Of the Law of Nature And Nations

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by Samuel Pufendorf

Of the Law of Nature and Nations

Title page from Of the Law of Nature and Nations: Eight Books, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Samuel Pufendorf
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator Basil Kennett and William Percivale
Published Oxford: Printed by L. Lichfield, for A. and J. Churchil
Date 1710
Edition Second
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages [24], 724, [22]
Desc. Folio (34 cm.)
Location Shelf B-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Of the Law of Nature and Nations, originally published in 1672 as De Jure Naturae et Gentium Libri Octo, proposed a system of private, public, and international law based on natural law. It was written by Baron Samuel von Pufendorf (1632 – 1694), a German political philosopher, statesman, and historian.[1] The son of a Saxon clergyman, he had originally intended to pursue a career in the church, but after studying theology at the University of Leipzig his interests shifted to politics, law, and philosophy. In 1658 Pufendorf became a tutor to a minister to King Charles X of Sweden, and three years later he was granted a chair at the University of Heidelberg for the law of nature and nations, the first of its kind in the world.[2]

Two years after accepting an offer from the King of Sweden to teach at the University of Lund, Pufendorf published this book.[3] Pufendorf was highly critical of those who abused power, whether they did so through the state or the church, and he proposed that international law should not be restricted to Christendom and instead respect the rights of all men.[4] It was highly influential, not only in Germany, where it is said to have contributed to the Enlightenment during the eighteenth century, but throughout Europe and eventually in the United States. Pufendorf’s grounding of political concepts in natural law made him a person of interest to future American leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, [wikipedia:James Madison|]], and Alexander Hamilton.[5]

Inscription, front pastedown.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Puffendorf. and given by Thomas Jefferson to James Dinsmore. The precise title and work are unknown. Brown's Bibliography[6] includes the choice of either the 1749 English edition or the 1740 French edition of Pufendorf's work based in part on the copies Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress[7] and also on citations from Wythe's arguments in Bolling v. Bolling.[8] George Wythe's Library[9] on LibraryThing notes "Precise work/edition unknown. Probably an English-language edition of Pufendorf's The law of nature and nations, but could also be one of several possible works in Latin or English." The Wolf Law Library purchased a copy of the 1710 (second edition) English translation of De Jure Naturae et Gentium Libri Octo to represent this entry in Jefferson's inventory.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary full calf, rebacked in period style. Includes the inscription "Year MDCCX Oxford, VerPlanck Colvin, Albany, N. Y., U. S., Owner, Purchased for V. C. Library." on the front pastedown. While the writing doesn't appear to match known examples of his signature, the inscription suggests the volume once belonged to noted lawyer and topographical engineer Verplanck Colvin (1847-1920). Purchased from The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

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.

Full text

See also


  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. "Pufendorf, Samuel von."
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Alfred Dufour, The Politics of Discretion. Pufendorf and the Acceptance of Natural Law (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1965), 1007.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433
  7. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 2:69-70 [no.1406-no.1407].
  8. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America, ed. Bernard Schwartz, with Barbara Wilcie Kern, R.B. Bernstein (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library; New York: New York University School of Law, c1997).
  9. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on June 28, 2013, http://www.librarything.com/profile/GeorgeWythe