Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pay up or off to prison!

Promissory note and writ
This pair of documents recounts a trying period in the life of one Robert Taylor. The first, smaller piece of paper is a promissory note, signed on 18 February 1780, in Milton, Massachusetts. Taylor promises to deliver Isaac Davenport 300 “weight” of good merchantable flax by April 1 of the same year in exchange for £20.

The next document makes it clear that he did not deliver Davenport the flax. A forerunner of today’s fill-in- the-blanks legal forms, this is a writ, addressed to the sheriff of Worcester County, for the arrest of Taylor.

If the law caught up with Taylor, he would have been placed in debtors’ prison. Next week’s blog and selection from the Rare Book Room will examine the conditions Taylor would have faced in the prison, as well as a look at the history of debtors’ prisons in Massachusetts and the United States at large.

This post was written by BC Law Library intern, Allison Shely, Boston College Class of 2017. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"First" American edition of Vattel's seminal work on international law

Emer de Vattel's The Law of Nations, his seminal work on international law, was first published in 1758 in his native French. In 2014, we acquired this first edition in an original trade binding. Recently, we were happy to add a copy of a very early American edition to our collection. Indicated as the first edition on the title page, this is in fact the second American edition (the first was actually published in New York in 1787).

Vattel’s influential work was cited more frequently than any other work in the courts of the Early Republic and received high praise from the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. It continues to be cited today by courts across our country and beyond.

This unassuming but lovely copy clearly was well-used; there are pencil markings throughout the volume. The binding is sheepskin patterned to mimic tree calf, with gilt tooling and the original lettering piece on the spine.

Many thanks to Michael von der Linn at Lawbook Exchange for the description on which this posted is based.

For more on the Vattel’s influence in colonial and early America, see Willem Theo Oosterveld, The Law of Nations in Early American Foreign Policy (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2016), 26-35.