Historical Law-Tracts

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by Lord Henry Home Kames

Historical Law Tracts

Title page from Historical Law Tracts, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Henry Home, Lord Kames
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published Edinburgh and London:: Printed by A. Kincaid, His Majesty's Printer, for A. Millar, London, and A. Kincaid and J. Bell, in Edinburgh
Date 1761
Edition Second
Language {{{lang}}}
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages xv, [1], 463
Desc. 8vo (22 cm.)
Location [[Shelf {{{shelf}}}]]
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Henry Homes, Lord Kames, (1696-1782), a leader of the Scottish Enlightenment,[1] began his career as an advocate and later became a notable judge and writer. His writings help shape the Scottish legal system and demonstrate his philosophical approach to the law. In 1751, he published Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion which caused a number of members of the Scottish church to hope he would be excommunicated. Political smears and Jacobite claims delayed but did not prevent Home from ascending to the bench. He continued writing during this time, publishing Historical Law Tracts in 1758 and "his principal work in the eyes of Scottish legal historians", Principles of Equity, in 1760.[2] Home was appointed commissioner of justiciary in 1763. His judicial and writing careers continued until 1782, the year of his death.[3]

The Historical Law Tracts of Lord Kames are conducted upon a very judicious system of investigating the natural principles of some of the most important objects of judicial science, and tracing the application of them in the Laws of Rome, of Scotland, and of England; but a comparison between the Laws of Scotland and England, conducted, I think with great fairness, is apparently the leading object of the undertaking.[4]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Goodwin's pamphlet,[5] Dean's Memo[6], and Brown's Bibliography[7] all include Historical Law Tracts. Dean and Goodwin relied upon on a reference in William Edwin Hemphill's dissertation on Wythe, "George Wythe the Colonial Briton." In discussing Thomas Jefferson's commonplace book, Hemphill states "The succeeding section of the book, written between 1774 and 1777, was based ... upon more philosophical materials, including ... Lord Kames' fourteen Historical Law Tracts."[8] Brown cites Hemphill but also refers to Jefferson's commonplace book itself.[9] Jefferson studied law under Wythe from 1762 to 1767, so the entries from the mid 1770s may not reflect Wythe's influence. Nevertheless, Goodwin, Dean and Brown list the second (1761) edition of Kames' tracts. Brown and Goodwin refer to the specific edition of a copy Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress.[10] The Wolf Law Library followed their recommendations and moved a copy of the 1761 edition from another rare book collection to the George Wythe Collection.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Recently rebound in cloth over 1/2 leather, with gold tooled red label. Purchased through the generosity of Daniel W. Baran and Lena Stratton Baran, Class of 1936.

View this book in William & Mary's online catalog.


  1. Alexander Brodie, "Scottish Philosophy in the 18th Century" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed October 19, 2013, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scottish-18th/#MajFig.
  2. Alastair J. Durie and Stuart Handley, "Home, Henry, Lord Kames (1696–1782)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed October 9, 2013.
  3. Ibid.
  4. William David Evans, "Introduction" in M. Pothier, A Treatise on the Law of Obligations, or Contracts, vol. 1 (London: Printed by A. Strahan, 1806), 44.
  5. Mary R. M. Goodwin, The George Wythe House: Its Furniture and Furnishings (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, 1958), XLVIII.
  6. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 12 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  7. 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
  8. William Edwin Hemphill, "George Wythe the Colonial Briton: A Biographical Study of the Pre-Revolutionary Era in Virginia" (PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1937), 127.
  9. The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson: A Repertory of His Ideas on Government, ed. Gilbert Chinard (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1926), 135.
  10. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 2nd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 2:319 [no.2008].

External Links

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