our own nation, by God's grace.

This volume is the first of a number of volumes that will comprise the Blackstone Core Curriculum under the auspices of the Alliance Defense Fund.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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