The Civil Law in its Natural Order: Together with the Public Law

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by Jean Domat

The Civil Law in its Natural Order

Title page from The Civil Law in its Natural Order, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Jean Domat
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator William Strahan
Published London: Printed by J. Bettenham, for E. Bell
Date 1722
Edition {{{edition}}}
Language English
Volumes 2 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. Folio (33 cm.)
Location Shelf C-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Table of descents, volume one.
Jean Domat (1625-1696), one of the most celebrated jurists of Louis XIV’s reign,[1] helped lay the foundations for French civil law.[2] In his work, originally published in French in 1689 as Lois Civiles dans leur Ordre Naturel, Domat proposes a fault-based model for liability grounded in the rational deduction of self-evident principles.[3]

In The Civil Law in its Natural Order, Domat set out to reorganize French customary law in a way that would be consistent with Cartesian thought while remaining grounded in both Christian morality and Roman law.[4] From this framework, Domat was able to establish his first premise—that social order and stability were essential to man—and from that premise he derived what he believed were the primary rules of society.[5] After initial publication in 1689, Lois Civiles dans leur Ordre Naturel was translated into English in 1722 as Civil Law in the Natural Order. The title influenced civil law across the world and the 1722 translation was influential in shaping the thoughts and opinions the American founders.[6]

Armorial bookplate of Scott of Balcomie, front pastedown, volume two.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Wythe refers to Domat ("we are informed in Domat ...") in Love v. Donelson and Hodgson.[7] Brown's Bibliography[8] notes this and includes the first English edition (1722) of Domat's The Civil Law in its Natural Order based on the copy Thomas Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress.[9] The Wolf Law Library followed Brown's suggestion and purchased William Strahan's first English transation.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary calf with paneled boards, raised bands, and lettering pieces on the spine. Contains attractive woodcut head-pieces and tail-pieces and a full-page copperplate table of descents. Includes the armorial bookplate of Scott of Balcomie on the front pastedown of both volumes.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. David Parker, "Sovereignty, Absolutism and the Function of the Law in Seventeenth-Century France," Past & Present 122 (Feb. 1989): 44.
  2. James Gordley, "The State's Private Law and Legal Academia," The American Journal of Comparative Law 56, no. 3 (2008): 645.
  3. Peter Stein, "The Attraction of Civil Law in Post-Revolutionary America," Virginia Law Review 52, no. 3 (1966): 406-7.
  4. William F. Church, "The Decline of the French Jurists as Political Theorists, 1660-1789," French Historical Studies 5, no. 1 (1967): 16.
  5. Gerald A. Greenberger, "Lawyers Confront Centralized Government: Political Thought of Lawyers during the Reign of Louis XIV," The American Journal of Legal History 23, no. 2 (1979): 174.
  6. Stein, “The Attraction of Civil Law in Post-Revolutionary America,” 406-7.
  7. George Wythe, "Love against Donelson and Hodgson" (Richmond: s.n., 1801), 16.
  8. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  9. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 2:405 [no.2212].