Yale Law Library - Rare Books Blog
June 2008 - Posts
African-American History in our American Trials Collection, #4
Among the most uncommon and interesting of our trial pamphlets is Isaiah Lanson's Statement and Inquiry, Concerning the Trial of William Lanson, Before the New Haven County Court, November Session, 1845, probably printed in New Haven in 1846.
Ours is the only copy recorded in the online library dabase, WorldCat.
William Lanson was an African American and a successful New Haven construction engineer. He extended Long Wharf in 1810, built the East Haven Bridge, and helped develop Wooster Square. He also owned the Liberian Hotel. He was arrested repeatedly for allegedly illegal activities at the hotel, and put on trial for operating a house of ill repute.
In this pamphlet, Lanson's son Isaiah comes to his father's defense. He asserts that "If Mr. L. had been a white man, he would have had at least some advantages which he has not had. Some evidence of his would have been taken as good. We have no hesitation in saying that the jury were in a measure prejudiced." Isaiah Lanson sets out an impassioned but also well-documented defense of his father's conduct and reputation.
The pamphlet provides considerable information on the operation of a boarding house, and life in New Haven's African American community in the early 19th century. It also provides evidence that African Americans in New Haven were not only literate but also sophisticated in their employment of print media.
Rare Book Librarian
The most creative books in American law
Robert F. Blomquist surveyed 426 law professors who have taught legal history for his paper, Thinking About Law and Creativity: On the 100 Most Creative Moments in American Law (Valparaiso University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-04, May 2008). Below I've extracted the books and articles that appear in Blomquist's top 100. I provide links for those books that are in the Yale Law Library's online catalog, MORRIS. Legislation and court cases make up the majority of the list, and I did not include these, although arguably The Federalist (1788) is a component of the #1 creative moment, "The Constitution of the United States (1787) and the ratification debates (1787-1788)."
You can find a brief critique of Blomquist's paper on Mary Dudziak's Legal History Blog.
Most Creative Books in American Law...
15. James Kent, Commentaries on American Law (1826-30).
16. Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833).
17. Christopher Columbus Langdell’s initiation of the case method of study at Harvard Law School initiated by his casebook, A Selection of Cases on the Law of Contracts (1871).
18. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law (1881).
27. Benjamin Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process (1921).
43. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).
44. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949).
46. Charles Reich, The Greening of America (1970).
54. Richard Posner, Economic Analysis of Law (1973).
55. Hart & Sacks, The Legal Process (1958).
68. Al Gore, Earth in the Balance (1992) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006).
79. The Politics of Law (1982).
Most Creative Law Review Articles in American Law...
45. Justice Douglas’ dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton (1972) (citing Christopher D. Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?--Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, 45 Southern California Law Review 450 (1972).
75. Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis, Right to Privacy, 4 Harvard Law Review 193 (1890).
Rare Book Librarian
Rare Book Acquisitions, Spring 2008
Spring 2008 has been a busy season for acquisitions in the Yale Law Library's Rare Book Collection.
The American trials collection grew by thirty titles in Spring 2008. These included The Fall River Tragedy: A History Of The Borden Murders (1893); a bizarre recreation of the Lindbergh kidnapping (Criminal File Exposed!, 1933): the Amistad trial (New England Anti-Slavery Almanac, 1841; see image ar right); the adultery trial of the Rev. Joy Fairchild (Boston, 1845); censorship of abolition literature (Remarks on the Decision of the Appeal Court of South-Carolina, in the Case of Wells, 1835), sidewalk preaching in New York City (Account of the Trial of John Edwards, 1822); Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's adultery trial (True History of the Brooklyn Scandal, 1878), and murder trials aplenty (The Most Foul and Unparalleled Murder in the Annals of Crime: Life and Confession of Reuben A. Dunbar, 1851; Account of the Short Life and Ignominious Death of Stephen Merrill Clark, 1821; Trial of Henry G. Green, for the Murder of His Wife, 1845; Trial of Rev. Mr. Avery, 1833; Report of the Trial of William Henry Theodore Durrant, 1899).
Seven titles were added to the William Blackstone Collection. The most notable is an apparently unrecorded variant of Eller 180, Commentaire sur le code criminel d'Angleterre (2 vols., 1776), still in its original paper wrappers. Two somewhat ephemeral items testify to Blackstone's role in debates through the years. Our Legal Heritage (2001), by Judge Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of Alabama who lost his judgeship for refusing to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom, contains a lengthy excerpt from Blackstone with commentary by Judge Moore. An 8-page pamphlet by the English mystic John Ward is titled This penny book proves clearly that the bishops and clergy are religious imposters, who falsely pretend to an extraordinary commissio[n] from Heaven, and terrify and abuse the Peop[le] with false denunciations of judgment, and as suc[h] by the present laws of England, according [to] Blackstone's Commentaries, vol. IV, p. 62, a[re] liable to fine. imprisonment, and infamo[us] corporeal punishment. This pamphlet also contains a true song, of 18 verses, against priestcraft and oppression to be sung to the tune of the Vicar and Moses (Birmingham, 1832).
Another 18 volumes of Italian statutes and related treatises were acquired, including statutes of Vicenza (1675), Trento (1640), and Milan (1800), as well as ordinances for the notaries' guild of Cremona (1597), the Bergamo marketplace (1701), the legal profession in Bergamo (1795), and the pawnbrokers of Vicenza (1676). The 1718 edition of the agricultural statutes of Rome, Gli statuti dell' agricoltura, includes illustrations of the life cycle of locusts.
In all, thirty of the titles acquired in Spring 2008 sported illustrations. San Antonio tax attorney Farley P. Katz donated two long-sought French codes filled with colorful and humorous images by the illustrator Joseph Hémard: the deluxe edition of Code général des impôts directs et taxes assimilées (1944; see image at right), and Code civil: Livre premier, Des personnes (1925). Katz recently published a study of Hemard's tax code that reproduces several of the illustrations: "The Art of Taxation: Joseph Hémard's Illustrated Tax Code," 60 Tax Lawyer 163 (2006). We acquired two more illustrated French codes perhaps inspired by Hémard: the Code Napoléon rendered into verse with 60 risqué woodcuts by Pierre Noël (1932-33), and the Code Pénal (1950) with illustrations by Jean Dratz (1950). The Coutumes generales d'Artois (1756) has eight large woodcuts depicting the judicial process. Joost de Damhoudere's Practycke in criminele saecken (1642) has dozens of woodcuts depicting crimes and criminal procedure.
I highlighted gifts from Mrs. Beverly M. Manne and Mr. Harold I. Boucher in previous posts, and I am happy to repeat my thanks again.
Rare Book Librarian