Go to the U of M home page


Monday, December 14, 2015

Farewell to Magna Carta (and Edward Coke)

Frontispiece showing Coke, from his Institutes (1642)
As the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (and our exhibit) draws to a close, we admire once more the impact of the Great Charter over eight centuries and across the world.  Magna Carta's original chapter 39, protecting person and property against abuse, remains the heart of its influence on the modern world.  Of course, Magna Carta has become an icon of the rule of law, and chapter 39 has assured the document's legacy as a charter of essential individual rights.

Although Chapter 39 is considered the core of Magna Carta, an often underappreciated part of its story deserves to be highlighted, as we say farewell to the charter and the long evolution of its influence.  This is the story of an early textual change that made Magna Carta's key clause what it is.

Among the original chapters or clauses agreed to by King John and his barons at Runnymede in June 1215, was the famous chapter 39 (though it was numbered later), which reads: no free man may be captured, imprisoned or lose his property - or be outlawed, exiled, destroyed or pursued  (i.e., like hunted down) - except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

That fierce clause took on a new aspect under King John's successor and young son, Henry III.  Henry and his regents altered and reissued the charter: when it was confirmed in 1225, after Henry came of age and faced pressure from his barons, it omitted, combined or restated a number of chapters, including chapter 39.  Chapter 39, now chapter 29, featured an interesting change:

"No free man may be captured or imprisoned or lose any freehold or any of his liberties or his free customs," or be outlawed, exiled, etc.  The chapter now also included the former chapter 40, that "to no one could right or justice be delayed or denied."  The new chapter 29 was enrolled as statutory law in England in 1297 and has been preserved as English law ever since: it is the text we find printed in the Riesenfeld Center's collection of early Magna Cartas and underlined by the likes of Granville Sharp.

With that addition, Chapter 29 could look more like a microcosm of Magna Carta itself, protecting all of one's liberties, as forms of property, against usurpation, abridgement and violation, unless by the judgment of peers or the law of the land.

Magna Carta's famous early modern interpreter and one of the greatest English jurists, Edward Coke (1552-1634), considered Magna Carta a fundamental expression of English common law, which like Magna Carta could stand as a bulwark against abusive royal power.  Coke reiterated the (evolved) understanding that Magna Carta's protections extended to all Englishmen, and that "the judgment of peers or the law of the land" in chapter 29 meant "the due process of law."  Although rudimentary and often violated in practice, the principle that procedural rights were fundamental in English law was maintained in Coke's time and after, often with reference to Magna Carta, and formed a basis of modern understandings of procedural due process.  We can look to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to see chapter 29's direct legacy in the American Constitution.

Notably, Coke also understood chapter 29 to stand for a more general liberty of the individual.  In his influential Second Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England (1642), he read the "liberties" of chapter 29 to mean: the laws of England (including Magna Carta); the liberties of Englishmen; and privileges granted by the king.  In setting out a category of liberty apart from Magna Carta, and other statutes or royal grants, Coke held open a way to describe new rights, subject to judicial interpretation.  He invoked in support relatively recent decisions against monopolies and special ordinances, which he agreed infringed the liberty of the subject to ply a trade or choose the provider of a service.  Coke's comment on substantive due process was grounded in the altered text of Magna Carta's chapter 29, and its reference to unenumerated English liberties. 

It would take too long to give a fuller account of Magna Carta's chapter 29, but it is interesting that one relatively small change could alter the long legacy of a great document.  It is certainly a legacy that will remain robust. 

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Professors Narita and Sharafi Visit the Riesenfeld Center

The North-Western Reporter (St. Paul:
John B. West and Co, 1878)
Fall has brought several notable visitors to the Riesenfeld Center.  In late August and early September, Professor Hiroshi Narita, the leading international expert on the history of the West Publishing Company, came to Minneapolis-St.Paul to complete research for his forthcoming book on West Publishing.  While here, Professor Narita undertook to discover the earliest beginnings of John B. West's publishing companies in St. Paul.  He also sought to resolve questions related to the printing of early reporters and the later history of the company, after it was absorbed by Thomson and Thomson Reuters.  During his stay, Professor Narita was hosted by the Law Library and did research at the Riesenfeld Center.  In addition, he did work at the Minnesota Historical Society and took a full-day tour of the Thomson Reuters campus in Eagan.  After a two-week trip, Professor Narita journeyed to Stanford University to continue work, before returning to Tokyo, Japan, where he teaches in the law faculty at Seijo University.  The Library and Riesenfeld Center were happy to support Professor Narita’s research, and we look forward to his book!      

In October, Professor Mitra Sharafi visited from more proximate Wisconsin, though her current research takes her similarly far afield, to colonial India.  Sharafi, a legal historian of South Asia with wide and fascinating interests, is at work on a new project studying the impact of medico-legal experts, like the Imperial Serologist, on the development of medical jurisprudence in India.  She visited the Law School on October 1st to present her paper, “Blood Testing and Fear of the False in British India,” as part of the fall Legal History Workshop series organized by Professors Susanna Blumenthal and Barbara Welke.  Professor Sharafi also toured the Law Library’s collection of colonial Indian law, which cataloger Claire Stuckey has been working to catalog, based in part on a list of titles included on a resource site that Sharafi created.  Over the past year, Stuckey has corrected and updated hundreds of jurisdictions, call numbers, and subject headings for volumes that have been identified as rare.  In many cases, the colonial titles held at the Law Library are among the only recorded copies in the world.  As Professor Sharafi pointed out, these volumes may be held in India, but are often not well recorded or preserved, and remain in great danger of being lost.  The Law Library hopes to do a further service by relocating these volumes to basement storage and our climate-controlled rare book stacks.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

QR Codes Added to Current Exhibit

To enhance our current exhibit, "Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law," we recently added QR codes in the exhibit gallery.  In addition to information included in the cases to accompany the volumes, and nine standing panels with images and text around the room, the new QR codes link by smartphone to audio recordings that shed further light on exhibit items.  With the codes, we aim to offer some more in-depth information and add to our visitors' experience.

By offering short audio (and/or visual) clips, QR codes can highlight interesting additional information - about a book's binding or a former owner, for example - that may be difficult to give attention to in the text for the main exhibit.  This was the case for our exhibit book, Magna Carta Opposed to Assumed Privilege (London, 1771).  The volume contains material related to the controversy over printing Parliamentary debates in England, and radical figure John Wilkes's role in it.  The book's binding is also noteworthy, depicting on its spine images of the "liberty cap and pole," symbols of freedom in the restive American colonies as well as Europe.  The use of the symbols on the binding likely referred to Wilkes's image as a political radical, something eagerly celebrated in the colonies (whose grievances he supported).  We chose to display the book's title page in the exhibit case, and included a close-up image of the binding elsewhere in the exhibit room.  The audio recording was a great way to focus on the richness of this particular volume, bridge its 'inner' and 'outer' significance, and improve the variety of information available for visitors touring the exhibit.  

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections            

Thursday, September 17, 2015

New Digital Exhibit: "Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law"

To mark Constitution Day, and in celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the University of Minnesota Law Library has digitized its year-long exhibit, "Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law." In addition, the digital site features a virtual showcase for the Library's collection of early printed editions of Magna Carta, the earliest of which dates to 1514. Drawn from the treasures of the Library's Arthur C. Pulling Rare Books Collection, the exhibit includes over seventy-five works that reflect and illuminate the deep influence of Magna Carta on the Anglo-American legal tradition.

Viewed through cases, texts and ideas that were shaped by Magna Carta, the exhibit traces the document's impact on the development of rights and the rule of law in England and early America, and its emergence on a global stage. Through the exhibit visitors are invited to explore the history, challenges and promise of Magna Carta, rights and the rule of law, in its first eight hundred years.

The digital exhibit was designed and curated by Glen Anderson, Barbara Berdahl, Patrick Graybill and Ryan Greenwood.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New Rare Acquisitions!

Hayward's Confession (Minneapolis, 1895)

The Riesenfeld Center has recently been fortunate to acquire several new titles for its rare books collection. Among these are three titles generously donated by Mr. William Whitlock, which include a contemporary account of the trial of Charles I, an account of the Parliament in the crucial years leading to the English Civil War, and Whitelockes Notes Uppon the Kings Writt, 2 vols. (London, 1766). The titles all bear on the conflicts between Parliament and king in tumultuous 17th-century England, and the constitutional ideas that animated them.  The volumes are terrific additions to the collection, particularly as we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and recall the importance of the same conflicts for the rebirth of Magna Carta as a political document in the 17th-century.

Hayward's Confession joins a large collection of trials, often sensationalistic and printed for a mass audience, held at the Center. Hayward's case is interesting not only as a murder case but a local one: in 1895 Harry Hayward was convicted of murder in Minneapolis, and the trial and verdict were closely followed. Our rare account, printed as a supplement to the Minneapolis Times, represents the convicted man's final confession.  For more, and more images, see our recent Tumblr post.

Another item falls into the category of legal humor. Lawyers and the law are perennial subjects of satire, as a number of titles in our law and literature collection attest. The Law and Lawyers Laid Open (London, 1737), joins this venerable tradition. Closely related to works on law reform, the volume takes the form of a series of humorous dialogues and visions about lawyers' ethics and sharp practices.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections



Friday, July 31, 2015

Elizabeth Pickering: The First Woman to Print Books in England

Colophon from: The Great Charter, Called in 
Latin Magna Carta ...London: Elizabeth Pickering, 1540/41.
To continue our series of posts on books related to Magna Carta, and the Library's collection of early printed Magna Cartas, one of the Library's editions was printed by a woman named Elizabeth Pickering (or Pykeryng). This might seem striking in the period, and it is. Elizabeth Pickering was the first woman in England to print books that survive today. Her edition of Magna Carta (1540/41), stands with Granville Sharp's copy of Magna Carta and the second printed edition of the Great Charter, from 1514, as the most notable editions that the Library owns. Widow of noted law printer Robert Redman, Pickering took over her husband’s printing press on his death in October 1540. At least two women are known to have printed earlier works, but these have not survived, while Pickering produced as many as thirteen titles that have come down to us. Ten are directly attributable to her, and three others may be hers as well. 

Pickering's first book, A Lytle Treatyse Composed by Iohn Sta[n]dysshe, with a colophon dated December 13, 1540, was printed at her shop at the "sygne of the George" in London's Fleet Street, where her husband also printed. Pickering continued publishing under her own name until transferring her press to William Middleton, on her remarriage to William Cholmeley in 1541. In our Magna Carta, Pickering employs Robert Redman’s monogram, and clearly identifies herself as the book’s printer in the colophon. Pickering printed her edition of Magna Carta in English, as Redman had done for the first time in 1534, and helped spread its tenets to a wider audience. We are fortunate to have one of her most remarkable works in the collection, and as a centerpiece of our current exhibit.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Granville Sharp, Early Champion of Abolitionism

Magna Charta cum statutis (London: Richard
Tottell, 1556)
One of the Law Library's most prized copies of Magna Carta was once owned by Granville Sharp (1735-1813), a founder of the abolitionist movement. At the top of the title page of one of our 16th-century Magna Cartas can be seen "Ex libris, Granville Sharp, 1760." Apparently acquired by Sharp when he was twenty-five, the volume may have had an important influence on him. Largely an autodidact, Sharp taught himself Hebrew and Greek and joined in learned theological disputes with Oxford dons. He is still known today for "Sharp's Rule," a principle of Biblical translation. He also developed a considerable knowledge of English law despite never training as an attorney.

Sharp's involvement with abolitionism developed through his brother, a physician, who treated the slave Jonathan Strong in London after he had been badly abused. Sharp sought the man's release in court, and later published the first significant anti-slavery tract in England, A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery (1769). He was also a motive force behind the famous Somersett case (1772), in which Chief Justice Mansfield ruled that James Somersett could not be sent back into colonial slavery from English soil. In the same period, Sharp corresponded with American abolitionists, including Anthony Benezet, and stirred a young movement. Sharp's keen and well-researched interest in the legal dimensions of English liberty—which may trace to his reading of our copy of Magna Carta—established part of his commitment to freedom and human rights.  
Sharp's underlining at clause 29 of
Magna Carta.

Sharp underlined and annotated his copy of Magna Carta at important passages. Notably he underlined Magna Carta's famous clause 29 (from the 1225 Magna Carta), which we take as a basis of due process: "No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseized of his free tenement or of his liberties or free customs, or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go against such a man or send against him save by lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell or deny or delay right or justice." Sharp considered these key provisions of Magna Carta as natural and inalienable rights.

Sharp eventually authored more than sixty works on topics ranging from anti-slavery, the divinity of Christ, and even the right of the American colonists to take part in the English legislature, the latter another issue linked to rights set out in Magna Carta.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Monday, June 8, 2015

Henry Care in England and America

Henry Care, English Liberties (Providence, 1774)
Our current exhibit, “Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law,” features eight editions of Magna Carta printed before 1600. Only one other exhibit title is represented by multiple copies: Henry Care’s English Liberties, or The Free-Born Subject’s Inheritance. Originally published in England in 1680, English Liberties was first printed in Boston in 1721 by James Franklin (Ben’s older brother). The Library owns five copies of Care’s title, three printed in London in 1680, 1682, and 1719, and two printed in Boston and Providence, in 1721 and 1774, respectively.

Although Henry Care (1646-88) intended his work for the English public, English Liberties was very popular in North America. Care compiled Magna Carta, the Charter of the Forest, the Habeas Corpus Act, and other statutes that addressed royal abuses of power, and the pamphlet was widely distributed in the colonies. It is credited with playing an important role in advancing the cause for the American Revolution through its accessible message about English law, government, liberties, and juries.

Among the library’s copies of Care’s English Liberties, one copy is notable for its printing date and an interesting scrap of a newspaper that can be found inside.  Our 1774 copy of the book, printed by John Carter shortly after the Boston Tea Party, is significant for its appearance and influence at a key moment in American history.  The clipping, on the other hand, is part of a 19th-century editorial that opposes General Winfield Scott Hancock’s 1880 presidential candidacy, due to his actions during Reconstruction. Appointed by President Andrew Johnson, Hancock replaced General Sheridan, a sympathizer with the North, and was charged to oversee the Fifth Military District in 1867.  Hancock (1824-1886) was responsible for writing General Order No. 40, which restored the right to trial by jury, habeas corpus, liberty of the press, freedom of speech, civil liberties, and rights of property.  Critics pointed out, however, that Hancock also empowered the vanquished southern Democrats to take up old positions of power.   

   - Barbara Berdahl, Assistant Special Collections Librarian 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Magna Carta Across the Atlantic

Portrait of John Wilkes by Hogarth (1763)
In the Riesenfeld Center's current exhibit, "Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law," several items highlight the political dialogue between England and the American colonies on the eve of revolution. Colonists sought to assert what they saw as their essential English rights against an overreaching British government, and those asserted rights expanded in the 18th century. Some had early origins - the colonial slogan "No taxation without representation," referred to a principle of consent to taxation that traced back to Magna Carta. That argument found some favor in England, just as opposition to broad search warrants, and support for free political speech and expanded religious freedom, echoed across the Atlantic in sympathetic circles.

Political radical and nonconformist John Wilkes (1725-97), was one English figure who became a symbol of rights and liberty on both sides of the Atlantic. Starting as an incendiary journalist, Wilkes went on to a political career that saw him successively expelled from the Commons, exiled from England and imprisoned. As a savvy and ambitious politician, Wilkes took up the discourse of liberty and rights as adeptly as anyone in the period. During his career he resisted broad arrest warrants - also a colonial grievance - and defended his own privilege as a member of Parliament against arrest for libel. Partly in response to his enemies, he also supported the publication of direct reports of Parliamentary debates, and the cause of freer speech eventually won out. At his height and after, the popular slogan "Wilkes, Liberty and No. 45!" captured Wilkes's deep appeal as an opposition figure.

In America, Wilkes was popular prior to the war and had support from the likes of John Adams, John Hancock and James Otis. William Hogarth's satirical portrait of Wilkes, depicting him as a devilish figure holding a tall pole with a cap on top, has become his iconic image. The objects in his hand are the liberty pole and Phrygian cap, symbols of freedom that were likewise used in the colonies in opposition to British rule. One of our current exhibit books, Magna Carta, Opposed to Assumed Privilege… (1771), shows these symbols stamped on its spine, and it is no coincidence. The book treats the controversy over printing Parliamentary debates, and Wilkes's role in it. Invoking Magna Carta in the book's title was a first calculated appeal, to which the elegant blue morocco binding, with liberty poles and caps, added another recognizable sign for those in the know.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Magna Charta, Opposed to Assumed Privilege (London, 1771)


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Library Celebration, April 29th - Last Day of Classes and Law Day!

What could be better than the last day of classes?  Or celebrating Law Day two days early?  How about cake, cookies, chips and drinks into the bargain?

Come celebrate the last day of classes next Wednesday, April 29th, from 12 - 2pm in the library lobby.  Enjoy good food and good company, and take a deserved break before finals.

Law Day and Last Day of Classes Celebration

April 29th, 12 - 2pm

Law Library Lobby

You've worked hard all year.  It's not too early to come celebrate!

(Law Day is also coming early, but it's another good chance to celebrate Magna Carta and all things constitutional!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Magna Carta and the Historians

Fleta; seu commentarius juris Anglicani
(London, 1647).
One of the notable books in the Riesenfeld Center’s current exhibit, “Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law,” is a medieval treatise on English law known as Fleta. Our copy is of the first printed edition (1647), edited by famous English scholar, historian, lawyer and polymath John Selden (1584-1654). Although not a direct commentary on Magna Carta, Fleta offers insight into English law during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307), under whom Magna Carta was enrolled as statutory law in 1297. The treatise borrows from and abridges a slightly earlier treatise on English law, Bracton's De legibus, though Fleta was much less well known. In fact, Selden’s edition was based on a single complete medieval manuscript of Fleta, held today at the British Library.

The few medieval treatises on English law were valuable to historians and constitutionally-minded lawyers in the early modern period, and Fleta was no exception. Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), the great lawyer who championed English common law and its medieval heritage as the enduring source of English liberties, cited Fleta as a venerable authority. Like Bracton’s De legibus, Fleta was taken by Coke and associates as a witness to the antiquity and essential continuity of English laws and courts, and to some of their development. In his Institutes of the Laws of England (1642), Coke invoked Fleta repeatedly to explain and lend support to the guarantees found in Magna Carta. Coke’s interpretation of Magna Carta, in turn, guided the early modern reception of the text and helped resurrect the message of individual rights and limited government that it still carries today.

Like Coke, Selden made use of Fleta in its major surviving manuscript (known as BL, Cotton MS Julius B.viii). Its owner, Robert Cotton (1571-1631), amassed the greatest private collection of medieval manuscripts to his time in England. This included two of the four existing manuscript copies of the 1215 Magna Carta (today also at the British Library). Cotton then made his collection freely available to Selden and other scholars, and there were important political overtones to their antiquarian activity. Figures like Coke and Selden were seen to use Cotton's library to support the rights of Parliament, in opposition to royalist arguments favoring the broad prerogative of the king. Royalist fears were not unfounded, and it was not long after Coke, Selden and others forced Charles I to sign the Petition of Right (1628) - a landmark English constitutional document - that Charles successfully closed, and then confiscated Cotton's library in 1630. Cotton died a year later, upon which the collection was restored to his heirs. Certainly, libraries and their scholars had a key role to play in early modern historical and political debate over English law and government.     

Our copy of Selden's Fleta was once owned by an associate of Selden, antiquarian and MP Sir Roger Twysden (1597-1672). As a law-minded conservative, Twysden was critical of royal prerogative and defended English rights and laws, though he was also fined and imprisoned as a royalist during the Civil War. Twysden's annotations to the text show that he, too, consulted the manuscript, and attempted to correct Selden in a number of places. His emendations do not much change the substance of the passages, but they suggest Twysden's meticulous comparison of manuscript against printed text. It is not a skill as useful in our age of infinite texts, but it was at a time when single text and sacred text were closely linked, and the stakes of historical interpretation were high. 

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Monday, March 23, 2015

New Tumblr Posts!

Portrait of Queen Caroline, from Lord Brougham
Considered as a Lawyer
(Boston, 1868).
Before we continue with highlights from our Magna Carta exhibit and other collection items related to it, check out some of the great items over on our Tumblr site. As another way to show off collection items, and to leave a quick, easily browsable visual record, the Tumblr site has proved a great complement to the blog - and to our collection - since its start in early October.  Kudos to Barbara Berdahl for the great work!

Some quick highlights: letters and photos from our outstanding Clarence Darrow Archive, the London Times obituary of Winston Churchill from January 25, 1965 (thanks to Professor David Weissbrodt for this item!), and images from our extensive trial collection (including the trial of Charles IMajor John Andre, spy and accomplice of Benedict Arnold, and the successful insanity defense of Jonathan Martin).  Others range from a fascinating example of an extra-illustrated biography of Henry Brougham, a copy of one of our Magna Carta exhibit items with an interesting 19th-c. newspaper clipping, a New York State Constitution showing William Seward's seat in the NY Senate, and neat items related to suffrage.  Come follow us on Tumblr as well!  

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Our Magna Cartas: Early Printed Editions

At the center of our new exhibit, "Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law," stands the Riesenfeld Center's collection of early printed editions of Magna Carta. The Law Library owns a remarkable fourteen editions of the "Great Charter" printed before 1600, and eight are in the exhibit. These include a copy of Magna Carta owned by important English abolitionist Granville Sharp, and a copy printed by Elizabeth Pickering, the first woman to print books in England.  

The boke of Magna Carta with diuers other statutes...
London: Robert Redman, 1534.
Magna Carta was among the first law books printed in England, though it was not the first. That distinction goes to the Abbreviamentum statutorum, printed by Machlinia and Lettou around 1481. Several other English law books saw print before Magna Carta, but the "Great Charter," as fundamental English statutory law, did not remain in manuscript long into the 16th century. It was first printed in 1508 by Richard Pynson, while the Library’s collection begins with the second, Pynson's edition of 1514. Pynson was prolific: he had relocated to London from Rouen, and enjoyed a period of preeminence as a printer of English law, eventually producing 139 editions. The Magna Carta collection at the Library likewise includes editions by the printers Petyt and Berthelet, as well as copies by noted printers Robert Redman (husband of Elizabeth Pickering) and John Rastell. Both of the latter competed with Pynson as leading English law printers of the earlier 16th century before the emergence of Richard Tottell. All of our early editions of Magna Carta are printed in small formats, for use by students and practitioners as ready reference to valid law.

The Library's Magna Carta collection was assembled by Arthur C. Pulling, the noted law librarian after whom the rare books collection is named. Between 1912 and his departure in the early 1940s, Pulling acquired the core of the current rare collection, with a particular focus on English and early American law. He followed several bibliographies in his rare book collecting - notably Joseph Beale's Bibliography of Early English Law Books (1926) - and sent extensive "want" lists to booksellers near and far. His well-used and annotated copy of Beale, showing the acquisition of what may amount to half the titles listed, is still on our shelves. Without question, the scope of Pulling's acquisitions was impressive and historically important, and it made Minnesota's rare law collection one of the nation's strongest.

Pulling's meticulous work resulted in a series of Magna Cartas that are unique, and that shed light on the early history of the document as printed text. First published in Latin, Magna Carta was translated into English by the interesting George Ferrers in the 1530s and printed in English several times before 1550, including Elizabeth Pickering's edition of 1540-41, and the beautiful black-and-red 1539 edition, also in the collection. A number of our copies bear early and multiple ownership marks and annotations; some have what could be called 'scratch writing,' and even designs. In one, the royal English coat of arms is incompletely traced on blank leaves, while another shows a wolf-like creature drawn on the rear cover. All of these may bear witness to the books' frequent use by students and frequent change of hands after first reaching the market. Although the students who first owned them are long gone, the volumes are fascinating and hold research possibilities for students today.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

Magna Carta. London: Richard Pynson, 1514.  Tracing the watermark.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Magna Carta Open House: Wednesday, February 25th

This year marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a world treasure and one of the richest symbols of individual rights and government limited by law.

To celebrate the 800th anniversary, the Riesenfeld Center is mounting a year-long exhibition devoted to the great document and its legacy, based on the Center's outstanding collections of historical English and early American law books.  

All are invited to an open house next Wednesday, February 25th, for the opening of the exhibition: 

"Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law"

Wednesday, February 25th, in the Riesenfeld Center (N30)

Open House: 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Snacks and refreshments will be served through the day.

The exhibition, drawn from the outstanding collections of historical law housed in the Riesenfeld Center, traces Magna Carta from its medieval beginnings, to its reception in early America and the constitutional framework that it inspired and shaped.  The exhibition showcases over 75 rare books and pamphlets, at the center of which is Magna Carta itself, which the Library holds in 14 editions printed before 1600.  Through the exhibit we invite visitors to explore the rich legacy and historical contexts of Magna Carta, and the tradition of rights and the rule of law.      

Monday, February 9, 2015

Magna Carta Winners!

Magna Carta. London: Richard Pynson, 1519.
We have winners of the quiz and poetry contests from last week's Magna Carta lobby celebration! Thanks to all who stopped by and participated - choosing among a few excellent poems was not easy (and of course our choices were subjective). There were also a number of perfect scores on the quiz, which required a drawing. Congratulations to Peter McElligott ('15) and Emily Scholtes ('16), who won prizes in the quiz contest. A special thanks to those who gathered their creative talents and poured them out in poetry submissions, and particularly Josh Zamzow ('15) and Beth Binczik ('16) for their winning entries. They are below, with the authors' permission. King John (well, at least the barons) would be proud!

bench by bar and court by court
he habeased his corpus, he pled his tort
john's liberties now applied to all
supplicants both great and small

barristers and solicitors (both dong and ding)
hearken back to john our king
magna'ed cartas and righted bills
we use them for our cases still

- Joshua Zamzow

Power hungry English king
Sign and we shall stop fighting
Repudiate, implore the pope
But once you sign there is no hope
Power hungry English king
Sign and we shall stop fighting.

- Beth Binczik     

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Magna Carta Library Celebration: Feb. 3rd

Magna carta cum aliis antiquis statutis, London, 1540. 
Come join us in the Library lobby next Tuesday, February 3rd, to kick off the anniversary of Magna Carta! To start the 800th anniversary celebration there will be donuts, cookies, granola bars, chips, coffee and (English) tea, starting from 10am and until we run out.

We'll also have two contests for multiple prizes, ranging from Amazon gift cards to food and drink at Republic. Don't forget to pick up some Magna Carta swag as well.

Last but not least, see a historic Magna Carta from the Library's rare book collection.  

Next month, at the end of February, a new exhibit will open in the Riesenfeld Center, devoted to the history and reception of Magna Carta. "Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law," will highlight the rich legacy of Magna Carta in England and America, as seen through the Riesenfeld Center's rare books collection. Stay tuned here for more...

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections      

Friday, January 16, 2015

Our Earliest Copy of the Bill of Rights

Acts Passed at a Congress ... New York, 1789/90.
In preparing for our upcoming exhibit on Magna Carta, we had the good opportunity to comb through the Riesenfeld Center's terrific collection of colonial and early US law. Along with the enjoyment that comes in working with this material, the documents can offer up exciting discoveries. One occurred in looking at our earliest, and most significant, copy of the original amendments to the US Constitution, which largely became the Bill of Rights. Our copy, from 1789/90, is found at the end of the first US session laws, issued from the first session of the 1st Congress, held from March 4, 1789 through September. It was at this historic session that the first amendments to the Constitution were introduced, substantially by Madison, following demands for enumerated protections against a potentially overreaching federal government. Debate on the articles continued through the summer, and stirred deeply-held opinion. Twelve amendments were passed by Congress on September 25th. Ten of those amendments were then ratified by three-fourths of the states, and became the Bill of Rights.

Our copy of these extraordinary session laws includes the original twelve amendments, after congressional passage but before ratification by the states. The now neglected "Article the First," concerning proportional representation, sits near the head of the page, and "Article the Second," on congressional compensation, follows it. Unratified at the time, "Article the Second" finally entered the constitutional canon in 1992, as the Twenty-Seventh Amendment. Particularly important for our upcoming exhibit is the Fifth Amendment, which began its life here as the Seventh. This great Amendment has Magna Carta in its direct lineage, as it includes the famous prohibition on the loss of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The Fifth Amendment (and its later partner, the Fourteenth) are still among the most important, and most discussed, amendments in US constitutional law.

Although there were a few earlier printings of early forms of the US Bill of Rights (notably the Gazette of the United States and New York Daily Advertiser carried Madison's original nine proposals in June 1789), our copy of the twelve amendments is quite special and rare, and also interesting for signatures and marks that add to its historical value. One, written at the end of the proposed amendments, toward the bottom of the now dampstained page, is the name "Muhlenberg."  Above the signature is the printed name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Frederick A. Muhlenberg, an interesting figure from Pennsylvania. The signature bears some similarities to an authentic autograph preserved online by the University of Pennsylvania. Another signature - that of a Jacob Frost of New York - can be found as well, along with the smaller, neater signature of William Frost. Perhaps Jacob was a son, or at least younger, since his unruly signature and marks look like practice writing.

Does our copy bear the signature of Frederick Muhlenberg, and if so, was he an owner or for some reason simply signed the copy? And who was the Frost family, who seemed to own this copy already in 1789 or 90, and perhaps left it "in the care" of a New York attorney, written as "___iel Sewall" on the back cover? What did this book mean to them, how did they come by it, and how did they use it?  The answers would require a researcher's attention, but they are exciting and challenging. They are also just a few of the questions that can come up when looking at historical books - whether extraordinary or more mundane - with an eye to their particular histories!

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections