Extracts from William Blackstone's
Commentaries on the Laws of England

Blackstone on the English Constitution

Book One, Chapter 2: Of Parliament:

And herein indeed consists the true excellence of the English government, that all the parts of it form a mutual check upon each other. In the legislature, the people are a check upon the nobility, and the nobility a check upon the people; by the mutual privilege of rejecting what the other has resolved: while the King is check upon both, which power is again checked and kept within bounds by the two houses, through the privilege they have of enquiring into, impeaching, and punishing the conduct (not indeed of the King, which would destroy his constitutional independence; but, which is more beneficial to the public), of his evil and pernicious counsellors. Thus every branch of our civil policy supports and is supported, regulates and is regulated, by the rest; for the two houses naturally drawing in two directions of opposite interest, and the prerogative in another still different from them both, they mutually keep each other from exceeding their proper limits ; while the whole is prevented from separation, and artificially connected together by the mixed nature of the crown, which is a part of the legislative, and the sole executive magistrate. Like three distinct powers in mechanics, they jointly impel the machine of government in a direction different from what either, acting by themselves, would have done ; but at the same time in a direction partaking of each, and formed out of all ; a direction which constitutes the true line of the liberty and happiness of the community.

Book One, Chapter 8: Of the King's Revenue:

Branch 18

I proceed therefore to the eighteenth and last branch of the king's ordinary revenue; which consists in the custody of idiots, from whence we shall be naturally led to consider also the custody of lunatics.

An idiot, or natural fool, is one that has had no understanding from his nativity; and therefore is by law presumed never likely to attain any. For which reason the custody of him and of his lands was formerly vested in the lord of the see; (and therefore still, by special custom, in some manors the lord shall have the ordering of idiot and lunatic copyholders) but, by reason of the manifold abuses of this power by subjects, it was at last provided by common consent, that it should be given to the king, as the general conservator of his people, in order to prevent the idiot from wasting his estate, and reducing himself and his heirs to poverty and distress: This fiscal prerogative of the king is declared in parliament by statute 17 Edw. II. c. 9. which directs (in affirmance of the common law) that the king shall have ward of the lands of natural fools, taking the profits without waste or destruction, and shall find them necessaries; and after the death of such idiots he shall render the estate to the heirs; in order to prevent such idiots from aligning their lands, and their heirs from being disherited.

By the old common law there is a writ de idiota inquirendo, to enquire whether a man be an idiot or not: which must be tried by a jury of twelve men; and if they find him purus idiota, the profits of his lands, and the custody of his person may be granted by the king to some subject, who has interest enough to obtain them. This branch of the revenue has been long considered as a hardship upon private families; and so long ago as in the 8 Jac. I. it was under the consideration of parliament, to vest this custody in the relations of the party, and to settle an equivalent on the crown in lieu of it; it being then proposed to share the same fate with the slavery [?] of the feodal tenures, which has been since abolished. Yet few instances can be given of the oppressive exertion of it, since it seldom happens that a jury finds a man an idiot a nativitate, but only non compos mentis from some particular time; which has an operation very different in point of law.

A man is not an idiot, if he has any glimmering of reason, so that he can tell his parents, his age, or the like common matters. But a man who is born deaf, dumb, and blind, is looked upon by the law as in the same state with an idiot; he being supposed incapable of understanding, as wanting those senses which furnish the human mind with ideas.

A lunatic, or non compos mentis, is one who has had understanding, but by disease, grief, or other accident has lost the use of his reason. A lunatic is indeed properly one that has lucid intervals; sometimes enjoying his senses, and sometimes not, and that frequently depending upon the change of the moon. But under the general name of non compos mentis (which Sir Edward Coke says is the most legal name) are comprised not only lunatics, but persons under frenzies; or who lose their intellects by disease; those that grow deaf, dumb, and blind, not being born so; or such, in short, as are by any means rendered incapable of conducting their own affairs. To these also, as well as idiots, the king is guardian, but to a very different purpose. For the law always imagines, that these accidental misfortunes may be removed; and therefore only constitutes the crown a trustee for the unfortunate persons, to protect their property, and to account to them for all profits received, if they recover, or after their decease to their representatives. And therefore it is declared by the statute 17 Edw. II. c. 10 that the king shall provide for the custody and suftentation of lunatics, and preserve their lands and the profits of them, for their use, when they come to their right mind: and the king shall take nothing to his own use; and if the parties die in such estate, the residue shall be distributed for their souls by the advice of the ordinary, and of course (by the subsequent amendments of the law of administrations) shall now go to their executors or administrators.

The method of proving a person non compos is very similar to that of proving him an idiot. The Lord Chancellor, to whom, by special authority from the king, the custody of idiots and lunatics is intrusted, upon petition or information, grants a commission in nature of the writ de idiota inquirendo, to enquire into the party's state of mind; and if he be found non compos, he usually commits the care of his person, with a suitable allowance for his maintenance, to some friend, who is then called his committee. However, to prevent sinister practices, the next heir is never permitted to be this committee of the person; because it is his interest that the party should die. But, it has been said, there lies not the same objection against his next of kin, provided he be not his heir, for it is his interest to preserve the lunatic's life, in order to increase the personal estate by savings, which he or his family may hereafter be entitled to enjoy. The heir is generally made the manager or committee of the estate, it being clearly his interest by good management to keep it in condition; accountable however to the court of chancery, and to the non compos himself, if he recovers; or otherwise, to his administrators.

Book One, Chapter 9: Of Subordinate Magistrates:

II. The coroner's is also a very ancient office at the common law. He is called coroner, coronator, because he has principally to do with pleas of the crown, or such wherein the king is more immediately concerned. And in this light the Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench is the principal coroner in the kingdom, and may (if he pleases) exercise the jurisdiction of a coroner in any part of the realm. But there are also particular coroners for every county of England; usually four, but sometimes six, and sometimes fewer. This officer is of equal antiquity with the sheriff; and was ordained together with him to keep the peace, when the earls gave up the wardship of the county.

He is still chosen by all the freeholders in the county court, as by the policy of our ancient laws the sheriffs, and conservators of the peace, and all other officers were, who were concerned in matters that affected the liberty of the people; and as verderers of the forests still are, whose business it is to stand between the prerogative and the subject in the execution of the forest laws.


The coroner is chosen for life: but may be removed, either by being made sheriff, or chosen verderor, which are offices incompatible with the other; or by the king's writ de coronatore exonerando, for a cause to be therein assigned, as that he is engaged in other business, is incapacitated by years or sickness, has not a sufficient estate in the county, or lives in an inconvenient part of its. And by the statute 25 Geo. II. c. 29. extortion, neglect, or misbehaviour, are also made causes of removal.

The office and power of a coroner are also, like those of a sheriff, either judicial or ministerial; but principally judicial. This is in great measure ascertained by statute 4 Edw. I. de officio coronatoris; and consists, first, in enquiring (when any person is slain or dies suddenly) concerning the manner of his death. And this must be "super visum corporist;" for, if the body be not found, the coroner cannot sit. He must also sit at the very place where the death happened; and his enquiry is made by a jury from four, five or six of the neighbouring towns, over whom he is to preside. If any be found guilty by this inquest of murder, he is to commit to prison for further trial, and is also to enquire concerning their lands, goods and chattels, which are forfeited thereby: but, whether it be murder or not, he must enquire whether any deodand has accrued to the king, or the lord of the franchise, by this death: and must certify the whole of this inquisition to the court of king's bench, or the next assizes. Another branch of his office is to enquire concerning shipwrecks; and certify whether wreck or not, and who is in possession of the goods. Concerning treasure trove, he is also to enquire who were the finders, and where it is, and whether any one be suspected of having found and concealed a treasure; "and that may be well perceived (says the old statute of Edw. I.) where one liveth riotously, haunting taverns, and hath done so of long time:" whereupon he might be attached, and held so bail, upon this suspicion only.

The ministerial office of the coroner is only as the sheriff's substitute. For when just exception can be taken to the sheriff, for suspicion of partiality, (as that he is interested in the suit, or of kindred to either plaintiff or defendant) the process must then be awarded to the coroner, instead of the sheriff, for execution of the king's writs.

VI I proceed therefore, lastly, to consider the overseers of the poor; their original appointment and duty.

The poor of England, till the time of Henry VIII, subsisted entirely upon private benevolence, and the charity of well disposed christians. For, though it appears by the mirrour, that by the common law the poor were to be

"sustained by parsons, rectors of the church, and the parishioners; so that none of them dye for default of sustenance;"

and though by the statutes 12 Ric. II. c. 7 and 19 Hen. VII. c. 12. the poor are directed to be sustained in the cities or towns wherein they were born, or such wherein they had dwelt for three years (which seem to be the first rudiments of parish settlements) yet till the statute 27 Hen. VIII. c. 26. I find no compulsory method chalked out for this purpose: but the poor seem to have been left to such relief as the humanity of their neighbours would afford them. The monasteries were, in particular, their principal resource; and, among other bad effects which attended the monastic institutions, it was not perhaps one of the least (though frequently esteemed quite otherwise) that they supported and fed a very numerous and very idle poor, whose sustenance depended upon what was daily distributed in alms at the gates of the religious houses. But, upon the total dissolution of these, the inconvenience of thus encouraging the poor in habits of indolence and beggary was quickly felt throughout the kingdom: and abundance of statutes were made in the reign of king Henry the eighth, for providing for the poor and impotent; which, the preambles to some of them recite, had of late years strangely increased. These poor were principally of two sorts: sick and impotent, and therefore unable to work; idle and sturdy, and therefore able, but not willing, to exercise any honest employment. To provide in some measure for both of these, in and about the metropolis, his son Edward the sixth founded three royal hospitals; Christ's, and St. Thomas's, for the relief of the impotent through infancy or sickness; and Bridewell for the punishment and employment of the vigorous and idle. But these were far from being sufficient for the care of the poor throughout the kingdom at large; and therefore, after many other fruitless experiments, by statute 43 Eliz. c. 2 overseers of the poor were appointed in every parish.

By virtue of the statute last mentioned, these overseers are to be nominated yearly in Easter-week, or within one month after, by two justices dwelling near the parish. They must be substantial householders, and so expressed to be in the appointment of the justices.

Their office and duty, according to the same statute, are principally these: first, to raise competent sums for the necessary relief of the poor, impotent, old, blind, and such other, being poor and not able to work: and, secondly, to provide work for such as are able and cannot otherwise get employment: but this latter part of their duty, which, according to the wise regulations of that salutary statute, should go hand in hand with the other, is now most shamefully neglected. However, for these joint purposes, they are empowered to make and levy rates upon the several inhabitants of the parish, by the same act of parliament; which has been farther explained and enforced by several subsequent statutes.

The two great objects of this statute seem to have been,

  1. To relieve the impotent poor, and them only.

  2. To find employment for such as are able to work:

and this principally by providing stocks to be worked up at home, which perhaps might be more beneficial than accumulating all the poor in one common work-house; a practice which tends to destroy all domestic connections (the only felicity of the honest and industrious labourer) and to put the sober and diligent upon a level, in point of their earnings, with those who are dissolute and idle. Whereas, if none were to be relieved but those who are incapable to get their livings, and that in proportion to their parents, but such as are brought up in rags and idleness; and if every poor man and his family were employed whenever they requested it, and were allowed the whole profits of their labour; --- a spirit of cheerful industry would soon diffuse itself through every cottage; work would become easy and habitual, when absolutely necessary to their daily subsistence; and the most indigent peasant would go through his task without a murmur, if assured that he and his children (when incapable of work through infancy, age, or infirmity) would then, and then only, be entitled to support form his opulent neighbours.

This appears to have been the plan of the statute of queen Elizabeth; in which the only defect was confining the management of the poor to small, parochial, districts; which are frequently incapable of furnishing proper work, or providing an able director. However, the laborious poor were then at liberty to seek employment wherever it was to be had; none being obliged to reside in the places of their settlement, but such as were unable or unwilling to work; and those places of settlement being only such where they were born, or had made their abode, originally for three years, and afterwards (in the case of vagabonds) for one year only.

After the restoration, a very different plan was adopted, which has rendered the employment of the poor more difficult, by authorizing the subdivision of parishes; has greatly increased their number, by confining them all to their respective districts; has given birth to the intricacy of our poor-laws, by multiplying and rendering more easy the methods of gaining settlements; and, in consequence, has created an infinity of expensive lawsuits between contending neighbourhoods, concerning those settlements and removals. By the statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 12. a legal settlement was declared to be gained by birth, inhabitancy, apprenticeship, or service for forty days; within which period all intruders were made removable from any parish by two justices of the peace, unless they settled in a tenement of the annual value of 10 l. The frauds, naturally consequent upon this provision, which gave a settlement by so short a residence, produced the statute I Jac. II. c. 17. which directed notice in writing to be delivered to the parish officers, before a settlement could be gained by such residence. Subsequent provisions allowed other circumstances of notoriety to be equivalent to such notice given; and those circumstances have from time to time been altered, enlarged, or restrained, whenever the experience of new inconveniences, arising daily from new regulations, suggested the necessity of a remedy. And the doctrine of certificates was invented, by way of counterpoise, to restrain a man and his family from acquiring a new settlement by any length of residence whatever, unless in two particular excepted cases; which makes parishes very cautious of giving such certificates, and of course confines the poor at home, where frequently employment can be had.

The law of settlements may be therefore now reduced to the following general heads; or, a settlement in a parish may be acquired,

  1. By birth; which is always prima facie the place of settlement, until some other can be shown. This is also always the place of settlement of a bastard child; for a bastard, having in the eye of the law no father, cannot be referred to his settlement, as other children may. But, in legitimate children, though the place of birth be prima facie the settlement, yet it is not conclusively so; so there are,

  2. Settlements by parentage, being the settlement of one's father or mother: all children being really settled in the parish where their parents are settled, until they get a new settlement for themselves. A new settlement may be acquired several ways; as

  3. By marriage. For a woman, marrying a man that is settled in another parish, changes her own: the law not permitting the separation of husband and wife. But if the man be a foreigner, and has no settlement, her's is suspended during his life, if he be able to maintain her; but after his death she may return again to her old settlements. The other methods of acquiring settlements in any parish are all reducible to this one, of forty days residence therein: but this forty days residence (which is construed to be lodging or lying there) must not be by fraud, or stealth, or in any clandestine manner; but accompanied with one or other of the following concomitant circumstances. The next method therefore of gaining a settlement, is,

  4. By forty days residence, and notice. For if a stranger comes into a parish, and delivers notice in writing of his place of abode, and number of his family, to one of the overseers ( which must be read in the church and registered) and resides there unmolested for forty days after such notice, he is legally settled thereby. For the law presumes that such a one at the time of notice is not likely to become chargeable, else he would not venture to give it; or that, in such case, the parish would take care to remove him. But there are also other circumstances equivalent to such notice: therefore,

  5. Renting for a year a tenement of the yearly value of ten pounds, and residing forty days in the parish, gains a settlement without notice; upon the principle of having substance enough to gain credit for such a house.

  6. Being charged to and paying the public taxes and levies of the parish; and,

  7. Executing any public parochial office for a whole year in the parish, as churchwarden, &c; are both of them equivalent to notice, and gain a settlement, when coupled with a residence of forty days.

  8. Being hired for a year, when unmarried, and serving a year in the same service; and

  9. Being bound an apprentice for seven years; give the servant and apprentice a settlement, without notice, in that place wherein they serve the last forty days. This is meant to encourage application to trades, and going out to reputable services.

  10. Lastly, the having an estate of one's own, and residing thereon forty days, however small the value may be, in case it be acquired by act of law or of a third person, as by descent, gift, devise, &c, is a sufficient settlement: but if a man acquire it by his own act, as by purchase, (in it's popular sense, in consideration of money paid) then unless the consideration advanced, bona fide, be 30 l. it is no settlement for any longer time, than the person shall inhabit thereon. He is in no case removable from his own property; but he shall not, by any trifling or fraudulent purchase of his own, acquire a permanent and lasting settlement.

All persons, not so settled, may be removed to their own parishes, on complaint of the overseers, by two justices of the peace, if they shall adjudge them likely to become chargeable to the parish, into which they have intruded: unless they are in a way of getting a legal-settlement, as by having hired a house of 10 l. per annum, or living in an annual service; for then they are not removable a. And in all other cases, if the parish to which they belong, will grant them a certificate, acknowledging them to be their parishioners, they cannot be removed merely because likely to become chargeable, but only when they become actually chargeable. But such certificated persons can gain no settlement by any of the means above- mentioned; unless by renting a tenement of 10 l. per annum, or by serving an annual office in the parish, being legally placed therein: neither can an apprentice or servant to such certificated person gain a settlement by such their service.

These are the general heads of the laws relating to the poor which, by the resolutions of the courts of justice thereon within a century past, are branched into a great variety. And yet, notwithstanding the pains that has been taken about them, they still remain very imperfect, and inadequate to the purposes they are designed for: a fate, that has generally attended most of our statute laws, where they have not the foundation of the common law to build on. When the shires, the hundreds, and the tithings, were kept in the same admirable order that they were disposed in by the great Alfred, there were no persons idle, consequently none but the impotent that needed relief: and the statute of 43 Eliz. seems entirely founded on the same principle. But when this excellent scheme was neglected and departed from, we cannot but observe with concern, what miserable shifts and lame expedients have from time to time been adopted, in order to patch up the flaws occasioned by this neglect. There is not a more necessary or more certain maxim in the frame and constitution of society, than that every individual must contribute his share, in order to the well-being of the community: and surely they must be very deficient in sound policy, who suffer one half of a parish to continue idle, dissolute, and unemployed; and then form visionary schemes, and at length are amazed to find, that the industry of the other half is not able to maintain the whole.

Book One, Chapter 15: Of husband and wife:
Quotations from Blackstone originally taken from Beard, M.R. 1946
Woman as Force in History, p.89. Since added to.

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything; and is therefore called in our law-french a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord ; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture. Upon this principle, of an union of person in husband and wife, depend almost all the legal rights, duties, and disabilities that either of them acquire by the marriage. I speak not at present of the rights of property, but of such as are merely personal. A man cannot grant any thing to his wife, or enter into covenant with her, for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence; and to covenant with her, would be only to covenant with himself: and therefore it is also generally true, that all compacts made between husband and wife, when single, are voided by the intermarriage. A woman indeed may be attorney for her husband; for that implies no separation from, but is rather a representation of her lord. And a husband may also bequeath anything to his wife by will; for that cannot take effect until the coverture is determined by his death. The husband is bound to provide his wife with necessaries by law, as much as himself: and if she contracts debts for them, he is bound to pay them; but for anything besides necessaries, he is not chargeable. Also if a wife elopes, and lives with another man, the husband is not chargeable even for necessaries; at last if the person, who furnishes them, is sufficiently apprized of her elopement. If the wife be indebted before marriage, the husband is bound afterward to pay the debt; for he has adopted her and her circumstances together. If the wife be injured in her person or her property, she can bring no action for redress without her husband's concurrence, and in his name, as well as her own: neither can she be sued, without making the husband a defendant. There is indeed one case where the wife shall sue and be sued as a feme sole [single woman], viz. where the husband has abjured the realm, or is banished: for then he is dead in law; and, the husband being thus disabled to sue for or defend the wife; it would be most unreasonable if she had no remedy, or could make no defence at all. In criminal prosecutions, it is true, the wife may be indicted and punished separately; for the union is only a civil union. But, in trials of any sort, they are not allowed to be evidence for, or against, each other: partly because it is impossible their testimony should be indifferent ; but principally because of the union of person: and therefore, if they were admitted to be witnesses for each other, they would contradict one maxim of law, "nemo in propria caufa teftis effe debet" [no one ought to be witness in his own cause]; and if against each other, they would contradict another maxim, "nemo tenetur seipsum accusare" [no one is bound to accuse himself]. But where the offence is directly against the person of the wife, this rule has been usually dispensed with: and therefore, by statute 3 Hen. VII. c. 2. in case a woman be forcibly taken away, and married, she may be a witness against such her husband, in order to convict him of felony. For in this case she can with no propriety be reckoned his wife; because a main ingredient, her consent, was wanting to the contract: and also there is another maxim of law, that no man shall take advantage of his own wrong; which the ravisher here would do, if by forcibly marrying a woman, he could prevent her from being a witness, who is perhaps the only witness, to that very fact.

In the civil law the husband and wife are considered as two distinct persons; and may have separate estates, contracts, debts, and injuries and therefore, in our ecclesiastical courts, a woman may sue and be sued without her husband.

But, though our law in general considers man and wife as one person, yet there are some instances in which she is separately considered; as inferior to him, and acting by his compulsion. And therefore all deeds executed, and acts done, by her, during her coverture, are void, or at least voidable; except it be a fine, or the like matter of record, in which case she must be solely and secretly examined, to learn if her act be voluntary. She cannot by will devise lands to her husband, unless under special circumstances; for at the time of making it she is supposed to be under his coercion. And in some felonies, and other inferior crimes, committed by her, through constraint of her husband, the law excuses her: but this extends not to treason or murder.

The husband also (by the old law) might give his wife moderate correction. For, as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought it reasonable to intrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his servants or children ; for whom the master or parent is also liable in some cases to answer. But this power of correction was confined within reasonable bounds ; and the husband was prohibited to use any violence to his wife, [other than lawfully and reasonable pertains to the husband for the rule and correction of his wife]. The civil law gave the husband the same, or a larger, authority over his wife ; allowing him, for some misdemeanours, [to beat his wife severely with whips and sticks] for others, only [with moderate punishment].

But, with us, in the politer reign of Charles the second, this power of correction began to be doubted: and a wife may now have security of the peace against her husband; or, in return, a husband against his wife. Yet the lower rank of people, who were always fond of the old common law, still claim and exert their ancient privilege : and the courts of law will still permit a husband to restrain a wife of her liberty, in case of any gross misbehaviour.

These are the chief legal effects of marriage during the coverture; upon which we may observe, that even the disabilities which the wife lies under, are for the most part intended for her protection and benefit. So great a favourite is the female sex of the laws of England.

Book Four, Chapter 2: Of the persons capable of committing crimes

II. The second case of a deficiency in will, which excuses from the guilt of crimes, arises also a defective or vitiated understanding, viz. in an idiot or a lunatic. For the rule of law as to the latter, which may easily be adapted also to the former, is, that "furiosus furore solum punitur".

In criminal cases therefore idiots and lunatics are not chargeable for their own acts, if committed when under these incapacities: no, not even for treason itself.

Also, if a man in his sound memory commits a capital offence, and before arraignment for it, he becomes mad, he ought not to be arraigned for it; because he is not able to plead to it with that advice and caution that he ought. And if, after he has pleaded, the prisoner becomes mad, he shall not be tried; for how can he make his defence?

If, after he be tried and found guilty, he loses his senses before judgment, judgment shall not be pronounced; and if, after judgment, he becomes of nonsane memory, execution shall be stayed: for peradventure, says the humanity of the English law, had the prisoner been of sound memory, he might have alleged something in stay of judgment or execution. Indeed, in the bloody reign of Henry the eighth, a stature was made, which enacted, that if a person, being compos mentis, should commit high treason, and after fall into madness, he might be tried in his absence, and should suffer death, as if he were of perfect memory. But this savage and inhuman law was repealed by the statute 1 & 2 Phillip & Mary c.10

"For, as is observed by Sir Edward Coke, the execution of an offender is for example, ... but so it is not when a madman is executed; but should be a miserable spectacle, both against law, and of extreme inhumanity and cruelty, and can be no example to others."

But if there be any doubt, whether the party be compos or not, this shall be tried by a jury. And if he be so found a total idiocy, or absolute insanity, excuses from the guilt, and of course from the punishment, of any criminal action committed under deprivation of the senses : but, if a lunatic has lucid intervals of understanding, he shall answer for what he does in those intervals, as if he had no deficiency.

Yet, in the case absolute madmen, as they are not answerable for their actions, they should not be permitted the liberty of acting unless under proper control; and, in particular, they ought not to be suffered to go loose, to the terror of the king's subject.

It was the doctrine of our ancient law, that persons deprived of their reason might be confined till they recovered their senses, without waiting for the forms of a commission or other special authority from the crown: and now, by the vagrant acts, a method is chalked out for imprisoning, chaining, and sending them to their proper homes.

Book Four - Chapter Thirty-Three: Of the rise, progress, and gradual improvements, of the laws of England

[Blackstone's conclusion]

Thus therefore, for the amusement and instruction of the student, I have endeavoured to delineate some rude outlines of a plan for the history of our laws and liberties; from their first rise, and gradual progress, among our British and Saxon ancestors, till their total eclipse at the Norman conquest; from which they have gradually emerged, and risen to the perfection they now enjoy, at different periods of time. We have seen, in the course of our enquiries, in this and the former volumes, that the fundamental maxims, and rules of the law, which regard the rights of persons, and the rights of things, the private injuries that may be offered to both, and the crimes which affect the public, have been and are every day improving, and are now fraught with the accumulated wisdom of ages: that the forms of administering justice came to perfection under Edward the first; and have not been much varied, nor always for the better, since: that our religious liberties were fully established at the reformation: but that the recovery of our civil and political liberties was a work of longer time; they not being thoroughly and completely regained, till after the restoration of king Charles, nor fully and explicitly acknowledged and defined, till the era of the happy revolution. Of a constitution, so wisely contrived, so strongly raised, and so highly finished, it is hard to speak with that praise, which is justly and severely it's due: --- the thorough and attentive contemplation of it will furnish it's best panegyric. It has been the endeavour of these commentaries, however the execution may have succeeded, to examine it's solid foundations, to mark out it's extensive plan, to explain the use and distribution of it's parts, and from the harmonious concurrence of those several parts to demonstrate the elegant proportion of the whole. We have taken occasion to admire at every turn the noble monuments of ancient simplicity, and the more curious refinements of modern art. Nor have it's faults been concealed from view; for faults it has, left we should be tempted to think it of more than human structure: defects, chiefly arising from the decays of time, or the rage of unskilful improvements in later ages. To sustain, to repair, to beautiful this noble pile, is a charge intrusted principally too the nobility, and such gentlemen of the kingdom, as are delegated by their country to parliament. The protection of THE LIBERTY OF BRITAIN is a duty which the owe to themselves, who enjoy it; to their ancestors, who transmitted it down; and to their posterity, who will claim at their hands this, the best birthright, and noblest inheritance of mankind.



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