For all the Originalists’ trash talk I’m shocked that most of William Blackstone’s writings are out of print. In 2016, Oxford University Press published an edition of The Commentaries; but if you want to read other works by the man who invented modern legal scholarship you have to hunt. The 2006 edition of his Collected Letters is out of print, and no one has published Blackstone’s collected works. Recently, I found a beautiful copy of his important work on the Magna Carta for $10,000 – out of range for most of us. This is a sad state of affairs for a scholar who deeply influenced the Framers, the Founders, and our Judiciary.
Justice John Marshall learned law from the 1st American Edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries his father bought to teach his kids. Abraham Lincoln, like many frontier trial lawyers, studied the Commentaries. St. George Tucker’s 1803 edition of the Commentaries with cross references and notes to the U.S. Constitution influenced our early judiciary. And if you go to the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit you’ll see a statue of Blackstone outside of it.
But you can’t get an affordable set of Blackstone’s complete works anywhere. You’d think with all those Originalists out there that’d be easy to find. I hope some enterprising scholar does for Blackstone what H.L.A. Hart and company did for Jeremy Bentham – produce a professionally edited, accessible edition of Blackstone’s collected works. They’re still relevant.
For instance, much of what’s happening on the internet in relation to the big social media companies and their control of information being housed and trafficked on their servers is reminiscent of the evolution of feudal property law that Blackstone describes. When I read Blackstone I wonder if we’re entering an age, or have entered an age, of Data Feudalism. But that’s another topic.