Rare Books Blog

May 5, 2008

The Arrest, Trial, and Release of Daniel Webster, A Fugitive Slave (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, 1859) is a journalistic narrative. The anonymous author records not only the trial, but the pre-trial proceedings, conversations with the sheriff, and the actions of the crowds that were on hand. The pamphlet provides evidence on the communications networks of abolitionists and how they rallied supporters to intervene in the proceedings. It preserves the voices of the participants, including Mr. Webster, who won his freedom in a hearing before a U.S. Commissioner.

Like many other accounts of fugitive slave trials, this pamphlet was published by an interest group, the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. It was inexpensive, quickly produced, and easily mailed.

[From Race on the Stand: African-American History in the Law Library’s American Trials Collection, presented Feb. 20, 2008, at the Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University.]


Rare Book Librarian

May 2, 2008

Early American trials is one of the collecting priorities for the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection. In the past two years we added over a hundred titles to an already large collection. About two dozen of these were trials involving African Americans, and nearly all are the only copies at Yale.

Trials involving African Americans figure prominently in the collection, because of their prominent role in American history and their continuing interest for researchers. I gave a presentation on them, Race on the Stand: African-American History in the Law Library’s American Trials Collection, on Feb. 20, 2008, for a Black History Month event organized by the Standing Committee on Professional Awareness of the Yale University Library.

Trial accounts are valuable and fascinating documents for several reasons. By recording testimony and court debates, they capture voices from the past. In contrast to appellate proceedings – where lawyers and judges are talking among themselves – trials capture a broader range of voices. Trial accounts are unique primary sources, capturing the proceedings in lower courts that usually can’t be found anywhere else. Through testimony and fact-finding, trials provide a window on social conditions, living conditions, and attitudes.

For African-American history in particular, battles over slavery and race were often fought in the courts.

What do I mean by “American trials”?  They are typically small, cheaply produced pamphlets like the 8-page item shown at right, Case of the Slave Isaac Brown: An Outrage Exposed (1847?).

The case itself involved a trumped-up charge that an African American in Pennsylvania was a fugitive from justice. Brown had been punished for an assault two years before in Maryland, and then sold to a planter in Louisiana. Somehow he made it to Pennsylvania. His former owner in Maryland obtained an arrest warrant. Two attorneys took Brown’s case and won his freedom. The case itself shows how both pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups made of the courts to further their goals.

The pamphlet itself demonstrates how trial pamphlets were used as propaganda, and also to publicize the tricks used by slave catchers. The anonymous author concludes:

“The case of Isaac Brown shows with what facility any honest citizen of Pennsylvania may be seized under a requisition from the Executive of another State, on some false and malicious charge …, banished from his native soil, tried among strangers before a foreign tribunal, and convicted and punished by the perjury of those who committed the crime, and who escape by fastening it upon him. It is a lesson to our Governor, our Courts and our People.”

Abolitionists are here telling their readers: “This could happen to YOU.” They argued that slavery laws threatened the white population as well as African Americans.

The American Memory site at the Library of Congress provides the full text and images of The Case of the Slave Isaac Brown.

I’ll be posting other examples from my presentation in the next several days. 


Rare Book Librarian

April 30, 2008

One focus of my collecting efforts is law books with illustrations. These illustrations are often portraits of the authors or allegorical images, but I am especially interested in illustrations used to describe legal concepts.

Tree diagrams have been used since the Middle Ages, particularly in legal texts from the European continent on Roman, canon, or feudal law. They were most commonly used to diagram family relationships: trees of consanguinity dealt with relationships by blood, while trees of affinity described relationships by marriage.

In 16th-century law books, trees were often used to describe other legal concepts and relationships. The “arbor dividui et individui” at right is one example. It comes from Arbor dividui et individui by Martin Sanchez (1538), bound at the end of Luca da Penne’s commentary on the Code of Justinian. The “arbor dividui et individui” diagrams different types of legal actions regarding stipulations and contracts having to do with divisible and indivisible things (thanks to my colleague Jennifer Nelson, reference librarian at the Robbins Collection, UC-Berkeley, for deciphering the meaning).

See my gallery of legal “trees” on Flickr for other examples.

The Arbor dividui et individui by Martin Sanchez is quite rare. The first edition (Toulouse, 1519) is held by the Robbins Collection, the Bavarian State Library, and France’s Bibliotheque Nationale. The only other copy of our 1538 edition is at the Baden-Württemberg State Library. Our copy is part of the Roman-Canon Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.


Rare Book Librarian

April 26, 2008

A hearty thanks to Stephen Ferguson, Curator of Rare Books at the Princeton University Library, for providing the answer to my Provenance puzzle #1. The stamp is a portrait of Augustus, Elector of Saxony (1526-1586). Stephen used Google Books to find a reference to the stamp in Konrad Haebler’s Rollen- und plattenstempel des XVI. jahrhunderts (Leipzig: O. Harrassowitz, 1928-1929), vol. 2, pp. 79-81.

See the Wikipedia article on Augustus of Saxony, where you will learn that Augustus, a Lutheran, played an important and influential role as a peacemaker in the religious conflicts of the early German Reformation.

The stamp is on the front cover of our copy of Practica eximia atque omnium aliarum praestantissima by Giovanni Pietro Ferrari (Frankfurt: Sigmund Feyerabend, 1581), part of the Roman-Canon Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

Additional images of the covers are in my Flickr gallery in the “Provenance markings” set.

Finally, check out Stephen Ferguson’s excellent blog, Rare Book Collections @ Princeton, a favorite of mine.


Rare Book Librarian


April 21, 2008

The Law and Politics Book Review, one of my favorite electronic journals, has just put out a special issue on Legal Fiction, with reviews of 22 American, British, and European novels from the 19th to 21st centuries. The goal of the editors was "to find out how others who teach courses in political science, criminal justice, or law use novels in their teaching." The standard law-and-literature canon is well represented -- Dickens' Bleak House, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Kafka's The Trial -- but there were a few surprises as well, including two science fiction titles (Isaac Asimov's I, Robot and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.Highly recommended for librarians and collectors interested in the law-and-literature or law-and-popular-culture fields.

Rare Book Librarian

April 17, 2008

There are several articles of interest to legal historians and legal bibliographers in the latest issue of The Green Bag (N.S. vol. 11, no. 2, Winter 2008). These include Michael Hoeflich's "Law Blanks & Form Books", part of Hoeflich's ongoing interest in legal ephemera (see also his blog, TheLegalAntiquarian. In addition, there's a reprint of an extremely useful 1961 bibliographic essay, "History of the Printed Archetype of the Constitution of the United States of America" by Denys P. Myers. This article is preceeded by "Which is the Constitution?" by Ross E. Davies, discussing the issue of determining the authoritative text of the Constitution, an issue which has come up in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case on gun control, District of Columbia v. Heller.

On a different front, Fabio Arcila, Jr. demonstrates the usefulness of early American justice of the peace manuals in his new article, "In the Trenches: Searches and the Misunderstood Common-Law History of Suspicion and Probable Cause," University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 10:1 (Dec. 2007), 1-63. Librarians and rare law book enthusiasts will want to check the bibliography of American j.p. manuals that Arcila includes as an appendix.

Rare Book Librarian

April 16, 2008

A hearty thanks to my Anglophile friend, Mr. Harold I. Boucher of San Francisco (LL.B. Boalt, 1930, Honorary O.B.E.), for his gift of two fine 17th-century English legal texts to the Rare Book Collection. Mr. Boucher is a longtime advocate for legal history as an integral component of law school curricula.

The gifts include Essex’s Innocency and Honour Vindicated: Or, Murther, Subornation, Perjury, and Oppression, Justly Charg’d on the Murtherers of That Noble Lord and True Patriot, Arthur (Late) Earl of Essex by Lawrence Braddon (London: Printed for the Author, 1690).The Earl of Essex had been imprisoned for plotting a revolt, and the attorney Lawrence Braddon here argues that Essex’s death was a murder and not a suicide as the authorities claimed. Braddon’s little pamphlet earned him a trial on slander charges (we also have the account of his trial), and he remained in prison until William III’s landing. Our copy includes the frontispiece, often missing, of the crime scene in the Tower of London (see below).

Mr. Boucher’s other gift is John Brydall’s Jura Coronae: His Majesties Royal Rights and Prerogatives Asserted, Against Papal Usurpations, and all other Anti-Monarchical Attempts and Practices (London: Printed for George Dawes … against Lincolns-Inn-Gate, 1680). Brydall was a conservative, monarchist barrister who published a number of legal tracts. This particular book was printed just a few steps from Wildy & Sons, Law Booksellers, where I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Boucher in person in 2002, through the good offices of Roy Heywood, Wildy’s rare book specialist.

Thanks also to Meyer Boswell Books of San Francisco for its help in arranging this special gift.


Rare Book Librarian


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