Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New acquisition: colonial American imprint of Henry Care's English Liberties

Spine of Henry Care's English LibertiesTitle page of Henry Care's English Liberties

Henry Care's English Liberties, or the Free-born Subject's Inheritance was originally published in England around 1680 (the title page had no year). The book is a layman's guide to English law and government, with a focus on the Magna Cagna, the Charter of the Forest, other important early English statutes, and subjects such as juries, justices of the peace, murder and manslaughter.

A note after the Contents section indicates that this edition, with additions by William Nelson, is specially adapted for American audiences. It omits content that wasn't deemed useful for the colonies, but "to compensate amply for those Omissions, and make the Work as truly valuable", there are additions for colonial readers in the way of forms for justices of the peace and "Extracts from several late celebrated Writers on the British Constitution, which serve to illustrate and enforce the very important Doctrines advanced by the ingenious Author" (viii).

This last bit is interesting, as this volume was published in Providence, Rhode Island in 1774, just months after the passage of the Intolerable Acts. The discussion of Magna Carta and fundamental rights would have been quite interesting reading for colonial patriots. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson had two copies of this work, which was a source of inspiration for William Penn's Excellent Priviledge of Liberty and Property (1687) and a source for George Mason when drafting Virginia's Declaration of Rights (1776).

Many thanks to the folks at Lawbook Exchange for the detailed description, upon which the post is based.

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